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Tuesday, 12 June 1984
Page: 2801

Senator RICHARDSON —I draw the attention of the Minister representing the Treasurer to an article in last Friday's Australian Financial Review on the role of the Prices Surveillance Authority, as perceived by the Government, in petrol price fixing. As the cost of petrol, our primary energy source, is a national concern, is it envisaged that the PSA will now have complete jurisdiction over petrol price fixing? What are the likely effects on prices, considering that four of the State governments involved have offered conditional withdrawal from the petrol price fixing arena?

Senator WALSH —The Prices Surveillance Authority is currently conducting a public inquiry into petroleum product prices. It is the Government's intention that that inquiry provide a basis for a move to a single, national system of price surveillance. As I think Senator Richardson indicated, four States have had State price controls of varying kinds in the past which have been, to varying degrees, inconsistent with the PSA's maximum prices. That is widely recognised as being unsatisfactory. I understand that the four States have made submissions to the PSA inquiry stating their willingness in principle to vacate the field of petroleum price regulation and to leave it to a national body. They have attached conditions to their support for that approach. The PSA has been asked to submit an interim report on motor spirit prices as soon as possible and a final report by 25 July.

Senator Richardson asked what the likely effects on petroleum prices would be of the move towards a national regulatory authority. I think that will be difficult to answer, even in the longer term, because it is difficult to isolate one factor from all the other factors which affect the price of petrol in both the short term and the long term. But at least when the Government's policy is implemented there will be a uniformity in pricing which has been lacking in the past. The perception-indeed, I think it is a reality-that various groups in different parts of Australia, and not always the same groups in the same parts, have had from time to time that they are being overcharged in order to cross- subsidise some other consumer is less likely. Of course, one thing that we can be quite certain of is that under this Government's PSA pricing policy, and its general petroleum policy, including its petroleum taxation policy, petrol prices will be significantly lower than they would be if the Liberal Party were returned to government and Senator Chaney were allowed to implement his policy of imposing an increased excise on petrol instead of taxing the production of petroleum.