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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19871

Mr ZAHRA (1:15 PM) —I want to begin my contribution in this debate on the Fuel Quality Standards Amendment Bill 2003 by thanking the member for Forrest for his very considered contribution. It is nice to follow someone who is obviously very interested in cars and motors and who, I would say, knows a great deal about this subject. I thank the member for Forrest for his considered contribution, and I am sure that other people in the House do too.

The member for Forrest made a point that I have not heard much about in this debate, and I am going to make some comment on it now; that point is how ethanol fuels affect boats. We are in a completely different circumstance when we talk about the risk involved in using marine engines that are running on a fuel with ethanol in it from when we are talking about cars that might be running on fuel with ethanol in it. If something goes wrong in a car—if it is an ethanol related issue with the fuel—then the car will lean out, there will be engine damage, and there might be some risk in terms of the circumstances in which that happens; it might happen in traffic and so on. But mostly a car can pull over pretty safely. When you are out on the water it is a much more difficult and much less safe situation. I met with a local marine mechanic, a bloke named Peter Studd. I had a talk with him, along with the shadow minister for consumer protection, Alan Griffin, a few months ago. I would like to read to the House what his thoughts were about the risk that is involved in ethanol in petrol being used in a marine context. He said:

The main issue for marine motors is that they're not used regularly and if they're sitting around full of fuel with a high ethanol content, you start to get a process where the ethanol mixes with water from condensation and then separates from the petrol. This means that when you start the motor next it gets a surge of water and ethanol instead of petrol—and this can cause all sorts of potentially dangerous problems. If you were out on the water, for example, and your motor started running very poorly, or even failed completely, you'd have to be towed back or rescued.

Some of these comments are very similar to what was mentioned by the member for Forrest in his contribution. I make the point that, if you are out on the water and something goes wrong with your engine, you cannot just call the RACV or the NRMA. You are in a difficult set of circumstances. If you are in difficult waters, it may be that you place yourself and your crew at substantial risk. If you do have to put out an emergency call and get some assistance, you may well be putting people who come to your assistance at risk as well. These are very serious considerations for us to bear in mind when discussing this legislation. It is my view that the Boating Industry Association were right to be as concerned as they have been in relation to the impact of ethanol in petrol in marine applications. I support their campaign and their attempts to try to promote awareness about the risks of ethanol in petrol used in marine applications.

I make this point: people who have got boats have often worked very hard in their lives to have those boats. Thinking about the Gippsland region, we have got a lot of workers who have worked pretty hard in their lives to have their boats. They head down to Port Albert to do some fishing—or to McGauran's Beach, even—

Mr McGauran —Ha!

Mr ZAHRA —and do some fishing down at McGauran's Beach. This is a very common thing for people in the Gippsland region. We are very fond of our coastline, we like to go fishing, and the people who have got boats have worked pretty hard in their lives to have those boats. I think that we in this parliament should pay a bit of regard to that and show a bit of respect to those boat owners who have worked hard, bought their boats and like to use them. We have to have some consideration for the importance of protecting their investment in their boats and the enjoyment that they get from their boats as well when we are making these types of decisions and debating this type of legislation in the parliament.

I have heard only a few people in this debate talk about the risk of ethanol blended petrol for older cars. I do not mind admitting that I like old cars; in particular I like old Holdens. I do not mind at all saying that the first car I ever had was a 1962 EK Holden ute. According to the list which I have seen, you would not be able to safely use an ethanol blended petrol in an EK Holden ute. And so it goes for a whole lot of other cars which are older and which are in pretty common use by motorists across the country. I would like to read out for the benefit of the House some of the cars mentioned in a list which is published in the Herald Sun today, following an excellent article on this issue written by Gerard McManus. He points out, `All petrol engine vehicles since 1986 will operate satisfactorily on E10.' The inference obviously is that all vehicles older than that would not operate satisfactorily with an E10 blended petrol.

I make the point that the last car I had before getting elected to parliament was a 1985 Commodore sedan. According to this list, that is a car that would not be able to use ethanol blended petrol—at least not without causing substantial damage to the vehicle. I reckon I was a pretty typical sort of bloke driving a pretty typical sort of car before getting elected to parliament. There are a lot of people who drive older Commodores in our community. These people are potentially being placed at risk in relation to the use of ethanol blended petrols. That also goes for a whole lot of other makes of car which are in regular use right across the Australian community. The article in the Herald Sun today points out:

... almost 40 per cent of the Victorian fleet of cars could be damaged by using fuel with ethanol in it.

About 616,000 cars in Victoria built before 1986 cannot tolerate ethanol.

Now, 616,000 cars is a lot. The article continues:

But the Government's secret list shows an additional 486,000 vehicles made since then, including Ford Falcons and some later model Toyotas, Mazdas and Hondas, can also be harmed.

So we are talking about a lot of vehicles; we are talking about a lot of people being affected by this. We have a duty in this parliament to try and protect those people from what might happen if they use ethanol blended petrol. That is how it relates to people who, in general terms, have older cars.

But the group of people who are being forgotten about here and who are not really having their interests represented in this debate properly are the people who are what you might loosely call `car enthusiasts'. These are people who buy a HQ Holden Monaro, spend $5,000 or $10,000 putting a 350 Chevrolet engine into it and do a lot of work on the engine making sure it goes the way they want it to go. They take a lot of pride in their workmanship and in the performance of their vehicles. These are people who are well represented in the Gippsland region and I am sure are well represented in the western suburbs of Melbourne and in plenty of other places where there are people in large numbers who take an interest in getting performance from older cars in particular.

Just imagine that you have bought, for example, a 1969 or 1970 HT GTS Monaro, you have a 350 Chev engine in that car and you have spent $5,000 or $10,000 bringing the engine specification of that car up to as good as it can be and you have spent a lot of money on the car more generally to make it as good as it possibly can be and then, inadvertently, somehow, you end up with ethanol in your car and you wreck your engine. Your $5,000 or $10,000 is down the tubes, and you have got no claim at all in terms of being able to recover those damages which you have incurred to your vehicle.

Quite apart from the fact that a lot of the work which car enthusiasts do on their car cannot be easily done by someone else, because it is a real labour of love and done in many cases over several years, you are talking about a circumstance in which that person would suffer a large loss. I make the point that it is all well and good for some people here to think those people are hoons or petrolheads or what have you, but the fact is that they are people who pay their taxes in Australia. They are entitled to protection for their property against the risk of damage through using ethanol blended petrol. We need to have regard for their concerns in relation to this issue.

There is no information before us at the moment that indicates that there is going to be a communications campaign to make sure people understand the risks that are associated with ethanol blended fuel. There is no information at all before us about making sure that those groups I have talked about—those people who might use ethanol blended fuel for marine applications or people who might have older cars or people who have cars which they have modified and on which they have spent a great deal of time and effort repairing and rebuilding—have the information in relation to the risks of ethanol blended fuel.

It would be pretty easy for the government to communicate with these people. There are plenty of clubs and associations. They are organisations which have a large membership. There are also a number of publications which have a very wide readership in Australia which I think need to be targeted in distributing information associated with the risks of ethanol blended fuels. We need to have regard for that. We should have proper consideration for those people's interests when we are making a determination in relation to the safety or otherwise of ethanol blended fuels.

We are not talking about a small minority of people who stand to be badly affected by something which is in the national interest. It is very questionable as to whether ethanol blended fuels are in the national interest. I have yet to hear a satisfactory argument put to me that an ethanol blended fuel being widely used in Australia is in the national interest.

It is all well and good for people who represent various vested interests, or who have some developer or lobbyist in their electorate who is keen to see this happen, to stand up in the parliament and speak on behalf of those people, but there has really been no case put to me that going down this path is in the national interest. It seems to me that there is a lot of risk associated with it. The article in today's Herald Sun estimates that about 40 per cent of our cars in Victoria may well be damaged as a result of this. Really, I do not think there is much of a national interest argument.

I think that we should have proper concern and consideration for those people who stand to be adversely affected by ethanol blended fuels. Again, it is all well and good for people here to perhaps wryly smile at the idea of someone having a boat and using it once a month or once every three weeks, but it might be their pride and joy. Some people might think that that is not the sort of pastime they want to encourage, but I say to those people that, personally, I think you are wrong and you do not have any right to judge what pastimes other people pursue. If someone has worked hard all their life, saved up and bought a boat, and they like to take it down to Barry's Beach, McGauran's Beach or Port Albert, somewhere in South Gippsland or East Gippsland, we should have regard for their livelihood and for the investment they have made in that boat, as well as for the safety of their family when they are out on the water.

The provision of information to those people—about the risk that they are exposing themselves to if they use ethanol blended fuel—has been very poorly done up to this point. In this Herald Sun article, the RACV described the way the federal government have gone about bringing in ethanol blended petrol in Australia as `a giant botch-up', and RACV spokesman David Cumming went on to say:

“The introduction of ethanol fuel into Australia had been so badly botched that the public had lost confidence in the product. We don't want to see it in Victoria.

“The public have lost confidence in it, and don't want to buy it. It is as simple as that.”

The government have done a pretty appalling job on this issue. They have not shown due consideration for the interests of consumers; they have been driven by their desire to try to deliver a financial benefit to Dick Honan, who—as everyone in this place knows—runs the ethanol industry in Australia. Dick Honan is a bloke who just happens to be a good friend of the Prime Minister's and just happens to have given thousands of dollars to the Liberal Party. I wonder if he has given any money to the National Party as well.

What has probably happened here is that the government have not had proper regard for the consumer interest because they have been looking after a vested interest: someone who has given them a lot of money in the past. I think that we should have proper regard for people's cars and boats, especially those belonging to people who do not have a lot of money. They start out in their life and get their first car; it is their pride and joy and it is probably the only one they are going to have for a little while. But that car is at risk of being substantially damaged by ethanol blended fuels. And not everyone gets a brand-new car—not everyone gets a brand-new car for their 18th birthday. I might just make the point again, Mr Deputy Speaker, that my first car was a 1962 EK Holden ute. I bought it in Fernbank for $1,000. I ask the member for Gippsland: what was your first car, Peter? What was Julian's first car? I want to know. What was your first car, Peter?

Mr McGauran —A farm utility.

Mr ZAHRA —No, what was your first car—what did daddy give you?

Mr McGauran —It was a farm utility.

Ms Gillard —Was it a sports car?

Mr ZAHRA —I think that is right. I am still waiting for the answer. Peter, we want to know!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Wilkie)—Order! The member for McMillan will refer his remarks to the chair. The minister will cease interjecting.

Mr ZAHRA —I am sure we would all like to know, Mr Deputy Speaker: what was the first car that daddy gave Peter McGauran? What was the first car that daddy gave Julian McGauran?

Mr McGauran —It was a beat-up utility.

Mr ZAHRA —I reckon it might have been a sports car. It is just a guess—just burning around the mean streets of Traralgon in a sports car at age 18! Could it be possible? Could it be possible that daddy gave the McGauran boys brand-new cars when they turned 18? I think it is possible, I think it is likely and I think there is probably a fair bit of evidence to support it. This may well help explain why those on the other side do not have much regard for the people whose car engines stand to be damaged by this fuel. If daddy bought you a new sports car when you were 18 then, if something goes wrong, you just go and see daddy and he gets you another one! That is what happens when you have lots of money. But for everyone else it is a real battle, and that is why we need to have regard for those people first and for the McGauran family second.