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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1316

Mr GOODLUCK(5.31) —I listened with interest to the comments by the honourable member for Dunkley (Mr Chynoweth). I agree with some of the things he said but not others. Somebody has done research for him. I will not refute or dispute some of the things he said. The position is not as simple as he makes it out to be. In 1976 the Collins Royal Commission on Petroleum pointed out that certain things in the industry needed to be straightened out. Mr Justice Collins said that there was discrimination and that the industry was very complicated. He said that it was very difficult to analyse the industry and to bring down recommendations making it fair for every motorist in Australia. Interestingly, at that time the price of petrol in Melbourne was 14.5c a litre and in Hobart it was 19c a litre. The same differentiation is evident today.

The honourable member for Dunkley has forgotten one thing. I will be political for a few seconds only. We have a price watch. The honourable member for Canning (Mr Gear) is going to look at the price of petrol. I think that there will be a politician at every service station just to find out the price of petrol. Yet the Government says: `We will bump up the Prices Surveillance Authority. We will say that it is a great organisation. It will make recommendations on prices, and it will be fair for everybody'. We can lay a bit of blame on the oil companies, but they are in the market-place to compete. We can condemn them a bit, but they do provide employment and opportunities for people in Australia. So we cannot knock them too much. Let me say to the honourable member for Dunkley that the Prices Surveillance Authority-I ask him to listen to this very carefully; I have been saying it for 12 years, but nobody has taken any notice-fixes a maximum wholesale price for petrol in every capital city. The price does not vary very much. For example, in Melbourne it is 54.53c a litre; Sydney, 53.59c; Brisbane, 49.86c; Hobart, 57.56c; Perth, 54.38c; and Adelaide, 52.68c. We must remember that the Authority fixes a maximum wholesale price. Is the honourable member for Dunkley going to take a point of order?

Mr Chynoweth —Oh, no.

Mr GOODLUCK —The honourable member had me worried for a minute, after listening to him for half an hour. The Authority fixes a maximum wholesale price for petrol and then, all of a sudden, the problems start to occur. In fact, the figure the Authority sets is fictitious because retailers in certain parts of Australia are able to sell below it. For example, the prices cited by the honourable member for Dunkley were below the Authority's price. What is the use of saying `We have a Prices Surveillance Authority and we will give it more staff; we will have people look at prices', when the Authority fixes a maximum and then allows petrol to be sold by oil companies at well below that price in every part of Australia? Surely to God, it is a simple process.

We have talked about this before. Honourable members opposite are in government; we are in opposition. I have suggested on many occasions that the Government's price watch-let us be truthful about it-is just a political hoax. Is somebody going to sit in a service station in Hobart and say `That's the price', while in Queensland another price is set? Surely to goodness we have the mechanism-the Prices Surveillance Authority-to set the price. It is an authority which the Government wants. We do not want it because, as far as I am concerned, it has failed miserably. We have the structure to say to the industry: `That is the wholesale price'. Let us start working from that firm base. If the oil companies, which go to the Authority, are able to justify a price rise, they get the price rise. That is the mechanism for fixing the wholesale price. The trouble starts to occur after that.

I have argued for years that oil companies drop their price below the wholesale price-sometimes 5c or 6c a litre below it. They say that they are not making a profit in certain States, but the price is higher in other States. When the companies go to the Authority and obtain an increase, there is an increase in the price of petrol across the board throughout Australia. Instead of analysing the price in Hobart, Melbourne, Sydney or whatever, they say that that is their price collectively. Then they are able to drop the price in certain volumed areas of Australia, such as Melbourne and Sydney which have three million people each. That is why Australian motorists are so concerned. That is why there is so much complaint. The problem is very difficult to overcome. The oil companies say: `We are competing in the market-place. The biggest volume is in Melbourne and Sydney. We can drop the price down and sell more petrol'. That is where the problem lies. Let us forget about the Government's price watch. It will not wash.

The Government wants its Prices Surveillance Authority, which it supports so determinedly, to have the authority to look at prices, and then the Government can say to Australian consumers that the Authority is the mechanism to overcome the problems. If it can do that, we might get somewhere. If we are to look at the oil industry and at fairness for motorists, do we not have a mechanism in this Parliament to do so? A joint select committee could consider the oil industry. The Royal Commission on Petroleum cost $1.6m. My colleague, the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore), who is the shadow Minister and is at the table, knows that only one speech was made on that in this Parliament in 1976 and it was mine. No one can refute that. The inquiry cost $1.6m. We were in government at the time and we found it very difficult to bring down recommendations on the industry. The issue has gone on and on.

The variations in the price of petrol take attention away from the fact that we want to be self-sufficient. Of course we cannot support the legislation. We want explorers in Australia to be self-sufficient. We do not want to depend on Arabian countries for certain imports of oil, because when they are cantankerous, a shortfall occurs and we have strife. We must support exploration. We must ensure that the wells run freely and that there is money for that purpose. We want explorers to come to Australia so that we can be self-sufficient and not dependent on imports. In the American crisis there was a fear that home heating oil, fuel for cars and so on could not be supplied. There was a problem and everybody said: `What are we going to do?' We do not want that to occur again. We want to be self-sufficient in future so that we do not have to depend on other countries. Then we can say: `We are right. Australia, with 15 million people, many of whom are motorists and are dependent on the motor vehicle, home heating oil, diesel and so on has no worries'.

Surely that is what we should be aiming at. As a government we should have the mechanism to be able to say that there will be fairness for all motorists in Australia. Surely we can make certain that the explorers have the will and the money to be able to succeed. We must give them a go and we must make certain that the oil companies, through their marketing practices, do not con motorists. We must ensure that there will be fairness from everybody. Then we might get a bit of equality into the price of petrol. I ask the Government not to talk today about price watchers and about the price of petrol or to make comparisons, because its Prices Surveillance Authority has failed miserably in the area of petrol pricing.