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Petrol price hike ignites voter discontent -

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ASHLEY HALL: Federal Parliament has reconvened for what promises to be a curious and no doubt
confrontational two weeks, before the long winter break.

The Government wants 39 pieces of legislation passed during the next fortnight, while the Coalition
still holds a majority in the Senate.

From July, the Opposition will lose control of the Upper House, and the Government will have to
rely on the votes of the Greens Senators plus an Independent and Family First's Steve Fielding, if
it wants bills to pass.

One bill it desperately wants to get through is its FuelWatch scheme, but the Opposition's using
polling figures out today to demand it be junked, and its plan for a cut in fuel excise to be
adopted instead.

From Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: The politics of petrol and particularly high prices ignites passions on all sides of
politics.

Liberals MP Dennis Jensen.

DENNIS JENSEN: FuelWatch doesn't work. I live in WA, I can tell you it doesn't work.

SABRA LANE: But Labor's Mark Butler disagrees.

MARK BUTLER: FuelWatch has been in the public sphere for a significant period of time. The
legislation has been rushed through because we think that there is a significant problem with
petrol prices and the Australian motorists want decisive action as soon as possible to make sure
that they are getting the best possible price at the bowser.

SABRA LANE: The Opposition believes it's on a winner with its policy to cut fuel excise by five
cents a litre and feels vindicated by Neilsen polling figures published in The Age and The Sydney
Morning Herald today.

It found 78 per cent of people want the Government to intervene to do something about petrol
prices.

Of that number, 67 per cent believe the Government should cut fuel tax, with only 22 per cent
supporting the Government's FuelWatch scheme.

Shadow finance spokesman, Peter Dutton.

PETER DUTTON: Well I think it shows that people understand the only impact that the Federal
Government can have on fuel prices is in relation to the 38 cents a litre that the Federal
Government collects in excise. And most people believe now that Brendan Nelson made the right
decision to cut the price of excise.

SABRA LANE: The Government wants its FuelWatch legislation passed in the next two weeks of
Parliament, while the Coalition still has control in the Senate.

After July the first, the Government will need the support all Greens senators, Independent MP Nick
Xenophon, and Family First's Steve Fielding, to have any bills passed.

But the Opposition is referring a number of Budget bills off to inquiries, including FuelWatch. It
argues the Government doesn't have a mandate.

Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson.

BRENDAN NELSON: Mr Rudd did not tell Australians before the election last year that he had a plan
to increase taxes by nearly $20 billion. That's what we're holding up to scrutiny.

SABRA LANE: In turn, the Government's trying to paint the Coalition as Senate vandals.

Labor's Jason Clare blundered in his haste to make a point that when it was in government, the
Coalition had a different of doing business in the Senate.

JASON CLARE: Let's have a look at this in a bit of a bit of an historical context. The Opposition
put the GST on petrol prices. They took us into a war in Iraq that led to a 400 per cent increase
in petrol prices. They're the Government, when in government, that kept the ACCC on a leash and
didn't let it do any work.

SABRA LANE: Mr Clare was asked for evidence to back his claim that petrol had gone up by 400 per
cent.

JASON CLARE: Has increased by 400 per cent...

REPORTER: But didn't you say the price petrol, not the price of crude...

JASON CLARE: Price of crude oil, price of crude oil. I apologise.

SABRA LANE: The polling figures will be a boost for Brendan Nelson, but he can't take too much
solace from them.

While his approval rating is up to 19 per cent, 37 per cent prefer to see the former Treasurer
Peter Costello in the party's top job.

Liberal MP, Don Randall.

DON RANDALL: I think people are very happy with Brendan, but there's a lot of respect for Peter,
mainly because of what Peter's achieved. But we're very happy with Brendan Nelson as our leader. I
think Peter as part of the team on the frontbench would be a good look. It would be very good.

SABRA LANE: Mr Randall doesn't believe Mr Costello would be interested in staying.

DON RANDALL: I'd be surprised. With a guy at his age of just over 50 with a commercial future in
front of him that could earn him a lot of money, or stay here. I think Peter's done an outstanding
job over the last 11.5 years and he might want to move on and earn some real money.

SABRA LANE: On sitting days like today, MPs walk into entrances of Parliament, stopping before news
cameras and microphones, to make obligatory comments supporting Government policy, or bagging it,
to make sure the snippets are used in news bulletins.

It's been long suspected the Government had a roster, setting aside days and times for backbenchers
to front these opportunities.

Labor's Mark Butler was asked about this morning.

REPORTER: Is there some sort of coordination with the Prime Minister's office or the Whips office
over this?

MARK BUTLER: Yes, there is.

SABRA LANE: The follow up questions was, if besieged backbencher Belinda Neal was due to make an
appearance.

MARK BUTLER: I can't tell you that.

SABRA LANE: The Opposition will want to flush her out in Question Time today.

Brendan Nelson.

BRENDAN NELSON: We will be expecting Belinda Neal to make a statement to the Parliament today about
what happened at Iguana Joe's.

SABRA LANE: But Labor's Dick Adams says it won't be necessary.

DICK ADAMS: I think she's made some comments and I think they'll work, she'll work her way through
this problem that she has, and I think she'd really must now understand that there's a public issue
that she needs to deal with.

ASHLEY HALL: Labor MP Dick Adams ending that report from Sabra Lane.