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Wednesday, 21 June 2006
Page: 6

Mr HAYES (9:29 AM) —Labor has agreed to the urgent passage of these amendments to the Excise Laws Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006, despite the fact that we have been gagged on just about every piece of legislation in the last couple of weeks. Labor is taking the government at its word that the amendments have been undertaken in consultation with the industry, and it will continue to cooperate with bringing forward the new licensing provisions. Interestingly, the same level of agreement may not flow as easily from the other side of the chamber, particularly when people raise the issue of ethanol. It seems that every day there is another backbench revolt and, unfortunately, this is now starting to impact on the issue of fuel.

The Prime Minister is still resisting Labor’s calls to grant the ACCC the powers it needs to scrutinise petrol prices. He is not taking the concerns of motorists seriously and he is not taking the concerns of hardworking families seriously. The Prime Minister is telling the Howard battlers out there that they should try walking around if they cannot afford to fill their cars with petrol. It is interesting that this debate should occur today following an article in the Herald Sun yesterday, which I trust most people would have seen by now, in which the Prime Minister took it upon himself to claim that he had already acted on petrol prices. He had the audacity to tell motorists that reductions in federal excise saved motorists, on average, about $10 each time they filled up their car. I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but I do not believe that every time motorists in my electorate fill up their cars they are thinking that this Prime Minister has done great things for them by relieving the burden of higher petrol prices. It just does not seem to resonate out there.

To try and sell this to the Australian public has to be considered the ultimate spin over substance. This government has not acted on higher petrol prices and has refused to even take the smallest steps to do so. It continues to reject calls for the ACCC to monitor petrol prices, as provided for under part VIIA of section 95G(6) of the Trade Practices Act. What is worse is that the government tries to tell people that petrol prices are really the states’ problem. The government has been out there suggesting that it is the fault of state governments because they receive the GST. The GST is a Commonwealth tax—and no-one should believe otherwise—introduced by the Prime Minister himself and his government now stands as being the highest taxing government in our history. It is a Commonwealth tax. It was legislated in the Australian parliament, it is collected by the Commonwealth and distributed by the Commonwealth. There is no doubt that the GST is a Commonwealth tax and for the Prime Minister to blame the problems of higher petrol prices on the states because of the GST is misleading in the extreme.

Getting the ACCC to have a cursory look at petrol prices over the last long weekend might have been another example of tokenism, or at least spin, by this government, but it was patronising to all those motorists who are trying to fill up their car and not receiving much change from $100 every time they do so. Petrol prices are impacting every day on local families and they are certainly impacting on businesses. Petrol prices are impacting on our communities, as shown in the recent ACNielsen survey. The data also indicated that small business throughout the country is being grossly affected by it. It also made the point that it is deleterious to the tourism industry as a whole. The government needs to cut the spin and start coming up with solutions. A good first step would be to have the ACCC continually monitor petrol prices and not be used as a token method of overcoming the short-term problems on one weekend in the year.