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Tuesday, 30 November 1999
Page: 11107

Senator BROWN (7:12 PM) —I do not want to cut across this very important debate, but I see that we are going to have it extended into next week anyway. I want to put on record in this quiet hour of the night a very important point not about rorting but about reneging, which has occurred on one of the most publicly exposed agreements in recent political history in the country. On 28 May the Prime Minister wrote to Senator Meg Lees to outline the pact that had been reached on the GST. He wrote:

Following on from our successful discussions, I am pleased to set out in this letter the government's understanding of the outcomes reached. The attachment to this letter sets out a brief description of each measure and the costing of the package.

On page 7 of that document the Prime Minister said, under `Off-road diesel and like fuels':

The extension of the off-road concession for diesel and like fuels will be limited to providing full credits for marine use—

and a number of other uses which are listed there, but then said:

. . . but not for forestry.

Quite explicitly the Prime Minister had agreed with the Democrats that this off-road concession would not extend to forestry. What we have here before the Senate tonight is a bill which explicitly breaches the Howard-Lees pact. It explicitly extends to off-road forestry the benefit of the diesel fuel rebate—the extra 8c per litre—that the Prime Minister and Senator Lees had agreed would not occur. What has happened in the meantime? In total silence from the Democrats and in one of the shortest second reading speeches on a matter as important as this—

Senator Ian Campbell —Mr Temporary Chairman, I raise a point of order on relevance. We are dealing specifically with the first bill; Senator Brown's remarks are dealing with TLAB 9. Senator Brown apologised for cutting across the line of incisive questioning from Senator Hutchins; I thought it was a useful intervention when he first started, but having listened to him I think he does need to be relevant to the bill before the chair. We will be dealing with the bill Senator Brown is now addressing on this coming Monday.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Hogg) —Senator Brown, I draw your attention to the bill before the chair.

Senator BROWN —And let me speak about it, because it is to do with diesel fuel changes and I continue. In the days following the agreement that was reached, Senator Lees was asked a question by Matt Peacock on AM :

No Sir Humphries poking their heads up over diesel fuel, et cetera?

She said:

No. We went quite happily through all those diesel fuel changes and indeed there's a separate bill already introduced to the House of Representatives to cover that.

They had been through all the details. The point I make here is that the Prime Minister has reneged on a specific component of the Howard-Lees pact—it is black and white; there is no doubt about this—and there has not been a murmur from the Democrats—not a word. Senator Lees has avoided this moment in the House. I say to Senator Lees: come down to the chamber next week when this matter is under discussion.

Senator Ian Campbell —Mr Temporary Chairman, I raise a point of order. You have called the senator to order in relation to relevance. He continues to be not relevant to this bill. There are no provisions in this bill which relate to the matters that Senator Brown is seeking to place before us, and I ask you to enforce your ruling that he be relevant to the bill that is before us. He is not being relevant, and he knows it.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Senator Brown, the bill before the chair is the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme (Administration and Compliance) Bill 1999 . You should address your comments and make them relevant to that bill.

Senator BROWN —I assure you I will, Mr Temporary Chairman, but it must not escape our attention that the government is already running for cover. The Democrats are not here, but the government is running for cover on this matter. We are talking about compliance with the provisions for the implementation of the diesel fuel rebate. I am talking about a specific component of that, off-road forestry purposes, which is, as Senator Sherry from Tasmania, who is concerned, said, a multimillion dollar matter.

Senator Ian Campbell —Mr Temporary Chairman, I raise a point of order. Senator Brown has just made it quite clear to you that the provision of the bill he is talking to is a provision of TLAB 9. This is the third time that I have had to draw his attention to it. I do not want to interrupt Senator Brown; it is much better for senators to continue their interventions and I will be happy to deal with any matters in relation to TLAB 9 when TLAB 9 is before us. I wish TLAB 9 was before us right now. If Senator Brown wants to have a vote on the diesel bill we will have that and I would be happy to make sure he had the first say on TLAB 9, right now. But we are not discussing TLAB 9.

Senator BROWN —Mr Temporary Chairman, on the point of order, the parliamentary secretary is quite wrong. I have moved on to talking about compliance. On the matter of compliance, the questions that other senators have been asking relating to vehicles in general extends of course to the bulldozers in the forest. I want to know about the compliance mechanism for this extension of the rebate to the bulldozers in the forest when it is a rebate that was not flagged in the first place.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Senator Brown, I hear what you are saying. There is no point of order from the parliamentary secretary; you may continue.

Senator BROWN —Thank you. We are in this fix. The Democrats are in this fix.

Senator Ian Campbell —Mr Temporary Chairman, on the point of order, there are no provisions in this bill relating to grants to bulldozers because the bulldozers in the forest are off road, by their nature—

Senator Sherry —What if you were on the back of a truck moving between an urban conurbation and a non-urban conurbation?

Senator Ian Campbell —That is a good question, but the other is not a good question. I seek a ruling that Senator Brown is out of order. His questions are clearly important, but he needs to ask them when we get to TLAB 9. We have 15 seconds left to pass this bill; I would be happy, if there were no further questions, to have a vote on the diesel bill before we adjourn.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —I am advised by the Clerk that there is no point of order. It being 7.20 p.m., I shall report progress.

Progress reported.