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Wednesday, 13 August 2003
Page: 18422

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) (4:16 PM) —This is the second censure motion this week by the Leader of the Opposition on the Prime Minister. Of course, the first one earlier in the week was roundly defeated in this House, as it should have been and as will be this censure motion on the Prime Minister. The Leader of the Opposition has come into the House and used the sort of gutter language and made the unsubstantiated allegations we have become used to. That is the way that the Leader of the Opposition operates. In an opportunistic and very low political way he has alleged that there has been a misleading of the House. He has alleged that the government has spied. He has alleged that the government has denied the allegations put forward.

There is absolutely no truth in the allegations that have been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Werriwa. The member for Werriwa spent more time in this debate attacking his opposite number, Mr Costello, than getting to the substance of the issue. I will go to the point he finished on. He spoke about Australian jobs so let us talk about Australian jobs. We can talk about the Australian jobs that are generated by the Manildra Group. They are not just in the ethanol industry. This debate is about ethanol but that, I understand, is a small component of the Manildra Group's overall operation. The Manildra Group has about $550 million invested in New South Wales in flour, starch and sugar operations. Ethanol just happens to be a by-product of one of those operations at Nowra.

The Manildra Group purchases a million tonnes of wheat a year from Australian grain growers, which in anybody's language is a substantial amount of the normal 20-million-tonne crop in Australia. The Manildra Group supports 700 sugarcane growers with its interests in the sugarcane industry. It employs 900 Australians. This is what we were getting lectured by the member for Werriwa about—employment. This company has put its capital resources and its future on the line to employ Australians. Last year it exported $143 million worth of products from Australia. We are not going to come in here and get lectured by the Labor Party about who generates jobs and the importance of jobs in the Australian economy.

Mr Fitzgibbon —You and Howard are protectionists!

Mr VAILE —I am not a protectionist. By the way, it just so happens that our government in the last 7½ years has generated over a million jobs in the Australian economy. I will take the House back to the 2001 election. The coalition government's support for the ethanol industry was very clear in our policy statement to the 2001 election. I will read it again:

The Coalition will set an objective that fuel ethanol and biodiesel produced in Australia from renewable sources will contribute at least 350 million litres to the total fuel supply by 2010. Progress towards the objective will be reviewed in 2006.

It went on to say:

To implement the 350 million litre objective, the Coalition will provide, through a grant process from 2002/03, a capital subsidy for new or expanded domestic production infrastructure of $0.16 per litre of biofuel, until total new domestic production capacity reaches 310 million litres or by end of 2006/07, whichever is sooner;

It said further:

The Coalition expects that at least five new ethanol distilleries will be established under this program. This will result in around 2,300 construction jobs and 1,100 permanent additional jobs, mostly in rural areas.

In anybody's language that would have to be an admirable objective. That is what we put forward as part of our policy in the 2001 election. Incidentally, Mr Deputy Speaker, as you well know, we were re-elected with that as part of our policy platform.

So we are pursuing those 1,100 permanent additional jobs. Where are we at the moment in terms of our objective status of the possibility of five new ethanol distilleries? My understanding is that there are about 14 new ethanol distilleries proposed, all in rural and regional Australia, where there is much-needed employment to be had. They want certainty that this industry is going to survive in Australia.

The existing producers of ethanol—namely, Manildra and CSR; it is CSR who are providing the ethanol for the trial of the E10 blends in northern Queensland at the moment—need to survive to give comfort to the 14 proposed ethanol distilleries that we want to see established throughout rural and regional Australia and that will hopefully generate 1,100 permanent jobs when they are established. That was part of our policy platform at the 2001 election. As a coalition, we did not made any secret during the election campaign of our objectives as far as the ethanol industry is concerned.

What impediments have been put in the way of achieving those objectives? The first one came last year from the Australian Labor Party when they tried to completely undermine and demonise the ethanol industry in Australia in terms of what it can do in the supply of fuel in Australia. None of the allegations made have been retracted. The member for Fraser, in particular, stood in this chamber at the dispatch box and made allegations time and time again about the damage being done to motor vehicles in Australia from the use of ethanol. Every single allegation has proved to be false, yet the member for Fraser has not retracted anything he said or apologised for anything he said. He has not apologised to the people in Australia who have lost their jobs because of the actions of the Australian Labor Party or to the people who may not get a job in the future in the ethanol industry in Australia because of the allegations the Labor Party made.

The Labor Party use the same fear and smear campaign in this place and out in the public arena against this industry that they have historically used in this place against their political opponents. And they are at it again now. The Leader of the Opposition, until he was made to retract, said that the Prime Minister has lied, spied and denied—outrageous allegations that have not been substantiated by the Leader of the Opposition or the Australian Labor Party. Nor were the allegations that the member for Fraser made about the damage being done to motor vehicles in New South Wales because of the use of ethanol substantiated. In a doorstop interview he gave on this issue on 18 December 2002, the member for Fraser said:

We have spoken to a number of mechanics and mechanical workshops around New South Wales. More than half a dozen tell the same story ... they speak of cars coming in with damage to engines and reduced performance as a result of purchasing petrol with an excess of ethanol.

The member for Fraser came into this chamber and put such allegations on the public record in the Hansard. He has not retracted them. Every one of the allegations he made has been disproved. He had no substantiation to make those allegations. In fact, when checked—and this was printed in the Sydney Morning Herald—the allegation was about kerosene, not ethanol.

When in government, the Labor Party gave 18c a litre as a grant to the ethanol industry in Australia. It was not a production subsidy to balance out an excise that was being applied; it was a straight-out grant. The ethanol industry was given far more support by the current Leader of the Opposition when he was the minister for agriculture and then Prime Minister Keating in about 1992. Who removed that in 1996? The coalition government.

Mr Latham —Talk about irrelevant!

Mr VAILE —It is relevant. If we were to pursue the documents that were available then, I guarantee that the then Department of Finance and the Department of the Treasury opposed that measure. But obviously the Labor Party of the day saw benefit in supporting an industry that was going to generate jobs in rural and regional Australia. The Labor Party have come to this debate without any credibility at all. They have not substantiated the allegation that the Prime Minister has misled the House. They have not substantiated the allegation that the government has spied. The information that came out in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning—an allegation about spying on companies operating overseas—is ludicrous. That information, in my understanding, was put on the public record in Senate estimates last year. So it is not new information.

When the government became aware of the allegation that there was the possibility of a shipment of ethanol coming to Australia which, apart from anything else, would have undermined revenue by about $5½ million, PM&C asked DFAT to seek information through the embassy in Brasilia. What is wrong with that? That is what embassies are for. They made a phone call, got a response and brought the information back to Australia. This is not a new revelation. This is not spying. It is not a clandestine act at all. A government department sought information to add value to the debate that was taking place at the time about the development of an industry in Australia. It was not spying. The allegation of spying is absolutely outrageous. The information that initially came to government was about an alleged or proposed shipment of ethanol. Nobody knew who was doing it or what companies were involved, so rather than accept at face value the information that was being provided the government departments decided to find out through their channels and the structures that exist. I am sure that if the Labor Party were in office at the time they would have done the same thing. You used the network of missions around the world to gather information. That is exactly what they are there for: to provide information so governments can make decisions in the national interest.

This is the second censure motion against the Prime Minister this week, and it is the second censure motion that will be defeated. When a censure motion was put forward earlier in the week, the total number of Labor members in this parliament could not even be bothered coming in here to support their leader in moving that censure motion. They did not believe the Leader of the Opposition's allegations against the Prime Minister. Only 58 of them turned up. It will be interesting to see what happens when we have a vote on this censure motion against the Prime Minister of Australia—a Prime Minister who has proved time and time again during his 7½-year term in office that at every turn he and his government take decisions in the national interest, not someone else's interests; not in the interests of the heavily subsidised ethanol industry in Brazil. It seems that that is where the Labor Party are coming from. The Labor Party are more interested in the ethanol industry which is heavily subsidised by the taxpayers of Brazil, where there is a mandated level of consumption in the fuel of 26 per cent. The Labor Party are more interested in the benefits that will accrue to Brazilian producers than the benefits that could accrue to Australian producers. They want to export jobs out of Australia.

We took measures that would provide adjustment assistance, to see an embryonic industry in Australia developed. It is not about one company or two companies; it is about 14, 15 or 16 companies that have proposals on the drawing board to establish ethanol processing plants that could generate 1,100 jobs across Australia. The Labor Party should be ashamed of themselves for devaluing in the eyes of Australian consumers the benefits that accrue to them and the environment and the community from the use of Australian produced ethanol in fuel consumed in Australia. They devalue that in a very destructive and deceitful way that has not been proved in this House by the government but has been proved in the arena of public debate and in the press of Australia—yet the member for Fraser has still not come into this place and withdrawn the outrageous allegations he made. They were unsubstantiated at the time and remain unsubstantiated.

The Labor Party have come in here and accused the Prime Minister of misleading the House. All through this week we have produced the evidence that substantiates that there has been no misleading of the House. The Labor Party have come in here and claimed that we, through our DFAT officers and the mission in Brasilia, have spied on Australian companies. We have not spied on Australian companies; we have used our network of missions around the world, as we always do in gathering much needed information, to enable the government to be fully across an issue in order to make decisions about policy. They have alleged that we have denied any wrongdoing; of course there is no wrongdoing. If there had been wrongdoing, surely Manildra would have been benefiting from any decisions we had made. Manildra did not want a 10 per cent cap on ethanol. (Time expired)