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Monday, 17 March 2008
Page: 942

Senator JOHNSTON (2:45 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, Senator Sherry. What is the average capital city price of unleaded petrol at the bowser today? How does this compare with the petrol price at the bowser on 24 November last year?

Senator SHERRY (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) —I can indicate the price at the bowser in my home city of Devonport because on Saturday I had to visit a petrol station to fill up. I was struck by the fact that the price was approximately $1.40 per unleaded litre. I do keep a very close eye on the petrol price in my local community for obvious reasons. This government is very well aware of the impact that petrol prices have on struggling Australian families.

I want to touch on some of the factors that have led to the generally higher petrol prices in recent times. While oil and petrol prices are largely determined by international factors, the Rudd government is committed to promoting competition and transparency in Australia’s petrol market. The WTI crude oil price eased on Friday, closing at 18c lower—

Senator Abetz —Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. Senator Johnston asked two very specific questions. The first one was: what is the current price? We have already been given an answer to that. Senator Johnston then asked the price as of 24 November. The minister either knows or does not know, but taking us on a discourse on all things that he can read out is irrelevant to the question.

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Sherry is exactly on the question in the answer he is providing. Even Senator Abetz admitted that in his point of order. It is another frivolous point of order. Senator Sherry can answer the question as he sees fit and he is clearly right in the centre of the question in discussing petrol price movements, as was requested in the question.

Senator Abetz —There were two questions.

The PRESIDENT —Order! While the question was quite specific, we have always allowed a certain amount of latitude to ministers in answering questions. I would remind Senator Sherry of the question.

Senator SHERRY —Thank you very much, Mr President. As I have indicated, this government is very concerned about the impact of higher petrol prices, particularly on struggling families. I did mention the price of petrol in my local community, which I keep a very close eye on. I might add in the context of my local community that, particularly in rural and regional areas, which the National Party is notorious for forgetting about, there is not the same range of public transport options. In my case on the north-west coast of Tasmania, whilst there are public transport options available within the cities of Devonport and Burnie, there are not extensive public transport options between the cities and the local communities. So obviously in rural and regional areas in particular, such as the community I come from, these are very important issues.

Senator Abetz —They have gone up, haven’t they?

Senator SHERRY —Petrol prices certainly have gone up, Senator Abetz. I just mentioned what the petrol price is in my local community on the north-west coast of Tasmania. Of course this government is concerned about this trend. It is particularly important coming up to the Easter period and the public holiday commencing on Friday, because the ACCC is closely monitoring petrol prices over Easter. The ACCC—and this goes specifically to the issue of price movements which I have been asked about—monitors movements in domestic retail petrol prices compared with movements in international prices, as reflected in the stock price of Singapore Mogas 95 Unleaded, and it assesses the difference between these two price series over time. The methodology used by the ACCC was outlined in the ACCC’s report of the inquiry into petrol prices in Australia, which was released in December 2007. Thank you for the question.

Senator JOHNSTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I am very surprised that the spokesperson for competition policy and consumer affairs does not know the answer to those simple questions. To assist him, the petrol price was $1.33 on 24 November and $1.40 was the average price across Australia on Sunday, 16 March 2007. When exactly can consumers expect to see a decline in petrol prices, as promised by Labor during the election campaign?

Senator SHERRY (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) —I would just indicate that I represent the Assistant Treasurer; I am not responsible for these areas directly. I just thought I would indicate that for the sake of the opposition.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Sherry will be heard.

Senator SHERRY —Thank you. Since members of the opposition are so keen on petrol prices, why don’t they all write down on a piece of paper here and now what the price of petrol is in their own local community, and we will see how much they know.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Senate will come to order! Order on my left!