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Thursday, 26 August 1999
Page: 7841


Senator McGAURAN —My question is to the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Senator Minchin. What are the government's plans for reforming the petrol industry to make it more competitive and are there any alternative propo sals to reform? What would be the impact of these alternative proposals?

Honourable senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! The level of breach of standing orders in the chamber this afternoon is absolutely unacceptable.


Senator MINCHIN (Industry, Science and Resources) —I thank Senator McGauran for his question. The reform of the petrol market is another example of a policy issue that is difficult, but it is one where the government is determined to act in the national interest. But, of course, Labor just go on playing politics. Over the last two years we have taken the Industry Commission report and the ACCC report and we have set out a petrol policy that is good for consumers, good for service station owners and good for the industry. We have developed a comprehensive oil code which will give service station owners the best protection they have ever had under any legislation.


Senator Sherry —What is happening about prices?


Senator Schacht —You can't get the oil code agreed to.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Persistent interjection is disorderly and there are senators who ought to know that.


Senator MINCHIN —In addition to an oil code, we want to get—


Senator Sherry —It doesn't apply to existing contracts.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Sherry, I have just spoken about that.


Senator MINCHIN —We want to get rid of the Petroleum Retail Marketing Sites Act, which actually acts perversely to restrict competition in the petrol market. But all we get from the opposition are stunts and slogans and no action.

Senator Schacht interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Schacht, I invite you to read the provisions of standing order 203, which refer to persistent interjecting.


Senator MINCHIN —Thank you, Madam President. The latest stunt is a statement from someone called Joel Fitzgibbon, who is the shadow minister for small business and tourism and who has issued a release this week saying that Labor want to put in a private member's bill to allow petrol station franchisees to purchase 50 per cent of their petrol from another supplier. I must say that I was very surprised that the son of Eric would actually come up with a really dumb idea like this. I do not know how on earth it ever got through the caucus; you must have all been asleep. This is a really crazy idea, something you never even contemplated in 13 years of government. It is a dumb idea because it just hurts—


Senator Faulkner —Madam President, I raise a point of order. I just wonder if have you noticed that Senator Minchin, in his weekly dorothy on a Thursday, was not addressing the Senate through the chair?


The PRESIDENT —I was not aware of that. The noise being made by Senator Schacht is making it very difficult to hear. Senator Minchin, any remarks should be addressed to the chair of course. Senator Schacht, I invite you to consider persistent and wilful interjecting and where it can lead.


Senator MINCHIN —This issue obviously hurts Labor very much, but this crazy idea that somehow got through the caucus actually hurts everybody—consumers, the dealers, oil companies and taxpayers. What Labor are proposing, in effect, is to tear up all existing supply contracts and actually expose all Australians to billions of dollars in compensation. The extrapolation of Labor's policy is to allow McDonald's franchisees to sell KFC hamburgers, or chicken burgers, at their Big Mac stores. You clearly do not understand the oil industry. You clearly do not understand small business. Labor clearly do not understand franchising.


Senator Crowley —You shouldn't tell lies, Senator Minchin.

Honourable senators interjecting


Senator MINCHIN —For the benefit of the Labor Party, who know nothing about business.

Opposition senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Abetz, were you taking a point of order?


Senator Carr —He's got his hands in his pockets again.


Senator Abetz —Mine are above the table, unlike yours.


The PRESIDENT —Order! The behaviour in the chamber is totally unacceptable by any standard.


Senator Abetz —Madam President, I rise on a point of order. Could I invite you to ask Senator Crowley to withdraw the completely unparliamentary interjection that she made against the minister.


Senator Quirke —Madam President, on the point of order. Senator Crowley gave advice for Senator Minchin not to tell lies. She did not say that he was telling lies.


The PRESIDENT —I did not hear what was said at the time, and I can only rely on Senator Crowley to withdraw if she in fact said something that was unparliamentary.

Government senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Would senators on my right cease making so much noise.


Senator Crowley —Madam President, as you would know, I am never other than parliamentary. But I would say in this case that, if Senator Minchin does not care to hear the instructions that were passed across the chamber, then he is suffering from invincible ignorance. Read the bill; get it right.


The PRESIDENT —Order! My difficulty is that I did not hear what Senator Crowley said at the time. I am attempting to deal with the matter raised by Senator Abetz. I did not hear what was said by Senator Crowley.


Senator Alston —Madam President, on the point of order: I did hear precisely what Senator Crowley said, and I am none the wiser.


The PRESIDENT —I think the chamber is developing into a totally unacceptable state. I think it would be better if Senator Minchin proceeded with his answer.


Senator MINCHIN —What Mr Fitzgibbon has proposed is a bill to `address the lack of wholesale competition in the industry by giving service station franchisees the legislatively guaranteed right to shop around for up to 50 per cent of their petrol'. The Labor Party all come from the trade unions and they do not know anything about business. They do not know what a franchise agreement actually is. A franchise agreement means that a company, in this case Shell, McDonald's or whoever, provides the equipment, the know-how, the marketing, the location and the brand identity, and then the franchisee in return has the right to sell that company's products. It is a contract freely entered into by both sides. What they are proposing is that, by government fiat, we tear up those contracts and allow franchisees to go wherever they like for their petrol. That is exactly what Labor are proposing.


Senator Schacht —The petrol's all the same—different brand names, but it's from the same refinery.


Senator Knowles —Madam President, I raise a point of order in relation to standing order 203, and I draw your attention to Senator Schacht's wilful and total disregard for your rulings. You have called him to attention no fewer than three or four times already today, yet he is still persisting in interjecting and trying to interrupt the proceedings of the parliament. Could I ask you to call him to order yet again or take action.


The PRESIDENT —There are several senators who have been interjecting, and Senator Schacht is amongst the worst of them today. I would ask you to have some regard for what this process is: it is question time, an opportunity to ask questions and get answers, and there are people attempting to listen. The correspondence and the telephone calls I have been receiving lately indicate that there is a fairly high level of dissatisfaction by those who attempt to listen with the performance of this chamber.


Senator MINCHIN —This anti-business, idiotic proposal was never recommended by either of the major inquiries—


Senator Schacht —Who put this up?


The PRESIDENT —Senator Schacht, you were warned about your behaviour.


Senator MINCHIN —This idea was never recommended by either of the two major independent inquiries into the petrol industry. Labor did nothing of this kind when they had 13 years in which to do it. All they did in 13 years of government was increase by 500 per cent the tax on petrol. It went from 7c a litre to 34c a litre in the period Labor were in office. That was their idea of reforming the petrol retail industry. Recently, they opposed at every single stage our tax reform package, which was all about reducing the cost of petrol.

Neither Labor nor the government can do anything about world oil prices, which have doubled in the last six months. Naturally petrol prices will increase if the world oil price doubles, so we cannot control those prices. But we can make sure our petrol industry is as competitive as possible to keep downward pressure on prices. We have a plan to do that and we would like the opposition's support.