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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1474

Senator JACK EVANS(5.07) —The Australian Democrats endorse most of the comments made by the previous speaker, Senator Peter Rae, and, in fact, support the Petroleum Retail Marketing Franchise Amendment Bill and the Petroleum Retail Marketing Sites Amendment Bill in principle. I wish to speak only very briefly because I would like to see the Senate get on with the job of some controversial legislation as quickly as possible so that we can handle it with adequate time and not have to rush it in the last couple of days.

This legislation introduces a description of 'bulk site agreement' which enables the removal of existing bulk wholesaling establishments from the ambit of the Act and excludes new outlets with predominantly wholesaling characteristics from the Act. I think that the Government is heading in the right direction. The previous Government was also heading in the right direction , but despite the suggestion in Senator Rae's speech that the Government had resolved the problem or resolved most of the problems associated with petrol retailing in Australia--

Senator Peter Rae —I think I said improve; I do not think I suggested that it had been resolved entirely.

Senator JACK EVANS —I thank the honourable senator-we believe that the improvement was not great enough. The legislation before us goes further down that path because at least it recognises that those 348 depots should not be included in the 50 per cent divorcement formula which was set up by the previous Government. That will be an improvement. It will get us down to 425 permissible sites, but it is still inadequate because it entirely misses the principle that there should be a total divorcement between the wholesale operations of petrol companies and the retail operations of other retail organisations.

The great bulk of retailers of petrol in Australia are small businesses. They cannot stand up to the majors who dominate this industry, particularly when those majors have access to their own retail sites where they are able to compete quite unfairly. In 1980 there were nine major oil companies in Australia . In 1981 Golden Fleece was taken over by Caltex. In 1982, Total was taken over by Ampol and in 1984 Amoco was taken over by BP. There are now only six major oil companies, and that has to rate as one of Australia's massive oligopolies. When one bears in mind that four of those six companies are totally overseas owned and controlled-that is, Mobil, BP, Shell and Esso-then we can start to recognise that the oil industry in this country is not directed or controlled from within Australia. It is quite clear that the policies and directions are from outside this country. I mentioned that two companies are not entirely overseas owned and controlled. One is Caltex Oil Australia Pty Ltd, of which the predominant shareholder is Caltex Petroleum USA, which owns 135 million shares of a total of 151,488,600 shares. In other words, it owns 89.4 per cent of the shares. So, to all intents and purposes, five of Australia's six oil companies are owned overseas. The sixth is Ampol Petroleum Ltd, which is predominantly owned by Pioneer Concrete Pty Ltd. Ampol is an Australian-owned company.

What the Australian Democrats would like to see is the total divorcement of retailing petrol from wholesaling petrol. I believe that the people of Australia , the automobile chambers of commerce around Australia, with whom we have been in contact, would want this Government to indicate at least that it has a timetable for total divorcement. I, on behalf of the Australian Democrats, intend to put before the Government, by way of an amendment at the Committee stage, a timetable to phase out the wholesalers prior to 1 July 1985. If the Government finds that date unacceptable-I believe that it is not an objectionable proposal from the point of view of Australian Labor Party policy-I and the petrol retailers around Australia would value an indication from the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button) of what would be an acceptable phase-out date for the retail operations of the multinational overseas-owned and controlled petrol wholesalers who are operating in this country.

The Australian Democrats will support both pieces of legislation before the House at this moment. We commend the Government for an improvement. In the event of anything happening to our amendment we certainly would not stand in the way of this legislation going through this Senate to ensure that we get at least that modest improvement.