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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 335

Senator JONES —I ask the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce whether his attention has been drawn to a joint statement by the Executive Director of the Queensland Motor Industry Association, Mr Jim Harris, and the Queensland State Secretary of the Transport Workers Union of Australia, Mr Len Ward, published in today's edition of the Brisbane Daily Sun, claiming that Federal freight subsidies for oil transportation to country areas were the subject of malpractice and profiteering by some independent wholesalers who are selling petroleum products in Brisbane at vastly inflated prices. What is the level of payment of the subsidies? What measures have been taken to investigate claims made in the statement? If the claims have been investigated, what is the result? What steps, if any, have been taken to ensure there is no abuse of the Federal freight subsidy system?

Senator BUTTON —I was not aware of allegations in the Queensland Press this morning made by the Executive Director of the Queensland Motor Industry Association and the State Secretary of the Transport Workers Union regarding abuse of the petroleum freight subsidy scheme. I must say that I am constantly aware of allegations of abuse of this scheme from all sources. The petroleum retailing industry is an industry in which the so-called virtues of competition have been elevated to the highest art form and it is, to say the least, cut-throat. In that environment all sorts of allegations are made.

Senator Jones asked me what action I had taken if I did see the allegations in this morning's Queensland Press, which I did not. Had I seen them, slow moving as I am, I doubt whether I would have taken action by now. I will have the allegations looked into and try to provide Senator Jones with an answer in due course regarding those allegations.

I was also asked: What is the level of the subsidy provided and what measures are in force to ensure that those measures are not abused? The level of subsidy under the petroleum freight subsidy scheme effectively means that freight costs above 1.1c per litre are paid for by the scheme. The freight costs above that rate vary between a fraction of a cent and 30c, I think, in some remote parts of Australia. That gives some indication of the effects of the scheme. As to prevention of abuse, the normal mechanisms of Public Service audit and things of that kind apply. I do not wish to embark on a discourse as to whether they are entirely satisfactory, but I think the people concerned are doing their best.