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Thursday, 2 June 2011
Page: 5754

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (13:21): In following the member for Denison and his remarks on LPG, let me highlight that what government members in this House will do when these bills—the Taxation of Alternative Fuels Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 and cognate bills—come to a vote is knowingly vote to damage the LPG industry in Australia. Members opposite need to understand that. It is pure and simple. What we will have from senior ministers opposite is attempts to talk about what they say is their consistent policy. But what they will not talk about is the abject uncertainty they have created over so many months and the incompetent way in which they have come to the position they are in now. The previous speaker, the Leader of the National Party and the shadow minister on behalf of the coalition, just an hour or so earlier outlined very capably and in great detail the approach of the opposition to these four bills and our fundamental difference on three of those bills. In relation to those three, as I indicated, I wish to focus on LPG in particular.

When you look at the history of this issue, which they say they are interested in, you discover—

Mr Craig Thomson interjecting

Mr TONY SMITH: And I would urge the member opposite, who talks so often before he thinks, to listen and learn the history. You discover that those opposite, despite what they have said in the past, have at every step—for reasons which I am oblivious to—taken action to damage the LPG industry in Australia.

To illustrate that point, let me depart from these bills for just a second, which I know you will allow me to do, Mr Deputy Speaker. I look back to 2006-07. My friend the member for Gippsland will know this, being a fellow Victorian, because the LPG industry is very important in outer suburban and rural electorates in Victoria. In 2006 the Howard government introduced the LPG Autogas tank rebate—and I concede it would have had a more eloquent name that would have formed itself into a nice acronym. The Labor Party at the time did not say anything, but in the 2009 budget they took action to cut back that rebate. They did not promise before the 2007 election that they would cut the rebate back.

Mr Craig Thomson: It is like Work Choices.

Mr TONY SMITH: The member opposite did not say to his electors that, if he were elected, he would support a cutback in that rebate, but the Labor Party did that, without notice, in the 2009 budget. Then just at the start of this year, when they were searching for savings, one of the first things they chose was this same scheme, and they chose to cap it. At every point since their election, when given an opportunity they have quickly taken action to damage the LPG industry in Australia.

The other important point that is lost on those opposite is the policy context today. Those opposite are introducing a carbon tax, a carbon tax which—as has been made clear in many forums in this House—they pledged they would not introduce. But they are introducing one, against their word to the electorate. There is talk of how petrol will be treated in that carbon tax. The government has hinted—and Professor Garnaut in recent days has suggested—that in introducing a carbon tax the government would simultaneously cut the excise on petrol. Those opposite will not disagree with that. That has been what Professor Garnaut has said. I imagine that, in introducing their damaging carbon tax, that is what those opposite will argue.

But there is no mention at all of LPG. There is no mention because it is not on their minds, unless they have an opportunity to damage the industry. In this whole context of rising cost of living, of families facing a difficult time paying their bills—as so many previous speakers on this side of the House have indicated—it is important to acknowledge that many of those who have taken up LPG, who have taken up that grant to get their car converted, are low- and middle-income families. Before the grant was cut, many took it up to have their car fitted with an LPG system or to buy, as you can these days, a car with a factory-fitted LPG system.

Those opposite will knowingly in this House vote to put up the price of LPG. They will do so in a way that they know will make life tougher for LPG users. But what about the industry? This is an industry that has dealt with the unexpected cut in the tank rebate that those opposite never mentioned before the 2007 election. Remember the good old days? The member for Griffith was the Leader of the Labor Party in 2007 and they were going to reduce the pressure on cost of living. They were going to have GROCERYchoice and Fuelwatch. Their third promise was not to cut the rebate for the installation of LP gas tanks in cars, but they went ahead and did it anyway and, in doing so, showed their true colours. The combination of these actions by the government and the fact that they have now rushed ahead with this legislation solely as a revenue grab, and off the back of increasing the cost-of-living pressures on the families that use LPG in their vehicles, has been to spread incredible uncertainty within the industry itself.

The Leader of the Nationals talked about the 2½ thousand people who work in the industry, and there is no doubt that those workers in the industry will face a tougher time. Some of those workers will lose their jobs if this government gets its way. The member for Corio, sitting opposite, has workers in his electorate. In the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne there are significant LPG auto industries. It would be very hard to drive through any electorate if you cross Springvale Road, along those golden miles where the auto industry is so long, and not come across many industries.

The members for Deakin and La Trobe—Labor members who adjoin my electorate of Casey—need to know that in voting for this bill they will be voting directly against the interests of the workers in that industry in their electorates. The consequences that flow from this legislation will be their responsibility. This is a chance for some of those members opposite to show if they care about the working families they spoke about so often before the 2007 election and the last election and if they care about those working in industries like this. This is the chance to show they mean it.

But what we know over here is that, when given a choice between standing up for what is right and toeing the line for what they know in their heart is wrong, they will always choose the latter. The consequences of this legislation at this time, on the back of what the government is doing, for the reasons outlined by the Leader of the Nationals and the shadow minister, will be to put up the price of LPG, to make it harder for families, to put up taxi fares, as we said, but more than that—and I want to focus on this—to put in jeopardy some of those in the industry who are facing uncertain times through a combination of reasons. Some of those, as I have outlined, are the government's incompetence and the government's actions on LPG.

Those opposite will have a lot to say, but if they have any integrity they will stand up and say, 'Yes, we did break our word before the 2007 election, and we did cut back the rebate which we said we wouldn't do, and we fully understand what we are doing today.' But they will not. They can say what they want in this House, but I would ask them to do one thing in their electorates, and that is to visit some of the LP auto gas installers, talk to some of the workers and think about what it is they are doing—think about whether what they are doing on this bill is what they really came here to do.