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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 15232

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) (12:46 PM) —I will respond briefly. As I understand it, we are dealing with the ACIS Administration Amendment Bill 2003 and not with the Customs Tariff Amendment (ACIS) Bill 2003 to which Senator Brown has proposed an amendment. Dealing with the first bill, the ACIS Administration Amendment Bill 2003, I do not have a lot to add to the remarks I made last night in my second reading contribution with respect to the second reading amendment moved by the Democrats in relation to environmental matters. I take the opportunity, however, to rebut some of the rather negative comments about the Australian car industry. I think it has done an enormous amount to produce more environmentally friendly fuel efficient vehicles in recent years. It should be applauded for the steps it has taken to produce much more fuel efficient vehicles rather than be criticised.

I pick up the point Senator Brown made about the public's attitude. The point is that an industry like this must be responsive to consumers. That is how capitalism works. You produce products which the consumer wants and if consumers want to buy fuel efficient vehicles there are plenty available for sale and they can purchase them and there is no disincentive to that activity whatsoever. If the public want to buy these vehicles then there are plenty on the market for them to purchase.

I point out that, by the substantial reduction in tax we have brought about in relation to motor vehicles by removing the wholesale sales tax and replacing it with the GST, motor vehicles are now much cheaper and more affordable. There is no doubt, and it ought to be recognised, that new motor vehicles are infinitely more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly than old vehicles. One of the problems in Australia has been the age of the motor vehicle fleet. Everyone understands that older vehicles going back 10, 15 or 20 years are much more fuel inefficient than modern vehicles. The newer the fleet, the less fuel inefficiency and the greater the fuel efficiency; so the more people we can get into newer vehicles the better it is for the environment.

That is why, if I may foreshadow some remarks I might make in relation to Senator Brown's amendment, making cars more expensive, which is what Senator Brown wants to do, is completely contrary to the interests of ensuring more fuel efficient vehicles on our roads. The newer vehicles are so much more fuel efficient, using much better engine technology and much lighter materials, that we want to do everything we can to encourage Australians to be in newer, more fuel efficient vehicles. That is one of the reasons we foreshadow our rejection of the forthcoming amendment. I do want to acknowledge how much the car industry has done in this country to improve the fuel efficiency of its vehicles, working closely with the government. Everything we can do to enable Australians to have newer vehicles which are not only more fuel efficient but a lot safer will produce the objectives the Democrats and the Greens quite properly see. It is obviously a good objective to have much more fuel efficient vehicles on the road. We want to work with the industry but at the end of the day it is a matter for consumers. If they want to buy those vehicles there are plenty on the market for them to buy and the industry will be responsive to that demand.