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Wednesday, 29 May 2002
Page: 2581

Mr SECKER (11:24 AM) —I rise today to join the debate on the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme Amendment Bill 2002, but before I go on I think it is very important to point out that the member for Rankin seems to be supporting the Trebeck report on fuel taxation. One then has to ask if that means that he and the Labor Party support the reintroduction of CPI indexed increases in fuel excise, because the main reason we rejected that report is that that was such a key part of that report. At no time have the Labor Party ever said that they will not reintroduce CPI increases in fuel excise.

Dr Emerson —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: the member has obviously not heard the speech. He has a prepared speech and has not heard what I have just had to say, so he is completely wrong.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —That is not a point of order.

Mr SECKER —I certainly have heard what the Labor Party have said over many months. In fact at no time have they ever ruled out CPI indexed increases in fuel excise. They have not ruled out getting rid of the 1c and 2c subsidies to country fuel outlets, something that the member for Hunter actually let out of the bag before the election, so the five-point plan that the member for Rankin referred to is really just another stunt. He referred to the yellow card as if we are going to be playing soccer with fuel taxation, and the trouble with the whole speech of the member for Rankin is that it had little to do with this bill. Many sections of my rural electorate of Barker have long felt the benefits of the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme.

Mr Zahra —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: I know that the Speaker has made rulings previously in relation to when honourable members in this place get up to comment on things which have already been the subject of personal explanations, and the reference which the honourable member is making to Labor's fuel policy is inconsistent with what has been stated in ALP policy.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —There is no point of order. If members opposite are concerned about what the member for Barker is saying, I am sure subsequent speakers can clarify the record.

Mr Zahra —We are concerned about it, Mr Deputy Speaker, because he is completely wrong.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for McMillan will resume his seat.

Dr Nelson —On the point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: I think you have dealt with the matter very well.

Mr SECKER —I honestly believe it is high time that these benefits were felt by wider parts of the community. At present the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme provides a rebate of 38.143c per litre for diesel and 7.55c per litre for light fuels. The rebate is applied to various activities such as mining operations, other than for the purpose of propelling any vehicle on a public road; rail transport, other than for the purpose of propelling a road vehicle on a public road, in the course of carrying on an enterprise; and marine transport, other than for the purpose of propelling a road vehicle on a public road, in the course of carrying on an enterprise. It is also applied to residential premises to generate electricity used in providing food and drink, lighting, heating, airconditioning, hot water or similar amenities, or meeting other domestic requirements of residents of the premises of a hospital or nursing home or at any other institution providing medical or nursing care or at a home for aged persons. It is also applied to one of the most important activities for my electorate—primary production, other than for the purpose of propelling a road vehicle on a public road. The important part of the logic behind this rebate is that some of the excise is obviously used for road infrastructure. If those vehicles or generators are not being used on a public road, then they should not be taxed.

The purpose of this legislation before the House is to extend these eligibility provisions of the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme to retail and hospitality businesses who use diesel and light fuels to generate power for their own use where there is no ready access to a commercial supply of electricity or other forms of energy. This legislation gives effect to a policy initiative announced by the Howard government during the 2001 election campaign and will primarily assist small business operators in remote areas of rural and regional Australia by providing them with access to the customs or excise duty paid on diesel and light fuels used by them to generate power for their own use.

It was very interesting to hear the member for Rankin saying that the Labor Party support the election promises that we made and that that is one of the reasons they support this legislation. But it will also be interesting to see whether they take the same consistent attitude with other promises that we made in respect of, for example, the superannuation surcharge tax reduction.

This legislation shows that the government is honouring its promises and providing the Australian population with an initiative that they voted for at the last federal election. I can assure you that there are many in my electorate of Barker who will benefit immensely from our government's initiative to provide wider eligibility to the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme, not to mention those in the rest of rural Australia. Throughout Australia there are many regional businesses who suffer because they have no ready access to commercial power supplies. These businesses suffer much greater running costs than their urban or, for that matter, country cousins who have access to a commercial power supply. Not only do these businesses have to allow for the normal day-to-day costs of running their businesses but also they have to account for the cost of fuel to power the businesses, which more often than not costs a lot more than it otherwise would if they were connected to a commercial power supply.

Our government is committed to rural Australians and we have always been committed to small business. It is this commitment which has seen us introduce this piece of legislation to try to help small business in rural Australia reduce their energy cost. Unfortunately, this is not something that those opposite can boast, as seen by their insane ramblings in the House yesterday concerning the sale of Telstra. To make my point, I remind the House of the comments made by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, my colleague the Hon. John Anderson. In question time yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister was forced to remind the Labor Party of something that they had quite clearly chosen to forget—and no doubt had hoped that others would, too. I refer to the dirty deal that Labor did to abolish the analog mobile phone system. I can assure you that they did not have regional Australians in mind when they closed that deal.

Dr Martin —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The legislation that is being debated has nothing to do with Telstra. In fact, it is on the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme. I ask you to bring the speaker back to the matter before the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. B.C. Scott)— I remind the member for Barker of the purpose of the bill before the House.

Mr SECKER —The disdain those opposite hold for rural Australia never ceases to amaze me. In many instances when we the coalition give the opposition the chance to show their support for rural Australians they hide behind party politics and try to score political points at the cost of rural Australians. I hope this is not one of those instances and that those opposite actually realise just how far reaching the impact of this piece of legislation will be. The important thing for them to remember with this piece of legislation is that we are catering to businesses that have no choice. These businesses do not choose to use diesel and like fuels to power their businesses; they have no choice, and they have no choice because the commercial power supplies are not available to them. There is no supply in these areas.

With the proposed changes to eligibility criteria for rebates contained in this bill we are targeting businesses such as roadhouses, caravan parks and tourist resorts so that they will now be eligible to claim a rebate on the fuel they use to generate their power. With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the three categories of businesses that I have just mentioned. I have just said that roadhouses, caravan parks and tourist resorts will benefit from this bill. Once these changes are passed, these types of businesses will then be able to claim the diesel fuel rebate for fuel used by them to generate their power. On the face of it, it looks good, it sounds good and I am guessing that the owners will think it is good. However, that is only on the face of it.

When we take a closer look, though, we see that there are much wider reaching benefits of this piece of legislation. When we put it into business terms, the broader picture is even better. By subsidising a company's energy costs, we are inadvertently giving the operators more money with which to run their businesses. With more money being put into these businesses we often see more money going back into the local economy with more jobs being created and thus an upward spiral affect sweeps through the region and things look up. If we look at the businesses I have mentioned as being included in those that will benefit from this bill, we will see that they are often a linchpin in the economy of the local rural community.

Driving through my electorate of Barker, I often stop at the local roadhouse. Having a large electorate of some 52,000 square kilometres, I often need to refuel, grab a bite to eat, have a rest, stretch my legs and take a break. Think about driving from Adelaide to Alice Springs to Darwin. A perfect example of the benefit this piece of legislation will bring to businesses can be found at Cadney Park, not much more than a service station and a caravan park. If, for example, these businesses are fuelled by diesel or like fuels, they are exactly the types of businesses we are trying to target.

If these businesses, both in my electorate of Barker and in the electorate of Wakefield, like Cadney Park, can use the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme to cut the energy costs so that they can pour more money into their businesses, I have no doubt that there is a very real possibility that the spiral effect that I previously described will kick in and start to improve the local economy. If that happens, our government will have achieved exactly what we are setting out to achieve.

Another point that I would like to make about the businesses that I have mentioned is that the majority of them operate on the tourist dollar. Sure, you have the local community that you sell fuel or a litre of milk to. However, more often than not—even in the rich pastoral land of my Barker electorate—you are attracting the tourist dollar. Roadhouses are the ideal place for someone to take a break from their driving and have a rest—something I often do, as I have previously described. Stopping for the night in a caravan park or tourist resort to break the journey also results in more income for the operator. Cut the energy costs of this operator and they suddenly have the funds needed to perhaps put in a swimming pool or refit their cabins or restaurant and generally provide a better tourist experience for their customers. This in turn will provide a very real possibility of bringing not only those tourists back but also their friends and acquaintances whom they have told of their experience. This results yet again in that extra tourist dollar. As I have explained previously, when the operator then spends this extra tourist dollar in the local economy, it starts the whole spiral effect that I have previously discussed.

Once this legislation is passed, a business which uses diesel and like fuels in the course of carrying on an enterprise that qualifies for the rebate, and which has purchased this diesel fuel on or after 1 July 2002, will then be eligible to receive this rebate. It is proposed that the rate of the rebate applicable to these businesses will be the same as that applying to primary production—a rate which has already gone a very long way to improving the energy costs of farmers in my electorate of Barker. So, on the whole, if you look at the impact of this legislation, we see that a growing group of businesses will now be eligible to claim this rebate and reap the benefits of it. Whilst this makes me very happy, and while I think the government is going a long way to help rural businesses and rural Australia, I have to say that I would like to see it go one step further.

I was recently approached by a business in the rural city of Murray Bridge, which is in my electorate. This business would benefit profusely from the diesel fuel rebate. I know that they would benefit because they used to receive the rebate—I repeat: they used to receive the rebate. The owner of this business, a crash repairer, has been forced to use diesel to fuel the heat tunnel which is required to bake the paint on the repaired cars. To fuel this tunnel using electricity—which, I might add, is available—would mean that the cost to run the heat tunnel would just about put them out of business. As they are unable to fuel the heat tunnel with a cheaper gas option, as—once again we hear the all too familiar story—there is no infrastructure because they are too far away, they have no other option but to use diesel. For a while there, the diesel option was working well. The company fuelled their heat tunnel with diesel, claimed the rebate and things were not generally too bad. Then along came the Democrats, who wanted to kill off the new tax system, and we had the inaction by the Labor Party.

We sought to have the new tax system legislation passed, and the Democrats set about to sabotage it as much as possible and the Labor Party were just completely uncooperative on this legislation. The end result of this sabotage was that this particular crash repairer, situated in Murray Bridge in South Australia, could no longer claim the diesel fuel rebate. This was a devastating outcome for them. The cost of running their business increased dramatically, and as they still do not have the option of fuelling the heat tunnel using gas they had no choice but to say, `Thanks, Senator Lees, and the rest of the Democrats and the Labor Party; thanks for nothing.'

I fully understand that there needs to be some give and take. I also fully understand that to run a scheme such as this costs money. But I do not understand how one small interest group can have such an impact on rural Australian businesses. While I mention only the crash repairer in Murray Bridge, I can assure you that there are hundreds of other rural crash repairers who faced the same dilemma at the stroke of the Democrats' pen—yet another party who refuse to acknowledge the impact of their actions on rural Australians; yet another party who politically point score at the cost of rural Australians.

By allowing this crash repairer to access the rebate, and by helping rural Australians to reduce their fuel costs and inadvertently giving them more money to put back into their businesses, we are once again seeing that possible upward spiral in the local economy. However, by denying this business eligibility to the rebate, the Democrats are preventing every possibility of this business, and every other business like it, cutting their energy costs. It makes me very sad, and the sooner we can rectify this situation the better. I honestly believe that this is something which needs rectifying soon.

Turning back to the legislation at hand, I want to say that this is certainly a step forward. I have already said that I would like to see it go further and cover businesses such as those of my constituents; however, this piece of legislation is still going a long way to improving the lot of rural businesses forced to use diesel and like fuels. This bill has far-reaching consequences—far greater than simply cutting the energy costs for the businesses affected—which will certainly provide greater benefits to rural Australian economies. While considering such legislation, I cannot stress enough to members that we need to think outside the square. On the face of it, this is a great piece of legislation, designed to benefit small businesses in rural Australia. Dig deeper, and this is a fantastic piece of legislation, the flow-on effects of which have great potential for improving rural Australian economies.

I congratulate the minister and his department on this piece of legislation. I look forward to the day when the roadhouses, caravan parks, tourist resorts and other such businesses in Barker can reap the full benefits of this government's commitment to rural Australia. In fact, I think another area we need to look at is the area of excavation. I have another constituent who runs an excavation business, building subdivisions on the South Coast and building dams and the like. Thanks to the Democrats' changes and their interference and the Labor Party's inaction on the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme, that constituent is no longer able to claim the diesel fuel rebate. It seems crazy because, as is the case with most excavating companies, that particular company does not drive its vehicles on the roads; they are on private property in most situations. I would like to see the rebate extended to that area as well. I commend this legislation to the House.