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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19894

Mrs GASH (3:01 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on the benefits of the government's alternative fuels policy—

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Leader of the Opposition made a highly offensive comment directed at the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, and I would ask you to direct him to withdraw that comment.

The SPEAKER —I indicate to the House that I was in fact listening to the member for Gilmore and writing the question as she was stating it. The Clerk has indicated to me that he did hear the comment, and I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw it.

Mr Crean —Mr Speaker, the comment was not directed at the minister. It was an observation about a general pattern that has emerged here but, if it offends the minister, I will withdraw it.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The matter has been dealt with.

Mrs GASH —Would the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on the benefits of the government's alternative fuels policy to regional Australia and to Australian motorists? How does this compare with the development of the industry overseas? Is the Deputy 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 the fierce fight she puts up to protect legitimate jobs in her electorate, which are under threat at the moment for base political purposes.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point order. It goes to the anticipation rule, the same point that was raised yesterday. You will see order of the day No. 3, the Fuel Quality Standards Amendment Bill 2003. Just before question time, we had a magnificent speech from the member for Batman on the self-same subject, and the debate I am sure will be continued after question time.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will know that points of order do not allow us to reflect on a scale of speech delivery by the member for Batman. I will deal with the point of order. The House would have noted that I had consulted the Clerk about the status of this legislation. I was conscious of the anticipation rule. I trust the Deputy Prime Minister is conscious of it as well. He is of course allowed to answer the question; he is not allowed to refer specifically to matters in the bills before the House.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am going to anticipation contained in the question asked by the member for Gilmore. It is very clear that the member is asking for matters to be canvassed that are within the Fuel Quality Standards Amendment Bill to be debated immediately after question time today. The question is out of order, as would be, of course, an answer that anticipated the debate as well.

The SPEAKER —I have allowed the question to stand. I am listening closely to the answer.

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —Having said that, it is my view that the fuel ethanol industry has the potential to be a very worthwhile industry indeed in regional Australia, and one which can be of benefit to the nation as a whole. We have made a firm policy commitment but I make the point that that commitment is also based on the reality that the industry, after a phasing-in period, must be able to stand on its own feet. But making that proviso, I think it is very plain that we ought to recognise that it should be given every chance and not be cut off at the knees for base political purposes. Its expansion would, quite frankly, potentially create a lot of jobs and, even in just meeting the government's target of 350 million litres—

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On the anticipation rule, the minister is not only canvassing matters in the bill but also canvassing matters specifically dealt with in the second reading amendment that has been moved by the member for Bruce—a six-point second reading amendment—that canvasses all these issues about the industry, employment, labelling, consumers, the whole box and dice of public policy issues in the ethanol industry that is now being canvassed by the Deputy Prime Minister. On that basis, the anticipation of the House's vigorous debate of this second reading amendment, I would ask you to rule this answer out of order.

The SPEAKER —I have listened closely to the answer. I do not intend to have the integrity of the anticipation rule eroded in any way by this answer, and I am listening closely to it.

Mr ANDERSON —It is in the belief that there can be real benefits across the board in Australia that the government support the biofuels industry. We want to see fuel ethanol and biodiesel produced in Australia from renewable sources to contribute around 350 million litres of fuel to the national supply by 2010. It has the potential to create jobs and secure our future. You would think that that would be widely supported, but it is not. The opposition and, I have to say, the Australian Automobile Association have embarked on what I think is an intense and unwarranted political attack on the ethanol industry. They are putting at risk jobs in regional areas such as the member for Gilmore's electorate, and doing so through running another scare campaign about the effects of using ethanol blends. I am very disappointed that the oil majors who very actively promote ethanol blends in particularly but not only the United States of America will not throw their same enthusiastic support behind it in Australia. The government have always recognised that not all engines can make optimal use of ethanol blends, in exactly the same way that not all engines—

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The bill is about a labelling regime for the ethanol industry. The first point of the amendment moved by the member for Bruce is about the implementation of a mandatory national labelling regime for ethanol blended fuel. The minister is very clearly anticipating the debate—the self-same debate this House will have at the conclusion of question time. There is clear anticipation—

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. He has made his point of order. I invite the member for Werriwa to consult House of Representatives Practice. He will find that the tolerance that has been extended to the Deputy Prime Minister is entirely consistent with precisely the same rulings as have been made by previous Speakers, including current members of this House.

Mr ANDERSON —Motorists have no difficulty in determining the types of fuel that are best suited to their own motor cars. They have no difficulty in working out whether to put lead replacement petrol or unleaded petrol in their cars. I do not see why it should be any different at all if we give people sensible labelling in relation to ethanol.

The SPEAKER —Order! The Deputy Prime Minister will come back to the question.

Mr ANDERSON —The fact is that ethanol blends are used across the world. It is worth noting that in America the following manufacturers have approved the use of ethanol blends in their cars: Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Isuzu, Jaguar, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Range Rover, Rolls-Royce, Saab, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo. Yet the campaigners against ethanol seem to believe that car engines in Australia work differently from those everywhere else in the world. This campaign is over the top. There are only two possibilities, if you are to believe it. The first is that somehow or other Australia is in some sort of twilight zone where the laws of physics and chemistry are strangely different from those everywhere else. The only other option—it is probably the reality—is that the opposition and other campaigners against ethanol are holding the future of regional Australia to ransom for their own political advantage.

Everywhere I go in regional Australia the question is constantly raised as to what the ALP are up against. What are they trying to pursue here? Why do they hate every opportunity for investment in regional Australia? It goes hand in hand, I have to say, with their other great commitment on fuel: to wind back the diesel fuel rebate—to increase the tax on fuel for country motorists and at the same time to deny them a perfectly legitimate opportunity to participate in a renewable fuels industry that is widely promoted right across America. The fact of the matter is that you are held in contempt in rural and regional Australia—

The SPEAKER —Order! The Deputy Prime Minister will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr ANDERSON —because there is no interest at all in regional investment or jobs opposite.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Deputy Prime Minister just said that you are held in contempt.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. As was self-evident to anybody who followed the operation of the House, the Deputy Prime Minister also recognised that that was not what was intended and corrected the statement.