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Wednesday, 8 November 2000
Page: 19380


Senator ALLISON (12:04 PM) —The Australian Democrats very much welcome the Fuel Quality Standards Bill 2000. This legislation comes about as a direct result of the Democrats' negotiations with the government prior to the introduction of the new tax system and is a major step forward in improving human health and quality assurance. For the first time, Australia will have national laws regulating fuel standards and, although the standards are not yet developed, they will be, in conjunction with the states and territories. It does provide a framework for the regulation of fuel standards—standards which are necessary to improve urban air quality and human health. Australia is playing catch up with the rest of the world with regard to fuel standards. Previous governments have shirked their responsibility in legislating for more stringent fuel standards in this country.

The legislation replaces the previous voluntary standards and is necessary, as the minister correctly points out, if Australia is to benefit fully from evolving emission controls and fuel efficiency technologies. This legislation creates offences relating to the supply of fuel that does not comply with the standard made under the act. A new offence is also created for the alteration or adulteration of fuel which is the subject of a fuel standard and for the supply or importation of a fuel additive that is entered on the register of prohibited fuel additives. Modelling undertaken by the Fuel Quality Review established that cleaner fuels and tougher emissions standards will dramatically reduce pollutants and air toxic emissions from vehicles over time. The Democrats thank and congratulate the government for agreeing to bring forward the timetable for the introduction of these tougher fuel standards. Australian fuel motorists and other fuel users will similarly welcome the high quality assurance that this legislation will bring. Senators will recall the difficulties and the damage experienced by users of substandard and contaminated fuel in recent times with the grounding of light aircraft across the nation for weeks as a result of the contamination of avgas and the adulteration of petrol with toluene by independent fuel distributors in an attempt to avoid excise and maximise profits.

We think consumers have a right to expect to receive what they pay good money for. Modern engines require quality, low sulfur, high octane fuels in order to operate efficiently and to reduce the impact of the motorcar on urban air quality. High octane, low sulfur fuels are the key to reducing vehicle emissions in petrol and diesel powered transport. This is why the Democrats have taken action to pressure the government into adopting tougher standards for transport fuels. An online poll in the Sydney Morning Herald in March this year showed that 98 per cent of respondents believed that Australian petrol standards should be compulsory.

The adulteration of fuel was brought to the attention of state governments as early as 1992, and six Sydney service stations were recently found to be selling petrol that had been adulterated with toluene at levels of up to 57 per cent. These fuel stations had been increasing their profits by 26c a litre by selling substandard fuel to unsuspecting motorists. The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that in January 1999 imports of toluene had risen sixfold, to top 6.5 million litres. Revenue loss to the government has been estimated at around $100 million as a result of this and other similar schemes—money that should have been invested in better public roads, better public schools and better public hospitals.

Much has already been said about the enormous benefits for health of improving fuel standards. I reiterate that the Democrats are very pleased to have been able to negotiate a timetable with the government that will harmonise Australian vehicle emission standards with international standards by 2006. I also indicate that the Democrats will have just one amendment to this bill. We would like to see the fines for offences under the act increased, and our amendment will address that issue. (Quorum formed)


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Crowley)—Senator Ludwig, are you appearing for Senator Sherry or Senator Hutchins?