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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19879

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (1:52 PM) —I am delighted to speak in support of the second reading amendment moved by the member for Bruce, Alan Griffin, to the Fuel Quality Standards Amendment Bill 2003. In doing so, it is appropriate that I acknowledge this afternoon that the government has finally introduced legislation that aims to inform the motoring public about the level of ethanol in the fuel they purchase. My problem is that this legislation is long overdue, and the failure by the government to produce this legislation earlier clearly reflects the Howard government's contempt for ordinary motorists and Australian consumers. These amendments to the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 importantly seek to ensure that information about fuel is provided at the point of sale. When you think about it, that is pretty fundamental. When a person goes into a service station to fill his or her car up with fuel, they are entitled to know the composition of the fuel that they purchase as consumers. That is what this bill is about. The real question which the government must answer in response to the debate at its conclusion is why it took the government so long to accept that it is its responsibility to inform consumers as to the composition of the fuel that they purchase.

I look back over the last 12 months. In that 12 months, I have seen Australian motorists surprised and alarmed to learn that the fuel that they are purchasing for full tote odds may contain high concentrations of ethanol. Why was it such a big ask to request that the Howard government bring in legislation to put beyond any doubt information which consumers can avail themselves of to inform them as to the composition of the petrol that they purchase and whether it contains any ethanol? Consumers have unfortunately learned in these 12 months that some of the fuel they have purchased—without any detailed knowledge of the composition of that fuel, because of the failure of the Howard government to act—contained in excess of 20 per cent ethanol. I know these types of things alarm people such as the member for Corangamite, because he is also about choice and proper information being available to consumers. He only hopes that in the forthcoming Liberal Party preselection for the seat of Corangamite they make the right choice and he is selected for his final term in the federal parliament.

Australian motorists, boat owners and farmers have learnt that they have been given no information or choice about what they are putting into their engines. For some strange reason they were not given a choice about purchasing fuel containing high concentrations of ethanol. They were given no information on the impact of such petrol on their engines. I notice in the media today that some people are attacking the fact that information has been made available by the media indicating which vehicles may be affected by ethanol in fuel. Why shouldn't they be informed about the potential damage to their motor vehicle? You have to understand that, for a lot of these people, purchasing a motor vehicle represents a large commitment financially and, for a significant number of people, often involves paying off that commitment over an extended period of time.

It is very important that, as consumers and as purchasers of motor vehicles, people are informed at the point of purchase of the nature of the motor vehicle, of the fuel that should be used in the operation of that motor vehicle and of whether fuel that contains ethanol can damage that motor vehicle. That is about what we call consumer choice. I personally do not think this is any different to debates we have had in the past in Australia, such as about the labelling of food. People are entitled to know the composition of the processed food products that they purchase. They also seek information from time to time about whether they are Australian made or whether they contain produce from Australia which is actually processed in Australia or outside Australia. It is about proper information being made available to consumers on the basis of which they are able to make informed choices.

Our problem is that we know that ethanol does not produce the same performance as petrol. That is important, because, if a consumer is confronted with purchasing petrol with or without ethanol, they should make their purchase not only in the knowledge that ethanol can potentially damage their motor vehicle but also in the knowledge of the potential impact ethanol can have on the performance of their motor vehicle—given that, based on all the available evidence, petrol which contains ethanol is not as high-performing as petrol without ethanol. A consumer filling up their tank with an ethanol fuel blend is paying the same price as they would for petrol without ethanol but is getting significantly less performance.

We know why the coalition government has been so consumed with looking after, for example, the representatives of Manildra. All the available evidence clearly indicates that you can buy the coalition in terms of government policy and decision making with donations to the coalition political coffers. That is why the Howard government was so tardy in bringing this bill before the House. Basically, the representatives of Manildra who made significant donations to the political slush funds told the government that this legislation should not be brought forward. In essence, government policy was available for purchase, provided that the donations were large enough. These issues need to be placed before the House so as to ensure we can have an informed debate about money influencing the Howard government decision-making processes. On that point, it is appropriate that I adjourn to enable question time to proceed.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2.00 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101A. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.