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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2951

Senator HARRADINE(6.07) — The Excise Tariff Amendment Bill 1984 and the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Grants) Amendment Bill 1984 are before the Senate because, some three quarters of an hour ago, a motion was moved to change the order of business. I do not have my file on this matter with me but I do want to take up a couple of the matters that the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Walsh, mentioned about the lack, as he put it, of complaints that had been received about the Government's arrangements-if one can grace it with that term-concerning the liquefied petroleum gas subsidy. As the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney) has mentioned, it could well be that the sleight of hand that the Government was involved in lulled the general public into the belief that the Government was delivering some goods when the real situation was as has been described by the Leader of the Opposition. I also support the amendment which has been moved because I believe the Government's approach was dishonest. In January 1984 it failed to reduce the price of LPG by $50 a tonne in line with the then existing policy and it did so in order to mask the removal three months later of three quarters of the former subsidy.

I remind the Senate and the Minister that on 29 March of this year I raised this matter in the Parliament. I directed a question to the Minister for Resources and Energy. I indicated that my question related to the Minister's announcement only the weekend before of a new pricing formula which reduced the price of LPG by about $60 a tonne on the then current price. At the same time he reduced the subsidy from $80 a tonne to $20.31 a tonne. I pointed out that the Government's decision meant no extra cost to the consumer but a saving of $21m to the Government. I also pointed out that there is an added freight cost of $94 a tonne on LPG going across Bass Strait. This is an important matter to many people in Tasmania. I then asked the Minister whether consideration could be given to transferring some of that money saved and applying it as a subsidy in areas such as Tasmania which are remote from LPG refineries and which have no natural gas.

I believe that is a matter which the Government ought to address. It is an issue which clearly is of concern for the people of Tasmania. We are at a disadvantage. We do not have the alternatives that are regularly available in various parts of Australia. Of course, we do not have natural gas. I believe the matter should be taken on board by the Government. If it is not, I am sure that those consumers in Tasmania who are substantially affected will voice their opinion and viewpoint and make representations through their elected representatives in this chamber and in the House of Representatives. I believe it would be wise for the Government to recognise that there is concern. It is not true that people are not concerned. It is all very well to read out a letter from a shire in Cowra. It is good country around Cowra. I have been there. As a matter of fact I have addressed a meeting at Cowra. But that is small comfort to the people of Tasmania who are concerned. There does not happen to be a Bass Strait to cross between Sydney and Cowra. I remind the Government that there is LPG in Tasmania and in some other outlying areas of Australia, but it is costly because of the added freight cost. Many consumers regard it as a very convenient and efficient method of heating, cooking and so on. Of course, LPG is used very widely within Tasmania in industry. So there is a question of employment also.

I hope that the Government will take up this matter. I wonder whether, if the Government cannot tackle it at this stage, it may be an appropriate matter for consideration by the Inter-State Commission. I would prefer, of course, for the Government to transfer some of that $21m saved as a subsidy to offset the added freight costs across Bass Strait, but if the Government is unwilling to do that at this point in time perhaps the matter ought to be the subject of a proper inquiry and perhaps the vehicle for that inquiry would be the Inter-State Commission.

Amendment agreed to.

Original question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.