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Wednesday, 16 August 2006
Page: 16


Mr WINDSOR (10:07 AM) —We are talking about an important issue today. It is a great shame that it had to be brought in on the back of the Petroleum Retail Legislation Repeal Bill 2006. It is also a great shame that government members—and I understand the structure of third reading debates—are not participating in this debate, given the issues. It is a shame that the amendments will get voted down, strictly along party lines. I would be interested to hear the comments of the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources on the substance of the issues being raised, such as unconscionable conduct in petroleum marketing, and the amendments proposed by the honourable member for Hunter to the Trade Practices Act. It is also a shame that members have not had the benefit of time to examine these amendments more closely to determine their impact on the operations of the Trade Practices Act. I ask the minister to take this debate seriously, and to address some of the issues. I ask the government whether it has any intentions in the future, perhaps in another vein, to address—


Mr Fitzgibbon —He’s going to read the amendments now.


Mr WINDSOR —Well, that is a start. I am pleased to see that the minister is moving towards addressing some of these issues. I hope he takes them seriously. Even though these amendments will probably get voted down, along party lines, I hope the issues will be addressed in another fashion.

The member for Rankin raised the issue of the independents creating competitive pressures in the petroleum industry. I draw to the minister’s attention some of my concerns. Last week the government announced some significant changes in energy policy. Two of the fuel companies, Caltex and BP, announced they were going to cut the price of E10—ethanol 10 per cent fuel—at certain service stations across Australia. Many people assumed this was a cut in the wholesale price. There has been a 3c cut in the retail price at some service stations. I have been buying E10 fuel from a small independent retailer in a small community who retails Bogas, or Caltex E10 fuel, and has for about six or seven years. I called in there the day after this great announcement that the price of E10 was being dropped by 3c, having heard the government commend itself for not having had to mandate the use of E10 to achieve this great outcome of the 3c discount in price. My retailer, who has been selling ethanol for at least six to seven years, and buying from those same companies, had just received an invoice increasing the wholesale price of E10 by 1.8c a litre. That highlights some of the underlying issues we should be debating, not only in terms of petroleum products, but where the might of the corporation can overcome the competitive aspects for the independent players in the field. Some of those issues may be raised again when the media ownership debate comes forward.

The member for Rankin also said that we need to examine the amendments the member for Hunter has put forward to see whether we have the opportunity to look behind the scenes at the behaviour of the fuel companies and how they operate. The member for Hunter mentioned a moment ago that there is no real transparency in terminal gate pricing. There is great inconsistency in the way wholesale prices are reported. (Extension of time granted)

The consumer is in a haze when trying to ascertain the retail and wholesale price levels of fuel, the country/city issues, the terminal gate price issues, the various margins that apply at certain times in the week and on public holidays, et cetera. There is no real transparency in those issues. The member for Rankin said we should have an instrument that can look behind the scenes at that behaviour. In this place in recent months we have changed the electoral laws so that we cannot look at the behaviour of some of the major corporations in terms of their political activities by way of donations. I do not mean to get off the track—


Mr Katter —Spot on! That is the track.


Mr WINDSOR —The member for Kennedy, quite rightly, says that in his view that is the track. We need the capacity for transparency. If we are talking about the Trade Practices Act and transparency in the pricing and other behaviour of major corporations, including fuel companies, and all their international connections, surely we must look in our own backyard—at who is paying the piper. The ethanol debate is a classic example. It is a shame that the minister has been caught up in this, but there is absolutely no doubt that the fuel companies are calling the tune.

We traditionally follow the United States in nearly everything we do. The United States has recognised that its population cannot be reliant long term on the Middle East and others for the provision of energy, and it is starting to address those issues through renewable energy and other activities. The United States is invading the marketplace and putting in place policy that actually drives the energy debate, rather than—as we would do; as we are doing now—allowing the fuel companies, which are international corporations, to drive the debate for it. I think that is a great failing on the part of this government.

The LPG business the other day—and it is a bit like the way you cannot criticise your mother—is not going to do much good. I think everybody recognises that. Even if, at the end of the day, people did accept that the government would not change the taxation regime in the future, that the fuel companies were all going to play a straight game and not gouge the price and that the fitters of the additional equipment, the cylinders et cetera, would not profiteer on the way through, there is a whole range of uncertainties there.

The consumer, the customer, has seen the government put in place in 2001 a renewable energy policy, some mandatory renewable energy targets for renewable fuels. Six years later, we are producing less than we were when we started the policy. To the Labor Party’s shame, too, I notice in their second reading amendment that they are still talking about 350,000 megalitres—less than one per cent of the fuel needs of the nation. The rest of the world is marching on, and we are still playing games with old numbers from 2001: 350,000 megalitres of renewable energy. I think the member for Kennedy mentioned in a speech the other night—a very good speech too, I thought—that we are at about 30,000. There is no way that even the targets that the Prime Minister set out during his cup of coffee with the fuel companies last year have been achieved. They were supposed to be achieved by the end of June or July, I think it was. There is no way that the 2006 targets have been achieved.

It is obvious to anybody in the marketplace that the fuel companies in this country are not going to make any significant changes on renewable energy, ethanol and these other products unless there is a mandate such that it opens up the process of distribution through the bowsers. There is no way that those companies are going to do that. Take a look at America and see what they have done in the States. They recognise that at a policy level. They are agripoliticians, they are state and federal politicians, and they put in place mandates which forced the fuel companies to accept the product and start to market it through the normal processing chain, for a whole range of health, environmental and other reasons. They have had an enormous impact on the agricultural sector and the renewable energy sector. The fuel companies now embrace it in the States. The car companies now embrace it. We could do the same. (Time expired)