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Thursday, 27 June 2002
Page: 2986

Senator O'BRIEN (2:16 AM) —Mr Acting Deputy President, I have a not insubstantial contribution to make to the debate on the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme Amendment Bill 2002, but I am proposing to incorporate it, if that is acceptable. There are some short points that I will make in addition to that.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Ferguson)—Senator O'Brien, you will need to seek leave to incorporate that.

Senator O'BRIEN —I seek leave to incorporate a contribution and I will add to it now.

Senator Faulkner —Leave is granted.

Senator O'BRIEN —Thank you, Senator Faulkner. I was hopeful I would have your support.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —I am sure you will get leave, Senator O'Brien.

Senator O'BRIEN —If Senator Faulkner wants me to do more than incorporate my speech, I am happy to do that as well.

Senator Faulkner —Leave is not granted if you do any more than incorporate.

Senator O'BRIEN —I thought that might be the case, so let's get on with it.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This bill seeks to amend both the Customs Act 1901 and the Excise Act 1901 to extend the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme to operators of retail and hospitality businesses in remote areas who use diesel fuel to generate electricity for their own use.

While the Opposition will not oppose this Bill, I plan to move a second reading amendment.

Because the rebate will only apply to businesses where there is no ready access to a commercial supply of electricity, it will principally benefit businesses in remote areas of Australia. Typically, businesses that will benefit from this rebate include caravan parks, tourist resorts and roadhouses.

If a drafting change to the Explanatory Memorandum is undertaken, it will indicate that to be eligible for a rebate the electricity generated by the fuel must be used at premises where a retail or hospitality business is carried on.

The fuel does not need to be used at the premises, however, it must be used nearby. In other words, the diesel generator does not need to be physically located on the premises of the business seeking a rebate.

This Government made an election commitment to this initiative and as such we will not oppose this Bill.

Madam President

The Legislation states that the level of rebate is to be at the same rate as if the diesel fuel had been used in primary production.

In the Second Reading Speech, the Minister advised that the rate is currently equal to the full amount of excise paid on the fuel, 38.143 cents per litre.

The Government has estimated that the introduction of this Bill will result in additional expenditure of approximately $20 million per year.

At first glance this may not appear to be much in the context of the Federal budget. However, it represents more than 52 million litres of diesel fuel per year.

52 million litres of diesel fuel, simply to get the Member for Kalgoorlie over the line.

It is hard to believe that this Government is giving up on developing renewable remote power generation alternatives such as photovoltaic arrays, wind turbines and hydro units.

It is shameful that this Government is happy to support the burning of 52 million litres of diesel fuel each year without investigating alternate energy sources.

Establishing renewable sources provides a long-term solution. They can continue to provide the energy year after year. They will overcome the need to burn 52 million litres of diesel fuel each year, year in and year out.

Renewable sources will also decrease the emission of greenhouse gases. Although not very large in the overall scheme, surely this is an opportunity to demonstrate that the Australian Government is committed to reducing the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Madam President

It is interesting to note that the extension of this rebate is only to retail and hospitality businesses. Why is it for these businesses and not all businesses in remote locations that have no access to a commercial supply of electricity?

Why is it not extended to isolated indigenous communities? Why is it not extended to remote manufacturing and construction industries? The Government gives no explanation for this.

It is yet another example of this government providing funds to mates, continuing their habit of dishing out unfocussed largess on the pretence of supporting `problem' regions or communities. This only creates busy but unfocussed local action, removes local control and stifles enterprising initiative.

When will the Government learn that it is its responsibility to support the process of being enterprising in regions and stop reinforcing a culture of dependency on Government handouts?

Providing the infrastructure to all in remote locations within Australia is a legitimate role of Government. It supports the process of being enterprising. It enables businesses and communities to take the initiative to develop their own solutions.

It enables communities to generate and implement new ideas.

Increased community capacity will encourage effective local leadership that can galvanise the enterprising strength of the local community from within.

It would bring the community together and make it worthwhile for the members of the community to provide their own social capital. It will increase trust in the communities. It will boost cooperative action and innovative outcomes.

It would assist in building vital networks and partnerships, in and between regional communities. By bringing people together it will enhance cooperation and the building of strong informal and formal networks and partnerships.

Instead this Government has continued their long standing tradition of providing largess to a few and dividing communities, partnerships and regions.

All this does is reinforce a culture of dependency on Government handouts.

Madam President

In a little cheapjack deal with the Democrats to get the GST through the Senate, the Howard-Costello-Anderson government introduced the Diesel and Alternate Fuel Grants Scheme and the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme in June 1999.

The Democrats, in a vain attempt to restore a modicum of credibility after their disastrous marriage of convenience over the GST, pushed the Government to include sunset clauses in each of these bills. The sunset date was set at 30 June 2002.

30 June 2002 is fast approaching. The Government has done nothing about developing an alternative to these two schemes. As a consequence, we reluctantly agreed to an amendment to these schemes to extend the sunset date out to 30 June 2003.

The Deputy Prime Minister's alternative to these two schemes is an Energy Grants (Credits) Scheme. So far neither we nor anyone else has seen what this Energy Grants (Credits) Scheme is going to look like.

We are eagerly awaiting the release of information about the new scheme.

Everyone in the transport industry is eagerly awaiting the release of information about the scheme.

So desperate was the Minister for Transport and Regional Services to control the Energy Grants (Credits) Scheme that he wrote to the Prime Minister identifying the Department of Transport and Regional Services as the lead agency for the development of the scheme, and then, only days later, as the Acting Prime Minister he wrote back to himself confirming that his Department would be the lead agency.

If he were so keen to be in charge of the process, then you would think he would be doing something about it. What has been done so far? Nothing.

At the time of the original legislation the Howard Government said that the new scheme would maintain the equivalent benefits of the old ones. The Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Mr Anderson also said that the new scheme would “provide active encouragement for the move to the use of cleaner fuels.”

The Road Transport Industry needs to know the nature of the new Energy Credit Scheme as it is likely to impact directly on operating costs, decisions about capital investment, business expansion, markets and technological choices for their businesses and families.

I trust that the Government will give these interested Australians the opportunity to fully discuss the proposed Energy Grants (Credit) Scheme prior to the sunset of the Diesel and Alternative Fuel Grants Scheme and the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme.

Fuel Taxation Inquiry

Although you wouldn't know it from the Treasurer's less than enthusiastic launch of the Fuel Taxation Inquiry, many of the issues I have covered today have been addressed by the “Trebeck” report.

The Fuel Taxation Inquiry made a number of recommendations that establish a framework for the establishment of the Energy Grants (Credits) Scheme.

It outlined design principles for the scheme including the introduction of a Business Fuel Credit Scheme for all businesses, not just those that are the favourite of the day of the Coalition Government.

It recommended that the Business Fuel Credit Scheme should replace the Diesel and Alternative Fuel Grants Scheme and the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme, and it recommended mechanisms to develop the environmental component of the proposed scheme.

The Fuel Taxation Inquiry therefore provides the framework for this Government to implement its commitment to a Fuel Grants (Credits) Scheme. It has chosen to completely ignore the recommendations of the Inquiry.

It makes you wonder why the Inquiry was established at all.

Why did the Government spend almost four million dollars of tax-payer's money for an inquiry that they always intended to ignore?

Why did the Government invite almost 300 Australian organisations, businesses and individuals to prepare detailed and costly submissions to this Inquiry?

The Government robbed them blind.

The Government has set in train a process that has raised expectations. The response from industry clearly indicates that this issue is of the utmost importance to them.

This Government has dudded them.

It is clear that you called the Fuel Taxation Inquiry for cynical election purposes with no intention of a genuine review of fuel taxation issues.

In doing so this Government has plainly misled the Australian community.

Senator O'BRIEN —The opposition is not opposing this legislation. In relation to it, we say that the government ought to be condemned for its failure to deliver on its commitment to develop an energy grants credits scheme to replace both the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme and the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme; its failure to prioritise support for the accelerated take-up of renewable electricity generation as a viable alternative to diesel rather than extend the diesel rebate that would lead to long-term greenhouse gas reductions; and for conducting a fuel tax inquiry only for cynical and expensive election purposes, with no intention of a genuine review of fuel taxation issues. I will move the opposition's second reading amendment at the appropriate time.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —You will have to foreshadow it because Senator Brown already has an amendment before the chair.

Senator O'BRIEN —I will foreshadow that. In relation to Senator Brown's second reading amendment, I can indicate that the opposition hears what Senator Hill says in terms of giving an unequivocal undertaking that the return to order will be complied with on the next day of sitting. The opposition does not propose to adjourn the debate on this bill until that time, given that undertaking, and we will therefore not support the second reading amendment moved by Senator Brown.