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- Start of Business
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Timor Gap Treaty: Interim Arrangements
(Brereton, Laurie, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
East and West Timor: Displaced Persons
(Andrews, Kevin, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
Business Tax Reform: Trusts
(Crean, Simon, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Business Tax Reform: Capital Gains
(Georgiou, Petro, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Business Tax Reform: Charities
(Crean, Simon, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Rural and Regional Australia: New Apprenticeships Program
(Brough, Mal, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
Republic Referendum: Proposed Model
(Andren, Peter, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Goods and Services Tax: Price Rises
(Bartlett, Kerry, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
- Timor Gap Treaty: Interim Arrangements
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Goods and Services Tax: Site Fees
(Albanese, Anthony, MP, Anthony, Larry, MP)
Employment and Unemployment: Policies
(Billson, Bruce, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Goods and Services Tax: Charitable and Non-Profit Organisations
(Swan, Wayne, MP, Bishop, Bronwyn, MP)
Social Security: Fraud
(May, Margaret, MP, Anthony, Larry, MP)
(Griffin, Alan, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Natural Heritage Trust: Native Environment
(Lindsay, Peter, MP, Tuckey, Wilson, MP)
Health: MRI Scans
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Tourism: Overseas Visitors
(Charles, Bob, MP, Kelly, Jackie, MP)
Health: MRI Scans
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Rural and Regional Australia: Government Support
(Lawler, Tony, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Health: MRI Scans
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Centenary of the Boer War
(Ronaldson, Michael, MP, Scott, Bruce, MP)
- Goods and Services Tax: Site Fees
- AUDITOR-GENERAL'S REPORTS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- ASSENT TO BILLS
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- MATTERS REFERRED TO MAIN COMMITTEE
- BILLS RETURNED FROM THE SENATE
- APPROPRIATION (SUPPLEMENTARY MEASURES) BILL (No. 1) 1999
- APPROPRIATION (SUPPLEMENTARY MEASURES) BILL (No. 2) 1999
- FURTHER 1998 BUDGET MEASURES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (SOCIAL SECURITY) BILL 1999
- TELECOMMUNICATIONS (INTERCEPTION) AMENDMENT BILL 1999
- DIESEL AND ALTERNATIVE FUELS GRANTS SCHEME (ADMINISTRATION AND COMPLIANCE) BILL 1999
- Melbourne: Western Suburbs
- Australian Citizenship: 50th Anniversary
- Canning Electorate: Road Train Trial
- Health and Medical Research
- Six Billion People Day
- Australian Defence Force: Crocodile 99
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Department of Health and Aged Care: Payments to Organisations
(Bevis, Arch, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Department of Health and Aged Care: Library Services
(Crosio, Janice, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Pensions: Disability Support
(Latham, Mark, MP, Anthony, Larry, MP)
Broadcasting: Advertising Complaints
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Hockey, Joe, MP)
- Department of Health and Aged Care: Payments to Organisations
Tuesday, 12 October 1999
Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY (9:47 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme (Administration and Compliance) Bill 1999 . Firstly, I wish to give an overview of the bill and its aims and then talk specifically about the implementation of the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme and what it is going to mean for rural and regional Australia. This bill, which will enact the administrative arrangements, including compliance mechanisms for the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme, is the final legislative chapter in the implementation of this innovative and popular scheme.
The main framework of the scheme was contained in the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme Act 1999, which received royal assent on 8 July. This act is conditional upon the commencement of this legislation, thus reflecting the government's commitment to put in place rigorous enforcement measures. I will shortly get to why these are necessary, particularly when one compares the efforts of this government as opposed to that of the previous government.
I cannot overemphasise the critical importance of the scheme to regional and rural Australia. While the full measure of the original scheme, as outlined in the new tax system policy, has not been possible, nonetheless, the compromise negotiated by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Mr John Anderson, with the Australian Democrats has preserved for regional and rural Australia the key benefits. I am extremely grateful to the minister for achieving so much in these no doubt difficult and sensitive negotiations. Equally, credit is due to the Australian Democrats and their leader, Senator Meg Lees, for their willingness to seek a satisfactory and beneficial outcome.
I mentioned in my opening remarks that this bill reflects the government's determination to ensure that there are rigorous enforcement mechanisms to ensure the scheme is not rorted. Undeniably, the compromise scheme, which will apply from 1 July 2000 and which has a detailed eligibility for entitlement, does not have the broad simplicity of the original plan. However, with a sense of understanding and fairness, appropriate and effective compliance measures can and will be put in place. I found it ironic, to say the least, that the Labor Party sought to criticise these enforcement and compliance measures before they were even given a chance to prove their worth, given the hopeless administration of the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme when they were in office.
The member for Hotham, who spoke earlier, talked about the diesel police with a dipstick. The dipsticks were the previous government, and I am going to go on to show their record when they were in government administering the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme. The Australian National Audit Office—just to digress for a moment—gave record rentals to the Australian Labor Party. As I understand it, it was twice the going rate of any other business in Canberra, a contract arranged by somebody in the Department of Finance, as it then was. Anyway, the Australian National Audit Office, which has I guess the iniquitous position of renting space commercially from the Labor Party at twice the going rental, reviewed this scheme in 1991 when the Labor Party was in office and again in 1996, shortly after the election of the coalition government.
The 1996 report found that the risk based approach to ensuring compliance was lacking, with little substantiation of grant claims or targeting of claimants. The Australian Customs Service, the administrator of the scheme, had also—in the words of the damning report—`virtually discontinued' imposing administrative penalties or prosecutions for those abuses of the scheme that had been detected. The result, according to the Audit Office, was that at least $23.4 million was overpaid to complainants in 1994-95.
Who are the dipsticks? Who could not run a diesel fuel rebate scheme and who saw $23.4 million lost to taxpayers because of overpayments? The member for Paterson went on about compliance and the power to stop and search vehicles. It is a pity the Labor Party did not stop and do a bit of searching and do the right thing by the taxpayer. They could not run a chook raffle! They could not run a fuel rebate scheme, and they are not even going to vote for the compliance measures we have put in place.
I would like to go on because there is even more. What is even worse is the fact that the 1996 report revealed that what were described in the earlier 1991 report as `significant deficiencies' in the administration of the scheme had not been remedied in 1996. They had five years—in fact, they had 13 years overall—and they still could not get it right.
The Labor Party in government presided over a scandalously wasteful, inefficient rort that they knew about for five years and that they did nothing about. The member for Batman talked about a dirty little deal. I just refer to the arrangement with the Australian National Audit Office. If there is a dirty little deal, it has to be that one. The deal we are offering rural and regional Australia is a saving of 23c a litre. What is the Labor Party offering? They are offering 43c a litre. They are trying to muddy the waters and pretend that they are helping regional and rural Australia, that they are going to save them from our generous offer of 23c a litre reduction in fuel costs, and they could not run the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme from 1991 to 1996.
Under the coalition, the appalling, shoddy and careless administration that we were left by the Labor Party will be overhauled and tightened up, and a great deal has been done already. The Customs Service has implemented a modernisation project, which has included redeploying staff away from claims processing to what are described by the service in its 1997-98 annual report as `more critical audit and compliance activities'. Let us hope it is $23.4 million worth of more critical audit and compliance activities.
This bill addresses these issues by providing guidelines on eligibility, entitlements and record keeping, thus providing the scheme's administrator, the Australian tax office, with extensive powers to impose penalties, recover overpayments—which the previous government never could and never attempted—and gain access to claimants' records and premises. They are complaining about onerous compliance, but they could not run a Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme.
While a compliance strategy is yet to be fully developed by the ATO, my advice is that it will be based on two key areas. Firstly, there will be an information and education campaign to help claimants understand their obligations, and I very much welcome this initiative. When I reflect upon the many truck owners and operators in my electorate who will benefit—a great deal—I can say with assurance that none would willingly and knowingly engage in any rorting. However, education and information is certainly needed about the new guidelines and will avoid any inadvertent errors. The information and education campaign is welcome.
The second area to be developed for the compliance strategy is understood to incorporate risk management approaches, including developing sector and user profiles against which claims can be monitored. In other words, there will be figures to indicate when a particular business may have gone right outside the typical user profile and give the ATO not the sort of scaremongering the Labor Party is talking about but a profile to compare and then perhaps ask some questions of the particular user.
The risk for inadvertent error is always considerable when any new scheme is introduced, even with the best will in the world. I know the tax office will adopt a fair and reasonable approach to meet its enforcement responsibilities and be judicious in its approach. We have to get a better result than the previous government. It is significant that the government has recognised in this bill that there will be some grey areas, and those are yet to be defined—for example, what constitutes a point and hence a journey for the purposes of an entitlement?
Under the provisions of this bill, however, the taxation commissioner must consult with the Bus Industry Confederation, the Australian Trucking Association Ltd, the National Farmers Federation and a range of other organisations. This is a most sensible provision and should go a long way towards ensuring that disputes and disagreements are ironed out before they become a major source of aggravation.
I would like to recount to the House the extent of the benefits in this scheme. As the minister for transport said when introducing the main bill in June, there will be large and enduring benefits to regional Australia, to the environment and to transport operators in the road, rail and marine sectors. In the second reading speech, the minister said:
Businesses across Australia will all pay less for fuel than they do now because they will get back the GST paid on inputs . . . It is expected that businesses should save around 6c to 7c per litre by this measure alone, although the actual amount will not be determined until next year after the final pre-GST half-yearly CPI adjustment to excise rates.
In addition to the GST input tax credits on fuel purchased, the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grant Scheme will provide a further major cut in costs, with grants in the order of 16c to 17c per litre of diesel used for a wide variety of Australian businesses that provide transport services to country areas.
Importantly, the government is also extending concessions available under the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme by recognising rail as an off-road user of diesel—a big component of the transport industry in rural and regional areas, certainly in my electorate of Dawson—and therefore extending to the railways the full excise rebate, and by also extending this full rebate for diesel and like fuels to marine use and other qualifying uses, including agriculture, fishing and mining.
Broadly speaking, eligibility for grants under the scheme is limited to vehicles weighing between 4.5 and 20 tonnes operating outside metropolitan areas and all vehicles weighing more than 20 tonnes operating in all areas. They are the trucks that go up and down the Bruce Highway in Queensland bringing goods from Melbourne and Sydney to our towns and taking melons, mangoes and tomatoes from Dawson to the markets down south. It is going to be a tremendous boon, and I will go into the figures very shortly that will accrue to businesses right across my electorate.
There has been criticism of those cut-off points which were agreed in the negotiations between Minister Anderson and the Australian Democrats, but it is a much better deal than we were ever offered by the Labor Party. They are still offering 43c a litre, and we have cut that back by 23c a litre to 20c a litre diesel excise.
I will talk about the cut-off points for vehicle classes for a moment. The fact is that 4.5 tonnes is a natural cut-off point for vehicle classes because different licensing requirements apply at this level—a truck drivers licence is needed to operate such vehicles and very few vehicles use petrol at this threshold. Some 99.9 per cent of articulated vehicles and 90.5 per cent of rigid trucks already use diesel, as do a similar percentage of the bus fleet. These figures demolish some of the wilder claims that there will be a wholesale switch from petrol to diesel in these heavier vehicles thus contributing to environmental damage.
The Australian Conservation Foundation claimed last March that reducing the price of diesel would in fact lead to increased diesel usage. Let us examine that claim. The National Farmers Federation President, Mr Ian Donges, rightfully responded by pointing out that it was just absurd to try to claim that farmers would want to spend more time and money than they already do harvesting grain and planting crops. Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, you come from a regional electorate. You do not harvest your crop twice just because fuel is cheaper. You do not haul the same product twice to market just because diesel fuel is cheaper. Nor do truck drivers happily take the long route between two points because diesel fuel is cheaper.
In fact, the NFF President pointed out that if the view that cheaper fuel means greater vehicle usage had any merit at all then there would be greater usage in Brisbane than in the other capital cities because of lower fuel prices there due to the absence of a state fuel tax. I am happy to advise that this is not the fact. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Brisbane motorists actually drive 10 per cent less than the national average, travelling 10,300 kilometres a year compared with the national average of 11,400 kilometres. Mr Donges also pointed out last March that in the previous two years the pump price of petrol and diesel had fallen dramatically, yet consumption was 48,178 megalitres in 1996, 47,813 megalitres in 1997 and 48,025 megalitres in 1998. The facts do not support the Australian Conservation Foundation's assertion. Farmers do not drive their product twice to market. In Brisbane, where fuel is cheaper, motorists drove less than the national average of kilometres. The reality is that there is no correlation between fuel prices and usage.
Mr Emerson —Oh, come on!
Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —I have given you the facts, but you do not want to hear them. That is typical of the Labor Party. They do not want to offer a diesel fuel rebate of 23c a litre. In fact, it can be well argued that the benefits from the tax package, including cheaper fuel and cheaper vehicles, will have a very positive economic and environmental impact because businesses will be better able to purchase new and more fuel efficient and less polluting vehicles. As the Minister for Transport and Regional Services said in June when introducing the main bill for this scheme, `In fact, viewed in the context of the full set of environmental commitments made by the government, particulate emissions in cities will actually fall dramatically.'
Road and rail transport is the very lifeblood of rural and regional Australia. It moves produce to markets and it delivers the necessities of life. Thus the cost of this transport impacts heavily on the price of that produce on domestic and international markets and on the cost of virtually everything needed for day-to-day life. Cheaper fuel means lower costs which, in turn, means enhanced prospects for our exports and a dampening on the cost of living for regional and rural Australians.
I would like to share with you some figures that have been done on the benefit for a business in my own electorate of the substantial cut in diesel fuel excise offered by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. This exercise was undertaken by the National Truck Association for a trucking business in my electorate of Dawson. It is a moderately sized family business with a turnover of $2 million a year. It is probably not an atypical business in the transport industry, but it is for a family run business. Their diesel fuel bill per annum is in the order of $400,000. On the Truck Association's figures they are going to save—and I hope the Labor Party are listening because they were not going to deliver it—$132,500.
Mr St Clair —How much?
Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —$132,500. If you include the wholesale sales tax on parts, oil, tyres and so on, they are looking at a saving in addition to that of $75,260. They are not my figures; they are the National Truck Association's figures. So for that one small business, the total sum of the savings is $207,760. That money will go right throughout the electorate, not into the coffers of Canberra for the Labor Party to waste.
Mr Emerson —We will be in government pretty quickly.
Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —You wasted your money plenty. Do not forget the black hole you created with your debt. We all remember.
Mr Emerson —Don't be nasty.
Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —Can I just say to the member on the other side—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —No, I would rather you did not. Just say it to the chair and ignore the member on the other side.
Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —I would much rather direct my comments to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. But I thought the events of last week were very significant when the former Prime Minister, Mr Keating, went on radio and television making the statements that he did. Many people had forgotten what the Labor Party was really like. I had people stopping me in the street all day saying, `Remember Keating—God save us.' It all came back—political deja vu. Boy, did it come back. They had not forgotten; the memory had dimmed. But it all came back, as you can see by the poll results. They remembered the 22 per cent interest rates. They remembered, as my colleague the member for New England so rightly said, the constant increases in the diesel fuel excise and petrol excise starting from 6c going right up—climbing and climbing. They remember the wholesale sales tax. They remember the l-a-w tax cuts. It all came back—political deja vu. Just look at your poll results. So while you are over there crowing about that, remember that we are the ones delivering. (Time expired)
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I am not crowing about anything.