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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18585


Mrs GASH (2:23 PM) —My question is addressed to the Acting Prime Minister. Would the Acting Prime Minister outline to the House the elements of the government's policy on biofuels? Is the Acting Prime Minister aware of any alternative policies?


Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for her question and acknowledge her very real interest in the Australian biofuels industry and, for that matter, the very real interest of a lot of the good, honest, decent workers who work in it in her electorate. Our approach to biofuels is aimed at developing ethanol and biodiesel industries in Australia that are commercially sustainable. There are two major aspects to that. The first is to maintain the effective excise free status of ethanol and biodiesel for a period of slightly less than five years now until the end of July 2008 by a production subsidy that equals excise. From 2008 that subsidy will be wound back so that from 2012 ethanol and biodiesel will be subject to the full rate of excise. The second aspect is to provide initial start-up assistance for that industry through capital grants for new plants and new production capacity of ethanol and biodiesel to the tune of a maximum of $37 million.

This, plus the requirement that proponents seeking access to that assistance must have their case assessed by Invest Australia and must be able to demonstrate commercial viability in a full excise imposed regime from 2012, sets pretty tough hurdles for the ethanol and biofuels industries. Most proponents, I think it is fair to say, think it is too tough; existing ethanol producers, CSR and Manildra, might say the same. But the underlying aim is that these industries, which many of us believe can make a contribution to a range of things, such as extending Australia's fuel supplies, investment in regional areas and achieving better environmental outcomes, ought to be given a fair stab at establishing themselves in Australia, but on a commercial basis. They are common in other countries; they are often undergirded by mandating and other measures which we are not proposing in Australia.

I am asked whether I am aware of alternative policies. I am. I am aware of two very different approaches from the ALP in particular. It ought to be remembered that, in the days of the Keating government, when the present Leader of the Opposition was the minister for agriculture, Labor gave existing ethanol producers, which of course mainly meant the Manildra operation in the electorate of the member for Gilmore, not only full excise relief but also an 18c a litre production subsidy—a very substantial direct cash subsidy. It did not worry the Labor Party then that Dick Honan's ethanol was being sold on the Sydney market in blends, in some cases well in excess of 10 per cent. It did not worry them. Why was that? It was because there were no complaints; in fact they were sold there for about 11 years.

Suddenly, in December, just before Christmas, in this place we had a new policy from the Labor Party. Suddenly ethanol was a dangerous fuel. Suddenly blends over 10 per cent had to be banned. Suddenly Labor had found a rash of engine failures being caused by ethanol. So what changed in the Labor Party? We now know that what changed was that they decided to use the Manildra Group and ethanol to launch a political attack on the Prime Minister. That is what happened. That is what changed. We now know, thanks to a seminal story in the Sydney Morning Herald by Paul Sheehan, that the Labor Party set out to find cases where ethanol had caused damage to car engines. We know that Labor deliberately misrepresented those cases to the media. That is what they did. None of those reports could be substantiated, I say to the member for Fraser, and he knows that. You know it but you do not have the courage to apologise. You do not have the courage to set the record straight.

Media organisations had the good grace to correct the story. That ought to be acknowledged, but the Labor Party and the member for Fraser have not. Even today—even yesterday—they were intent on carrying forward the falsehood. I note that the member for Fraser made a personal explanation yesterday. He said that every allegation that he raised came to him `bona fides from constituents concerned'. He forgot to say that on 18 December last year he called on the Prime Minister to apologise to Ms Turner and to the hundreds and thousands of other motorists in Sydney who are paying hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of dollars to repair their cars because of what he said was damage caused by ethanol. We remember that Ms Turner, the woman who was mentioned in that doorstop, was at the centre of the most infamous case of misreporting about ethanol—the specific case that was later denied by the Sydney Morning Herald. The repairer, it was confirmed, was a Labor Party plant. Of course, the reference to hundreds of thousands of other cases was totally false, it was ridiculous and it has not been substantiated.

The member for Fraser has displayed an appalling lack of courage in this case. He ought to come clean, because they call themselves the champions of the workers. Their attack is putting real jobs in rural and regional areas, where those jobs are needed, at risk—existing jobs and potential jobs in the future. They are not displaying the necessary courage, integrity or decency to acknowledge that the whole scare campaign they sparked off in this place has no legs whatsoever.

Labor knows that there is nothing wrong with ethanol. In fact, the Queensland Labor government, as I understand it, is planning to make E10 the standard fuel for its government fleet. Some parts of Labor do not have a problem with Manildra. I know that the New South Wales government has just given the company a 12-month deferral of payroll tax, but the federal ALP in this place continues to scaremonger, its objective being to try to somehow or other finger the Prime Minister with absolutely cavalier disregard for the jobs of decent working Australian men and women.


The SPEAKER —The honourable member for Grayndler.

Honourable members interjecting



The SPEAKER —Order! If the member for Watson cares to check the Hansard record, he will discover that in the last five minutes I have only recognised the member for Grayndler. I call the member for Grayndler.