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Wednesday, 13 October 1999
Page: 11413

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (9:46 AM) —I wish to ask the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation a couple of questions about the operation of the fuels grants scheme legislation. In particular, I wish to draw the attention of the minister and the House to the new section 10A—which can be found on page 8 of the bill—which concerns operations of a vehicle that might constitute a journey.

Before I do that, I would add as background to this legislation that we have the situation where the Leader of the National Party at the time, Mr Fischer, said that he would support a GST only if the fuel excise was abolished. Subsequently, however, he reneged on that pledge and we had the Diesel Fuel Credit Scheme announced by the government that actually retains the fuel excise. This has meant no reduction in petrol tax for ordinary motorists and an increase in the city-country petrol differential. That is a very bad deal for country Australia.

When we look at what is going on with oil prices, we see that the price of crude oil has gone down from its September high of $25.12, with the major crude oil contract recently closing at $20.90. But, if you look at the retail petrol price, you see that in the ACT the day before yesterday it was 83.9c a litre. This is a government which says it has done something about petrol prices by abolishing those maximum wholesale prices and taking the ACCC away from monitoring, but what we in fact see are the oil companies now taking advantage of that to increase their profit levels at the expense of ordinary motorists.

I draw the minister's attention expressly to section 10A, which talks about what operation of a vehicle constitutes a journey. We have been told all along in this exercise that the government was going to produce some definition of which vehicles were eligible for the fuel credit and which ones were not, which journeys were covered and which ones were not. I take the House and the minister back to the Prime Minister's now infamous agreement with the Democrats on 31 May this year. The Prime Minister described which journeys were going to be covered and not covered and he referred to urban conurbations. For example, trips through Melbourne to Geelong would not be covered; they would not be eligible for the diesel fuel credit.

We have all been waiting for the government to provide a precise definition of what areas are in and what areas are not in—whether you are in if you are in Werribee, whether you are in if you are in Whittlesea and whether you are in if you are in Craigieburn. All of those who are involved in this important area of transport are entitled to know what the government is intending.

But, once again, we have legislation before the House which does not provide that. We have been told on a number of occasions that we could expect to see some kind of definition of what constitutes a journey, but it is still not here. All section 10A does is give the commissioner a discretion to decide what operations—what vehicle journeys—qualify for the diesel fuel excise. I call on the minister to provide us with some better detail and information for all those involved in the trucking industry who are going to depend on these decisions in terms of their livelihood. They are entitled to better.

The other thing I want to note in relation to this matter is that the Prime Minister's state ment of 31 May said that, as a result of denying those urban conurbation journeys the diesel fuel excise credit, the government would save $199 million in the year 2000-01, $209 million in the year 2001-02 and $223 million in the year 2002-03. I cannot for the life of me understand how they can come up with precise figures of that kind, down to the last million dollars, without having some kind of knowledge or understanding of what journeys are in and what journeys are out. If they know what journeys are in and what journeys are out, they ought to fill us all in and let us all know what is happening. People involved in the transport industry are entitled to that. The government ought to let us know. (Extension of time granted)

If on the other hand, the government do not know and they have not yet decided what journeys are going to be in and what journeys are not going to be in, how on earth could the Prime Minister have put out such a detailed press release on 31 May that talked about, as I said before, $199 million, $209 million and $223 million in terms of forward estimates? That is the first issue I wish to raise with the minister. I have two other matters which I wish to raise, but the minister may wish to respond to that particular concern now.

Mr SPEAKER —The minister has not risen in response and clearly intends to respond in a joint fashion. If no-one else wishes to rise, I call the member for Wills once again.