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Wednesday, 3 December 1986
Page: 3312

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(9.45) —in reply-I thank honourable senators for their contribution to this debate. I would not, for one minute, attempt in summing up on this legislation to answer or deal with all the problems raised by Senator Vigor. I just make the comment that there are two positions in opposition in this Parliament: One is the position of those in opposition who may, some time, however far away it may be in government; the other is the opposition of those who will never be in government. We have had a very good demonstration of that tonight in comparing the speeches of Senator Chaney and Senator Vigor. Quite frankly, I am not interested in the quick fix, sudden solutions to all our problems which were put by Senator Vigor tonight. I just want to make some general comments about what has been said.

Senator Vigor —They were anything but quick fix; they were long term.

Senator GRIMES —There is nothing too long term about anything the honourable senator suggests in this place because he will not be here long enough to look at the long term effects of what he is suggesting. For all the huff and puff we hear in this place about Australia's petrol prices and excise policies, the simple fact of the matter is that Australian petrol prices have fallen by about 6 per cent in real terms since this Government took office. Comparing petrol prices in this country with those in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries-Senator Vigor and Senator Chaney know this-we are amongst the lowest priced countries, and we are amongst the lowest taxed countries in the world in this area. In fact, the last time I looked we were about second or third lowest in prices and about third or fourth lowest in the sorts of taxes we apply to petroleum products in this country.

We, as a government, have made no bones about the fact that we have had to make some difficult decisions. We have had to adjust the excise taking into account the general price decreases in crude oil across the world scene. Therefore, we have had to adjust excise prices up. But the simple fact of the matter is that the costs of petroleum products to people in this country are still low by international comparison. If Senator Vigor and others say that we have pitched our excises too high, they have got to suggest some other areas in which we can raise that sort of revenue. We have never pretended that this is other than a means of maintaining government revenue. We have not tried to kid the community or the Opposition. It does not help if Opposition senators or Australian Democrats senators rant and rave, in the way they do, but make no suggestions about alternative means of raising revenue. That happens in this place regularly.

Senator Vigor —Are we suggesting transfer pricing be attacked?

Senator GRIMES —Oh, for God's sake! Senator Vigor asked: Is allowing the export of crude oil incompatible with Australia maintaining an acceptable level of petroleum self-sufficiency? My answer to that, quite simply, is no. In judging the Government's decision to allow the export of crude oil and the impact on Australia's level of oil self-sufficiency, it is necessary to place in perspective the amount of oil involved. Australia's export surplus from Bass Strait is only anticipated to last for the next few years and, in total, is not expected to exceed in volume terms an amount equal to about six months of Bass Strait production. The Government believes that its policy of allowing exports of crude oil surplus to domestic requirements represents a fair balance between the interests of the Australian community and the oil industry, which must be adequately rewarded and have the opportunity to market any oil discovered if it is to continue to invest in the risky business of oil exploration in Australia.

One gathered from Senator Vigor's remarks that there was probably no reason at all to continue exploration in Australia. He seems to consider that there is not going to be any further discoveries of oil. It just reminds me of the days, some 25 or 30 years ago, when it was believed that Australia had no oil. Speeches were made in this place and in another place stating that Australia had no oil and we had to do something about it. In fact, we have considerable oil reserves and we ought to consider doing something about that. We have to conserve the oil and have a balanced energy policy. That is what we are trying to do but it does not help to suggest that we should shut off all exports and clamp down on the activities of those who are already operating.

Senator Vigor —You should not subsidise them.

Senator GRIMES —For God's sake, what does the honourable senator mean by saying that we should not subsidise the companies? He is suggesting that we should shut down oil exploration because he and his colleagues believe that we should have not only a conservation policy but also a preservation policy. (Quorum formed) I thank the Senate. Senator Chaney and others mentioned the fall in exploration activity. There has been a fall. One would be surprised if there had not been in the light of the reduction in crude oil prices throughout the world. We have reacted to this reduction in activity by removing the excise on off-shore production for produced crude and lowering the top marginal rate on old oil from 87 per cent to 80 per cent. This is expected to place the industry in a more favourable position to increase levels of activity with consequential improvements in profit-building, employment and involvement.

Senator Chaney raised the matter of importing lawn-mowers from New Zealand. In the light of Senator Vigor's comments I understand that that is of very great moment. Duties on goods from New Zealand are governed by the provisions of the Australian-New Zealand closer economic relations agreement. The purpose of the agreement is to accord duty-free trade between the two countries. In the normal course of events lawn-mowers would have been duty-free several years ago. However, an intermediate goods situation has existed between the countries. New Zealand has had access to duty-free imported mowers. Previously Australian manufacturers had to pay duty at 35 per cent. This has now been reduced to duty at 25 per cent. This has caused the matter of duty on New Zealand lawn-mowers to be reassessed. Because the disadvantage has been reduced the duty has had to be removed. That explains completely the situation.

Finally, we have heard some very interesting, very esoteric and very complicated speeches here tonight, particularly from Senator Vigor, who as usual has presented us with a blueprint which, if implemented tomorrow, would solve all of Australia's economic problems then. Senator Chaney, in a much more measured and sensible speech, has realised that things do not happen quite like that, that change sometimes has to be gradual, even for those of us who are revolutionaries. That being so, I thank honourable senators for their contributions tonight. I thank them for their support for the legislation and I thank them for the realistic approach that they have taken, which is that in fact this legislation is sensible in the present economic circumstances. I appreciate the contributions they have made to the long term interests of this country, and I appreciate that in the next few years they will put forward their programs which will solve all our problems and that we will have no difficulties at all in a few years. We have contributed to the economic welfare of this country by making a sensible and balanced approach, and I am glad that those opposite have recognised this.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.