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Wednesday, 29 May 2002
Page: 2587

Mr JOHN COBB (11:59 AM) —I strongly support the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme Amendment Bill 2002. It is part of the 2002-03 budget. It is also very much an election commitment. This scheme—very correctly—gives a rebate to the retail and hospitality industry where there is currently no access to commercial supplies of electricity for their own use and that of their business. In my electorate, which is almost totally based around small business employment, this simply extends a very necessary commitment beyond those areas that already use the rebate: namely, mining, parts of primary production, rail transport and marine transport. Those also able to access it currently are residential premises, hospitals and nursing homes, or any other medical institution or aged care home that require the generation of their own electricity. Bringing the remainder of disadvantaged small business in an electorate like Parkes in line with that is commonsense and totally necessary. Other speakers have suggested other areas that we should look at. This government has attempted to do so in the past without success.

The cost of running power generation for small business in isolated regions is not insignificant; it is quite huge. When you consider that to do that in these areas this bill is judged to be costing $20 million, it shows just how significant it is. The benefits that will flow through to small business, especially the emerging tourism industry, cannot be discounted. When you look at an electorate like Parkes, this becomes even more obvious. My electorate of something like 268,000 square kilometres goes from the Queensland border down to the southern areas of Hillston, Grenfell and West Wyalong, and from the South Australian border east through to Dubbo. What the diesel rebate scheme as it exists actually does is incalculable. My electorate—and we are talking about an area that is heavily involved in mining, in all forms of agriculture, light engineering, construction and exports—is basically the bread basket of New South Wales. The contribution that the diesel fuel rebate makes to that production is simply enormous. What we are doing by taking that rebate through to the hospitality and retail industry, where they are unable to access commercial electricity, is putting them on a level footing in an area that is tough going, where it takes entrepreneurial spirit and a certain amount of guts to run a business in areas where normal electricity supplies do not exist. I am certain I can guarantee this House that the small business operators in that area will welcome this bill with open arms and with very good reason.

As I said, this bill is part of the government's election promise. It definitely promotes tourism and all forms of small business within remote and regional Australia. What this bill recognises is that in an area like Parkes it is not just primary production, mining and the historical forms of production which are absolutely critical and which need the government's protection. To my mind, this is not a rebate; this is not applying a tax on needy industries in the way it has always been applied. The fuel rebate, as it is called—and I repeat—is not a rebate. It is simply not applying a tax; it is not a subsidy.

There is $20 million involved—not a light gesture—in this rebate to the hospitality and retail industry. I think the fact that $20 million is involved points out how much it is needed. As I said earlier, those businesses which can set up in areas where commercial electricity is not available deserve all the help we can give them and they should be encouraged to do so. It will be money very well spent. This government is once again showing its total support for those who are willing to get up and have a go for private enterprise and small business and all the people—and I stress `all the people'—especially in a seat like mine of Parkes where all the employment pretty much surrounds small business.

The curtailing of the indexation of the excise put in by the Labor government—and making it obvious that it has gone—I think is supporting every criterion that the coalition has ever aspired to in terms of responsible management and encouraging small business, and doing the best for them and for the general population. Taking away the indexation of the excise for a family that has to travel 100 kilometres simply to do their weekly shopping is no small gesture. People in rural electorates cannot avoid the huge cost of fuel usage: they are high fuel users and enormous Australian producers per head of population. Without doubt, the excise obviously is a higher burden to bear for those in country regions than it is for those in metropolitan areas. It is as much about the cost of taking kids to school as it is about what we do for small business. Various people have talked about alternative fuels. The one thing we have to do is not bring a cost upon us that we cannot bear. Whatever we do about alternative fuels, it has to be affordable, not idealistic; rather, responsible and done with commonsense. I utterly support this bill. It is certainly needed in any country electorate. I have great pleasure in supporting it.