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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 663


Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(10.33) —in reply-I thank the Senate for its support for this measure. The character of the anomaly that is being rectified by this legislation was more than adequately explained in the second reading speech put down by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin). I do not believe there is any justification for the criticism that Senator Watson in particular advanced in what he has just said. He was a little churlish in all the circumstances. When a technical anomaly is identified by the Attorney-General's Department, the Government reacts to that quickly and in a way designed to maintain the status quo, as it is perceived by the industry. For the Government to get a flick in the process seems to me to be a little less than totally fair, graceful and just and all the rest of the things that we want to be to each other in this place.

There was a suggestion by a couple of speakers, just really by way of throw-away lines, that among the various acknowledged problems that the farm community has been having has been the problem of constantly rising fuel prices. I think I would be forgiven a small contribution from the perspective of my own portfolio in this respect if I said that that simply has not been the case. Although fuel prices have been rising again in recent months, as the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries has shown signs of getting its act together, the overwhelming influence on costs over the last year has been one of declining fuel prices compared with what they were before. The Government has gone out of its way to cushion and exempt the farm community from the adverse impacts of fuel prices by the differential policy we have applied in respect of excise rebates. With the overall ups and downs that have occurred with fuel prices over the last year, as of mid-February farmers and miners will be paying about 7c a litre less for their diesel fuel than they did in early March 1986. That reflects the net decline in world oil prices between those two periods. Farmers will also benefit to the extent of fully $345m in the same period as a result of the full rebate of product excise which the Government has decided to give during all these ups and downs in respect of off-road use of diesel fuel.

I acknowledge that the cost burden on the farm community in the situation of poor commodity prices is very acute indeed and I do not in any way want to be taken as undervaluing or not understanding that, but this familiar, routine sort of point that is made about rising fuel prices all being the fault of the terrible Government has to be corrected by me, by the Government, whenever that point is made. With those comments, I thank the Senate again for its support for this measure. I wish the Bill a speedy passage.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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