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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1475

Senator BOSWELL(5.12) —We are debating the Petroleum Retail Marketing Franchise Amendment Bill 1984 and the Petroleum Retail Marketing Sites Amendment Bill 1984. I am sure I am correct when I say that every service station proprietor and every lessee of service stations would welcome this legislation. It goes a long way towards improving the lot of all service station owners, but it does not pick up all the points and problems that the service station owners are experiencing. The Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Button, and his Government made a number of promises prior to the last election. This is one of the very few points that this Government has picked up to help small business. I suppose that Senator Button should be congratulated on that because he has shown some understanding of the needs of small business, which is more than his colleague, the Treasurer (Mr Keating), has shown. The Treasurer was completely insensitive to members of the small business community when he said in Brisbane: 'They have to stop complaining. They cannot live any more in a world on their own'. This was a total insult to all the small business people, who make up 60 per cent of employment in this nation. Senator Button has brought forward this legislation and he should be applauded for it.

I live in the shadow of two oil refineries. I certainly respect them for the jobs they create, the sites they provide, the product they provide and the stability of supply they provide. I live at Wynnum, where I think 700 people are employed by Ampol Petroleum Ltd and I would not know how many are employed by Amoco. On reflection it probably is time, as Senator Jack Evans said, that we had a policy of total divorcement of the oil companies from the market. This legislation goes somewhere down the road towards a 70 per cent divorcement of the oil companies from the retailers, but that still leaves 30 per cent. I believe that a 100 per cent divorcement would alleviate some of the problems that the lessees or the service station proprietors are having with the continual price cutting that is so rampant, certainly in my State of Queensland. At the moment 1,800 service station proprietors are working very long hours. Their margins are being reduced. Some of them are working on such a fine margin that they are not able to show any great profit. When we take into account the fact that their wives are probably inside the business running the cash register and they are outside at the pumps we see that they are not getting any-

Senator Jack Evans —They are not even getting wages.

Senator BOSWELL —They are flat out getting wages and they certainly are not getting compensation for the effort that they are putting in. Some of them have told me that they are putting in 80 hours a week and they are barely making one wage, let alone two. Of course, if we went down the track of 100 per cent divorcement we would prevent this price cutting, this continuous fighting for a market share. We would leave the service station proprietors in a position where they could fight for their market share without any outside interference.

Another point that the Bills fail to pick up-I ask Senator Button to pick this up in his reply-is that under the present legislation, service station proprietors are allowed to buy 50 per cent of their fuel and diesel from the company that can sell it to them at the lowest price. In point of fact what happens is that, whilst the legislation says that they can do this, the oil companies say: 'You can do it all right but don't pump the fuel through our pumps and don't put it in our tanks'. I ask Senator Button to reply to this point: Does this legislation help in that situation? I do not think it does. It is one of the main contentious points service station proprietors are facing at the moment. The legislation is absolutely useless on this point. Service station proprietors are not allowed to put such fuel through the oil company bowsers or tanks.

The Minister should look at another matter. This Government has appointed a number of industry advisory committees, but I know of no advisory committee to advise this Government on fuel, petrol retailing and petrol distribution throughout Australia. It is a big industry. I do not know how many people would be employed at these service stations but if we were to add that number to the number of people actually working in the oil refineries and driving the trucks distributing oil we would find that it is a very big industry. I think this Government would solve a lot of its problems if it had an industry advisory committee. I understand that this Government has spent $6m on industry advisory committees for the fishing industry, small business and so forth, yet it has not picked this one up. I commend that idea to him.

I turn now to the matter of the elimination of petrol retailing through oil company bulk depots. It is totally unfair to the service station industry for an oil company to set up a service station with a proprietor and, around the corner , to have a wholesale depot which is undercutting and selling from an industrial bowser, without the infrastructure a service station must have-the driveway, the lights and everything else that is needed to dispense petrol.

The other point I raise in this debate relates to the establishment of an industrial tribunal. Again, I believe that this point has been taken up by the Queensland Government in its retail lease legislation. The Government, shopkeepers, tenants and landlords were being caused tremendous problems. Under the legislation a mediator and a tribunal have been set up. The mediator has taken the first step towards solving the problems between the parties and has solved 99.9 per cent of the problems before they have even got to the tribunal. The mediator brings the warring parties together. He sits them down and explains the legislation and the law. He tries to talk a little bit of common sense to them in the hope of putting out the fire before it actually develops. As I said before, the legislation goes a long way towards solving the problems of the service stations and the service station lessees, but it does not go far enough. If Senator Button picks up those points and works them into a Bill, puts them in some amendments or uses them in further legislation, I think we will have a pretty good Bill which will solve all his problems and the service station lessees will be happy with the legislation. I suppose one could say that the Bill is half a loaf, but it is better than no loaf. Therefore, I support the legislation.