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Thursday, 19 September 2002
Page: 6734

Mr McMULLAN (2:53 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. Treasurer, I refer to your promise to prosecute if you are advised of fuel retailers selling ethanol in blends over 10 per cent. Hasn't the government's own body, Environment Australia, already reported:

Manildra Park Petroleum ... the largest independent distributor of ethanol blended fuel in the Sydney/Wollongong basin ... has been selling blends up to 20% in NSW since 1992.

When are you going to stop passing the buck and act?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —The member, as he habitually does, misrepresents what I said. What I said was: anybody engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct would be prosecuted. If you were passing off ethanol as petrol, that would be misleading and deceptive. But, if one was being honest and saying `this is ethanol', I imagine it would not be breaching the law. What I said was not that they would be prosecuted if they had a 20 per cent blend; what I said was that they would be prosecuted or subject to action for passing off or misleading and deceptive conduct. I have noticed this sort of attempt to try and put a false assumption into the question which, if one does not repudiate it, they try and pass into the public debate.

Let us go on from there. We find that the ACCC has written to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage with some recommendations. Fair enough. We find that Environment Australia write off to the manufacturers to get further information—fair enough—as you would expect them to do. I am told by the minister that Environment Australia is responsible for the national fuel standards, that they are considering this matter and that, after they have considered the matter, they will make a determination. That seems fair enough to me. That is what he has informed me is happening. I do not see any big scandal in any of that. What is the slur that the Labor Party then seeks to hang over all of this? The slur that the Labor Party then seeks to hang over all of this is that, somehow, this all leads to Manildra, which the government is seeking to give some corrupt benefit to.

Mr COSTELLO —I repudiate that absolutely, as the Prime Minister did. I repudiate that absolutely. And, by his interjections, he maintains that slur.

Mr Crean —Special treatment.

Mr COSTELLO —See? By his interjections, he maintains the slur. So the allegation is not in relation to the national fuel standards, nor is it in relation to the finding of further information, nor is it in relation to prosecution for misleading and deceptive conduct. The real allegation, confirmed by the interjections here, is that there is some kind of special treatment which is corrupt.

Mr Crean —Got it!

Mr COSTELLO —That is the allegation that Labor makes, and he says, `Got it.' I repudiate that absolutely. It is a slur not only on Manildra but also, if I may say so, a slur on all of the ministers that have been involved with this. There is not one skerrick of evidence to back up that particular slur. It is the kind of thing you would expect from a Labor Party which has no policy, which is going backwards in the polls, which up until today was interested in Iraq and which now veers off on something, presumably for the benefit of its Cunningham by-election. I notice the word `Wollongong' keeps slipping into all of Labor's questions, and I notice that the member for Hotham was going, I believe, to Cunningham today.

The SPEAKER —The Treasurer is responding to a question, not asking a question.

Mr COSTELLO —He has been to Cunningham today, and the questions have `Wollongong' in them, and the questions have a slur—and if I know my Labor Party, this is nothing but a cheap populist trick.