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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 932


Mr BEDDALL(6.14) —It is a pleasure to follow my Queensland colleague, the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite). I shall expand a little on the very rational point that he was making about the intrusion of oil companies into retailing and the problems that that causes to the very small operator who has a retail site and is at the mercy of the oil companies. There is a very good argument, as the industry itself has said, for some restrictions on the operations of retail sites by the oil companies. That is something which we should expand in a later debate at a later date. I know that there is considerable feeling amongst petroleum retailers that the present competition is not fair for those who have a freehold site and is even worse for those who have a leasehold site. If a company-owned site has the advantage of cheaper fuel, that cannot be free and fair competition. I believe that is something that should be investigated.

The purpose of the Liquid Fuel Emergency Amendment Bill is to extend the life of the Liquid Fuel Emergency Act 1984. Without the amendment the 1984 Act will expire on 7 March 1987 under the sunset provisions of section 54. It is perhaps instructive to take the House back to the original reasons for the introduction of the 1984 legislation. A crisis in liquid fuel supplies developed in mid-1979. This followed the reduction in oil output because of the revolution in Iran. This prompted the setting up of a National Petroleum Advisory Committee to represent and advise the Commonwealth and State governments on future national supply shortages. In November 1974, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development set up the International Energy Authority. Australia acceded to this agreement in March 1979. An emergency oil sharing system has been developed to help cope with oil supplies disruption. As a result, contingency plans have also been developed. On 21 September 1982, the report of the National Petroleum Advisory Committee was tabled in the Senate. The report found that the total demand for petroleum products in Australia was 587,000 barrels per day of which 66 per cent was supplied from Australian crude and 34 per cent from imports of crude oil and refined products.

The type of oil and oil products was said to be important. Australian crudes tend to be lighter than Middle Eastern crudes and better suited to transport uses. Australia has in recent years shown a trend away from fuel oil for industrial purposes and fuel oil demand is expected to decline by some 40 per cent in the 10 years following the tabling of that report. The principal uses of petroleum products in Australia are as follows: Transport and storage requirements, 67 per cent; manufacturing, 15 per cent; mining industries, 3 per cent; agricultural and fisheries, 7.3 per cent. The types of petroleum products used include motor spirit, which accounts for 43 per cent of total sales of petroleum products, and automotive diesel oil, which is used in road and rail transport.

Plans for handling a liquid fuel emergency include the classification of users of petroleum products into essential, high priority and other users; the administration of coupon rationing for motor spirit and variety in refinery operation methods; and the means for encouraging reduced consumption and plans for management of stockpiles. The report tabled in the Senate recommended the Commonwealth powers should include standing powers to require the holding of stockpiles, the collection and notification of statistics and emergency powers including powers to determine allocation of available supplies to various States. These provisions will apply during national emergencies only. The States and the Territories were to take care of any localised emergency.

It was hoped in 1983 that the Federal Government in co-operation with the States and Territories would develop a common-form States and Northern Territory emergency legislation with compatible Federal legislation. Because this has not occurred, it has not been possible to design the necessary legislation. Because of the failure of the States to agree, it is essential that the Commonwealth be equipped to deal with any national emergencies. The States have agreed to assist the Commonwealth in dealing with such emergencies. The Commonwealth will have the role as co-ordinator of any emergency operation.

Mr Deputy Speaker, it is unfortunate that the agreed legislative procedure is not in place. I hope that the States will sit down again with the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) to formulate emergency legislation. It appears indefensible to me that the parochial interests of each State should impair the entire country from having effective legislation to enact should a petroleum emergency again imperil the economic interests of the country. I cannot believe that in this day and age, when we have a National Securities Commission and when we have recently passed in this House legislation for a national stock exchange, we cannot secure agreement on national fuel legislation.

I commend the Government for at least pushing ahead with the legislation and maintaining interest in the project. I understand that the previous Government, when Senator Sir John Carrick was the Minister, went to water at the first sign of opposition from the States. As a result we had no plan for emergency measures. Given the changing fortunes in Middle East politics and the fact that Australia will increasingly need to import more of its petroleum products, it is a measure of the lack of courage from the previous Government that it never proceeded with the legislation. This legislation will fill that vacuum. I wish the Minister every success in implementing it.