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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20102

Mr GRIFFIN (8:54 PM) —In the consideration in detail stage, I want to raise a couple of issues regarding what we are dealing with here and the circumstances we now face. The Minister for the Environment and Heritage in his summing up made a number of points. Given the lateness of the hour, I will not address all of those points—although there are a number of points that could be made—but I will pick up on a couple. The minister made the point that, despite his warnings to the state government in October last year, this government has in fact acted quickly. He made it clear that the circumstances around labelling from a federal perspective are more difficult than from a state perspective, which is why we are here today dealing with this specific piece of legislation.

But we need to go back to what the minister actually said in February. On 1 February, the minister said that labelling should be in place by March—that is what he was quoted on the wire as saying, and that was his plan—and that he was planning to introduce legislation at the commencement of parliament. Parliament resumed on 4 February; it did not resume on 26 June. At that stage and at that time, the minister had been advised—and we can only take this to have been the case—that his department and his office were in a position to be able to move forthwith. Some three days beforehand he said that was possible and yet, again, we did not even see legislation in this place until 26 June. If there were reasons why it took so long, I would love to know what they are, and I think the House is entitled to ask what those reasons were, if the minister is going to try to blame others for the time taken in that period during the first half of this year to get to this stage. The minister said in a press release on 19 February:

Nevertheless, I expect to be making an announcement shortly and hope that motorists will see labels on petrol bowsers within the next couple of months.

So his hope then was to be able to pass legislation and have a system in place within a couple of months—so we are talking about April—but it was not until June that we actually saw legislation. I do not think the minister has addressed that point at all. I think it stands out glaringly as an example of the fact that things have not been clear about what this government has been doing in these circumstances. The minister also mentioned comments that I made in the House around the issue of preferred labels and comments made about the status of those labels. I will just quote from my speech in the second reading debate. I said:

... the ethanol confidence working group ... was considering labels and had in fact come down with a preferred label, which had been passed on to the government as their view—

that is, the view of the ethanol confidence working group. That is what I said at that stage. I made the point that the government had refuted the allegation that had been made around the question of its status, but I made it clear that that was the status of that label.

On the question of where we are up to, the argument that you cannot release draft labels for discussion in the parliament or through the Senate committee process is just ridiculous. With regard to the question of consultation with other organs of government, there is no problem with that and there is no reason that that cannot occur as well. What we would like to see is some openness and transparency around the debate in order to ensure that this matter can be seen. The minister has not answered that question, and he should be brought to account for it.