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Wednesday, 13 August 2003
Page: 18407

Mr CREAN (3:13 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the story in the Sydney Morning Herald today that the government directed embassy officials in Brazil to make investigations into the shipment of ethanol from Brazil. Is the Prime Minister aware that a Mr Paul Moreton, head of the wholly Australian owned company Neumann Petroleum, a co-owner of the Brazilian ethanol shipment, told ABC radio today:

This lack of direction and leadership demonstrated by the federal government has deprived Australia of what could have been a real scale ... industry ...

... ... ...

I find it odd that the Prime Minister can have resources chasing around shippers in Brazil and not contact us.

Prime Minister, why didn't the government advise the wholly Australian owned Neumann Petroleum of its intentions on ethanol policy, a decision which cost that company $400,000, when clearly Mr Honan had prior knowledge, on or about 28 August, of this decision—a decision which has benefited his company already $21 million in the first year of operation? What is fair and decent and transparent and open about such a process?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The decision to remove the excise exemption was taken on or about 10 September. It was a cabinet decision and it was taken on the basis of papers presented to cabinet. The Leader of the Opposition shakes his head. I did not notice the Leader of the Opposition at the cabinet meeting. The reality is that the decision was taken on 10 September. The Leader of the Opposition asserts that Mr Honan knew on or about 28 August. What is the basis of the Leader of the Opposition's assertion? The Leader of the Opposition makes assertions. In his question, the Leader of the Opposition said Mr Honan knew on 28 August. How does he know that? No decision had been taken.

Mr Crean —Because he wrote you a letter thanking you.

Mr HOWARD —Oh, I see; because he writes me a letter, that is automatically a decision. We took the decision on 10 September. It was taken by cabinet and, I repeat, it was taken against the background of our policy that we took to the 2001 election. Self-evidently, if we had allowed a flood of imports from Brazil we would never have been able to achieve that policy. We may have got the consumption of ethanol and other biofuels up to 350 million litres, but we would never have been able to achieve any gains for the local industry. The reason, fundamentally, in policy terms, why this decision was taken was to ensure that if we were to move towards 350 million litres it would be the local Australian industry that would benefit. That plainly included Manildra, included CSR and in time would have included a large number of other small organisations that were to get the benefit of our capital subsidies.

Was Mr Honan lobbying? Yes. Do other business men and women lobby? Yes. Were Trafigura and Neumann disappointed with the decision? Yes. Were they economically affected by the decision? Yes. Were other companies economically helped by the decision? Yes. Every time a government takes a decision that alters the normal flow of the market and affects barriers and impediments you will get some winners and some losers. We had a policy objective which was the background for the decision that was taken. I find the unwillingness of the Leader of the Opposition to accept the value of a policy that helps a local Australian industry quite extraordinary.