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Wednesday, 16 August 2006
Page: 24

Mr IAN MACFARLANE (Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources) (10:46 AM) —I thank those opposite for their contributions, misguided though most of them were. With respect to the question asked by the member for Hunter, I remind him that if he reads the Prime Minister’s statement—the one he describes as illusional, but then admits that there will be hundreds of thousands of motor cars converted to LPG by private motorists, without calculating the ones that will be converted and bought new by the business sector—in that area alone, the relief is going to be—

Mr Price —What’s the number?

Mr IAN MACFARLANE —I have waited half an hour; I would prefer not to be interjected on while I try to answer the question. Those motorists who will benefit from LPG have the opportunity now to choose this as an alternative fuel. There is no cap on the scheme, there is no means test and there is no exclusion of vehicles. My understanding is that somewhere in excess of three million vehicles currently in the fleet can be converted to LPG. To save the member for Hunter doing his sums, that is about a third of the vehicles in the fleet. There are about 10 million vehicles out there. Of course, this is not the only part of the energy policy the Prime Minister announced on Monday—

Mr Fitzgibbon —You haven’t given us the number.

Mr IAN MACFARLANE —I cannot give the number because I cannot read the minds of those 3½ million vehicle owners—

Mr Fitzgibbon —How do you cost it if you don’t have an estimate of how many?

Mr IAN MACFARLANE —I cannot read the minds of those 3½ million owners as to whether they will support this proposal and use LPG as an alternative fuel and save money that way or use ethanol and take advantage of some of the discounts that are being offered there. The opposition has already admitted in this House that hundreds of thousands of vehicles will be converted to LPG as people take advantage of the scheme.

I now turn to the ACCC powers that are being requested by the member for Hunter. The ACCC can take action under the Trade Practices Act 1974 if there is evidence of anticompetitive behaviour—and that includes anticompetitive behaviour in the fuel sector. Currently, the ACCC monitors petrol, diesel, ethanol, autogas and E10 prices in metropolitan areas and about 110 country areas across Australia. It can also undertake additional random monitoring in remote areas and will investigate complaints about prices whenever they are made.

Anyone has the opportunity to refer such matters to the ACCC. The opposition is suggesting that we have another inquiry. We are currently in the middle of our 47th inquiry into fuel prices. As the Prime Minister said in his speech on Monday, Australia enjoys prices which are comparable to the rest of the OECD countries, once you remove the excise, and, with excise on, we have the fourth cheapest fuel in the OECD. So the suggestion that Australians are paying more for their petrol than Europeans, Americans or Canadians is sheer nonsense.

With regard to the section 46 proposals, the government is very keen to introduce legislation as soon as the Dawson legislation passes through the Senate—the very same legislation the opposition spoke of earlier and which was opposed by the Labor Party. The government amendments to section 46 in response to the member for Batman will clarify and improve the operation of the provisions of that act. Specifically, they will, firstly, state that a corporation which has a substantial degree of power in a market shall not take advantage of that power, in that or any other market, for any proscribed purpose in relation to that or any other market; and, secondly, they will clarify that, in determining the degree of power that a corporation has in the market, the courts may have regard to the power of the corporation in the market that results from contracts, arrangements or understandings, actual or proposed, with other parties or results from covenants that the corporation is bound by or entitled to benefit from. Thirdly, they will clarify that the matters set out in section 46, which the courts may have regard to in determining the degree of power the corporation has in the market, do not limit the matters the court may consider; and, fourthly, they will provide that, without limiting the generality of section 46, in determining whether a corporation has breached section 46 the courts may have regard to whether the corporation was supplying goods or services at a price less than the cost of such goods or services and had a reasonable prospect or an expectation of being able to recover any losses incurred by supplying the goods or services at that price.

I say again that we oppose the member for Hunter’s amendments, which do not belong to this bill and will be dealt with after the passage of the Dawson trade practices bill through the Senate. I urge members to support the bill as introduced.