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Tuesday, 20 June 2000
Page: 17719


Mrs MOYLAN (8:32 PM) —The tyranny of distance is a theme that is very familiar to rural Australians, and it was familiar long before the phrase was made popular by the author Geoffrey Blainey in his book of the same title. For those living in rural and remote areas of Australia, these distances add considerably to the cost of getting their products to market, and it certainly adds to the cost of the products they need for business and domestic purposes. Farmers and businesses that rely on the wellbeing of on-farm business—and there are many in the rural and remote areas—have always been subject to the vagaries of the weather, commodity prices, interest rate rises, insect plagues, and a whole host of other variables that constantly challenge them.

Over the past decade, we have seen the global market/free trade issue impact on farmers. They were among the first enterprises to weather the tariff storms and, while there have been some enormous gains, there has also been considerable pain for that group of Australians. Some urban dwellers, and certainly the younger urban dwelling generations, have forgotten—or, in the case of the latter group, they have no living memory of it—the very significant nation building role that was undertaken by men and women on the land and in other rural enterprises in the early, and fairly recent, history of this country. This often involved backbreaking work in the most extreme conditions, in very great isolation.

I remember, because when I was a young girl my uncle and auntie farmed at Merredin, and we used to think Moorine Rock was the end of the earth. We had no electricity, and it was pretty tough in the early days. My uncle was a conditional purchase farmer who came back after the war. He did it tough, but he made a go of it and he was successful—but not without a lot of backbreaking work. I spent my formative years in the wheat belt town of Narrogin, and I was aware of the good and the bad times that farmers had in that small country town in the middle of the wheat belt. Today, when the memory has dimmed or it ceases to exist because it is outside the experience of a new generation, we sometimes hear people complain, `Why should we subsidise the bush?' For those who do not have an appreciation of the history of this country, it is probably a reasonable comment, and it is made whenever any special treatment is announced for people living in rural areas.

I have to say that I personally welcome the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme Amendment Bill 2000 because I think it is time we took stock of what rural Australia has done and can do. It is not a matter of living in the past; it is a matter of acknowledging our history and moving into another era. But it is time that we reinvested in our country if we are to come through what has been a period of major economic upheaval. Australia has a great future as a major provider of clean food. Farmers have demonstrated their commitment to improving efficiency of farm businesses, and we have seen some of the spectacular success stories in recent years across a range of produce.

When I dwell momentarily on what our nation builders have done, I often look around at just what rural Australia did for the rest of Australia. In those years when wool prices were high, the markets were sure and the produce was plentiful, many of our beautiful city edifices and much of our suburban and city infrastructure were developed. We are the beneficiaries of that today. We would not have had that if it had not been for this contribution, so I do not think it is unreasonable for Australians to pause and think about that investment and how important it is that we continue to invest in the development of rural Australia. It is an investment in our future. Investing in rural based business is good business for all Australians, and this bill supports the effort made by the rural sector to become competitive and efficient in an increasingly competitive environment. This bill is welcomed by eligible businesses in rural Australia as it allows them to claim a grant for diesel and certain alternative fuels they purchase and use for eligible on-road purposes. This bill is welcomed not only by those who live in rural Australia, particularly farmers and pastoralists, but it is also welcomed by my colleagues, many of whom have the responsibility of looking after people in rural and remote areas of Australia. All of us are very strong supporters of measures that would ensure that people living in rural and regional areas of Australia are not treated any worse than any other Australian in respect of fuel costs. Indeed, they do very well under the terms of this bill.

Under certain circumstances, the diesel fuel rebate will be claimable for some businesses for eligible off-road activities as well as for eligible on-road purposes. The rate is expected to be in the order of 16c or 17c per litre for diesel. One of the very positive measures in this bill is the provision to extend the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme Act to make transport operations for primary producer businesses eligible, which will mean that primary producers will be eligible for the grant when operating an eligible vehicle for primary production business activities on a public road within the metropolitan area. The transportation of goods by a contractor, freight company or agent on behalf of a primary producer will also be eligible. I think that is an important part of this bill. The kilometres travelled by a contractor-agent will be eligible only where the operation of the vehicle is for the benefit of the primary producer. As my colleagues before me have said, the bill will also extend to buses in the metropolitan area. They will get the grant in respect of alternative fuels, and that is very welcome, as has already been pointed out in this place tonight.

In my electorate there are a lot of people who work very hard. My electorate of Pearce is an area where there is a lot of rural activity. Most of the electorate is on the fringe of urban area, and the emergency and fire services are an absolutely vital part of those communities. Almost every year we have a major outbreak of fire, which creates a lot of devastation and heartache for a lot of people, and those services are very important. I know that this bill will be particularly welcomed by those people operating the fire brigades and emergency services within the electorate of Pearce. As I have said, many of these services operate on the fringe of urban areas as well as in the rural areas, and they will definitely benefit from this particular scheme. It is good news for farmers in Pearce, and in fact all rural based enterprise, because we know that anywhere there is farming there is a whole satellite of businesses that service the farms, and they will also benefit from these measures.

At the last election the government announced in its policy document, Tax reform: not a new tax but a new tax system, that it would reduce the excise on petrol and diesel on the introduction of the goods and services tax. Under the Australian Constitution, the rate of excise must be set at a uniform rate. The excise must be reduced before applying the GST. Based on the metropolitan price, the price to the consumer need not rise. To ensure that petrol prices need not rise for the consumer in regional and remote areas, who pay higher prices than the metropolitan price, the government saw fit to introduce a new grants system, targeted to consumers in non-metropolitan and remote areas. The scheme allows a tiered system of grants to be paid for sales to consumers in non-metropolitan areas, with a higher rate of grant provided for sales in remote area.

As a consequence of this grants scheme for consumers in regional and remote Australia, fuel prices need not rise as a consequence of the GST. I think that is a very important point to be made in this debate. A person will be eligible to claim a fuel grant for eligible purposes from 1 July. Businesses will nominate their own claim period, which will be either monthly, quarterly or annually. The scheme covers approximately 210,000 businesses and this represents more than 300,000 vehicles. I think my colleague just mentioned this but it bears repeating that the Department of Transport and Regional Services estimates that 81 per cent of fuel used in vehicles of more than 4.5 tonnes will be eligible for a grant. It is important to point out to the House that transport activities across 99 per cent of Australia's landmass will be eligible for this grant. This represents something in the order of a $500 million investment over a four-year period, and it has major benefits to the users of petrol and diesel in remote and non-metropolitan areas in Australia. I will finish by repeating once again that these measures will be very welcome in the electorate of Pearce.