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Tuesday, 20 June 2000
Page: 17714

Mr BAIRD (8:00 PM) —It is my pleasure to rise to speak on this Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme Amendment Bill 2000 and to support the government's initiative in this area. It was particularly interesting to follow the member for Batman and his various comments on the bill. It is interesting to note that he read every single word. It was clear that he had not written one word himself. It was prepared by one of his staff who sat up the back and went through it as he read it. So much for being across his portfolio, with his rather lame attempts to criticise the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. I must say that the Minister for Transport and Regional Services does not rely on his staffers to produce every word he says in this chamber. I thought this was one of the worst efforts I have seen from the member for Batman in a long while. His attacks on the Minister for Transport and Regional Services were quite amazing when you look at some of the transport reforms that have been introduced by this government and this minister.

It was Prime Minister Bob Hawke who said, regarding the Alice Springs to Darwin railway, that it would take a Labor government to introduce such a railway. They had 13 years to make it a reality but nothing was done. It took this minister and this government to introduce these types of reforms into Australia and to look forward to something that has been promised and has been on the agenda since 1903. Congratulations to the minister. It was a great first and shows what an outstanding minister he is, a minister who has great concern about regional Australia and puts a high priority on that. Roads funding continues to increase. The Black Spot program is widespread. For the first time, this government has cut the costs for motorists in rural areas. It has also reduced costs for those driving large trucks in country areas.

This bill in particular makes some amendments which I believe are very important and will be well received by the recipients of these changes. The first is that grants are payable to primary producers with vehicles over 4.5 tonnes within the metropolitan area. That is something that we would all agree with. There should be equity in the receipt of these conditions and concessions for those who operate primary production vehicles whether they be in the metropolitan area or in the country, so the eligibility has been extended on that basis. Secondly, the eligibility has been extended to buses operating in the metropolitan area using alternative fuels such as LPG or ethanol for travel from metropolitan areas. Thirdly, emergency vehicles over 4.5 tonnes using diesel receive assistance.

The application to the bus industry operating in the metropolitan area is a great initiative on several scores. The first is in terms of equity. These bus operators provide a very significant assistance to school children right across Australia. It is a very important function. Any parent knows how significant the assistance provided is. I believe the private bus operators around Australia do a first-class job. It is an industry with which I have had some association in my previous role as transport minister in New South Wales. This is a group that performs very well, has a strong social responsibility and is out there in the marketplace performing very effectively. This bill provides an incentive for those who operate diesel buses to get into alternative fuel, whether it be gas, ethanol or whatever. There have been many trials around Australia using gas powered buses, and this is going to provide a real incentive. For example, a number of buses in the State Transit Authority would receive this exemption. This is very much an environmentally friendly change, to care for the environment in terms of less pollutants in the air. It is seen as a model for other countries. For example, Toronto introduced similar initiatives in terms of alternative sources of fuel and gas powered buses. They modelled it on what was happening in Australia. This is a further incentive provided by the federal government. I think it is a great thing. I would like to congratulate the people in the private bus sector in Australia for what they have achieved to date. I spoke to some tonight who had a reception in this parliament building. They are delighted with these changes. I am very pleased to see these changes being introduced to the parliament.

Emergency vehicles over 4.5 tonnes using diesel receive assistance. I am sure that we would all agree with this proposal that emergency vehicles should receive this level of assistance. This is in addition to the previously announced and previously debated bill brought into this House and passed. Under the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme, grants will be paid from 1 July 2000 for business related on-road use of diesel and like fuels to all vehicles over 20 tonnes gross vehicle mass and transport vehicles weighing between 4.5 and 20 tonnes GVM that operate in regional areas. Registration for the scheme is made through applications for an Australian business number. On 12 October last year, in speaking on legislation I indicated that the main components were that the applicant must be registered for the scheme, the applicant must have bought the fuel and the applicant must have used the fuel in operating a vehicle for the purpose of carrying on an enterprise. The Australian Taxation Office is going to be responsible for administering the scheme.

I was particularly interested in the comments of the member for Batman that this is all so complicated in terms of food. He went through the GST and said, `We have been part of this debate. We have added to the debate.' I cannot—and I am sure you cannot either, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker—remember a time when the Australian Labor Party in this House contributed anything constructive to the debate. In fact, if they had agreed from the start that this government has a mandate to introduce the GST, they could have become part of the solution and brought forward alternatives. Instead, they simply criticised every point. Nothing constructive came out of them. If they did not like the variations that occurred in terms of the GST provisions on food, they could have joined with us early in the piece to agree what should be the situation.

The same situation applies with the diesel fuel rebate—if the Labor Party were serious about it. We know that, regardless of what happens, they are going to keep the GST. They had an opportunity to take part in the discussions, so there is no point in criticising us now and saying, `You should have done this' or `You should have done that.' The Democrats agreed with these provisions. Had Labor wanted it otherwise, they could have been part of the equation. They simply did not do that. We noticed the close attention to detail by the member for Batman. He showed no real knowledge of the bill; rather, he read a prepared speech. Therefore, it is not surprising that we have such an outcome. I am very pleased that the amendments have been announced today. The gross vehicle weights have been increased and it is all very meaningful in terms of the formula being used. I have spoken with members of the Bus Industry Confederation today and it is clear that they warmly welcome the amendments. Labor have no credibility in their claims that our amendments would add too heavy a burden on the users in terms of their understanding of the scheme.

These exemptions have been brought in by a government that is concerned about rural and regional Australia. It is a government that is reducing the costs for operators in bringing the product to market. It is a significant change. The provisions that are included in the amendments to the bill are very much welcomed by primary producers in both country areas and the metropolitan areas that they will now apply to. The bus industry warmly applaud the changes, as do those who have involvement with emergency services vehicles. The legislation is a great plus for road industry transport across Australia. The minister has his finger on the pulse in terms of the reforms that he is driving. He is a very capable and able minister. He is the Deputy Prime Minister and he is also responsible for transport. I, for one, think he is an outstanding transport minister. When I was in New South Wales I saw many who came to the portfolio and went without any trace, any reform, any legislative changes, anything they could point to at all.

This minister can point to great achievements. The privatisation of the railways in Tasmania alone has, for the first time, led to an operating profit by the railways. There have been significant reforms by the National Rail Corporation, introduced by this government and followed through by this minister. It was this minister who was responsible for the Alice Springs-Darwin railway announcement. For all the bravado on the other side of the House, it was the current minister for transport, John Anderson, who brought in the announcement, who convinced his colleagues of the proposals. I see the member for Eden-Monaro entering the chamber. Minister Anderson is also actively looking at proposals for a fast train between Sydney and Canberra. This shows a minister with vision. This shows a minister with capacity. It has been a long time since this House has seen a minister with the capacity and the vision of the current minister for transport. I congratulate him on these changes. I am sure that we all support the changes included in the bill.