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Thursday, 20 May 1965


Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) . - By means of this Bill the Government seeks to establish, in cooperation with the State Governments and the oil companies, a petrol policy whereby it will be possible for people in each State to purchase motor spirit, power kerosene, automotive distillate, aviation gasoline and aviation fuel at a price not greater than 4d. a gallon above the ruling city price. I have much pleasure in supporting the measure. There is no doubt that it deals with an extremely intricate and complex matter. When we look at the schedule we appreciate the great amount of work in which the oil companies and the Department of National Development have been involved in compiling the list of prices and in determining the amounts of subsidy. This is perhaps a long way off implementing a promise that the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) made in his policy speech on behalf of the Government parties, but it is a method that has had to be employed because the Commonwealth cannot exercise price control. It has no power to do so.

I think that the Minister for National Development (Mr. Fairbairn) and the officers of his Department have done a fine job. The scheme they have evolved is a thoroughly practical one. I believe it will yield far-reaching benefits to people throughout the Commonwealth. I agree that anomalies probably will occur when the scheme is put into operation, but it is natural to expect anomalies having regard to the complexity of the legislation. However, I believe that when anomalies arise and are brought to the notice of the relevant authorities every endeavour will be made to overcome them.

I am particularly pleased with this legislation because for as long as 1 can remember my party has been worried about the cost of fuel. I remember that in the early 1950's Mr. Cornell, who is the Country Party member for Mount Marshall in the Western Australian Parliament, was chairman of a committee which investigated the possibility of introducing a uniform price for petrol in Western Australia. For a long time the primary producers in the State had been agitating for such a move. However, it was shown in evidence tendered to the committee that if the committee were to bring about the result that it had set out to achieve, and that if a standard price for petrol meant increasing the price of petrol in city areas and reducing it in country areas, many problems would be encountered. In that instance the oil companies were against the proposal. They thought that if the price of petrol were increased in Perth there would be resistance by users of petrol. Other companies were afraid that the oil companies which had established a large number of petrol stations in Perth would reap the benefit of the scheme, to the detriment of companies which had established depots in the country. The matter was dropped.

Throughout the years, when the costs of primary producers have begun to increase and the prices for our goods sold on overseas markets have begun to fall, the primary producers have agitated for a standard price for petrol throughout Australia. Time and time again from many political platforms in this country my own leader has suggested that the Government should introduce a standard price for petrol. So I am very pleased indeed to see this legislation.

It does not merely mean the giving of something to the primary producers. As a result of the tremendous rate of development that has taken place in Australia in recent years and the rising standard of living, increased costs have been imposed on all sections of the community. Some sections have been able to pass on their costs. But the primary producer is at the end of the road and has nobody to whom he can pass on his costs. He is obliged to sell on the overseas market in competition with the producers of other countries.


Senator Cormack - The dairy farmers receive a guaranteed price for their product.


Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - Not in relation to butter. Farmers have an average cost for wheat.


Senator Cormack - It is built into their cost of production in assessing the price.


Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - The honorable senator may argue that at another time. In agitating for relief of the kind that is now to be granted, our party believed that the primary producer alone should not be asked to bear the burden of developing this country. We believe that every section of the community should be called upon to share the cost. That is why we have been so much in favour of this legislation.

The introduction of this petrol price equalisation scheme will lead to a decrease in transport costs. The very minute in which this legislation comes into operation some of the burden of transport costs will be lifted. Not. very many years ago the Western Australian Government decided, because of the losses that were being incurred by the railway system, to close down some of the spur lines and some of the main lines. This meant that primary producers then had to rely on road transport, and the cost of petrol became a vital factor in their cost of production.

Senator Scotthas referred to the long distances that are travelled and the benefit that this legislation will bring to people in the north. 1 do not look upon this Bill only as being a means of helping the primary producer. 1 believe that, in passing this legislation, the Parliament will be assisting to achieve decentralisation. It is the responsibility of governments to introduce legislation that will prevent the concentration of industry and population in city areas and the thinning out of population in country areas. People choose to live where a job and a home can be had, where education, medical services and amenities are adequate, and where living costs are not excessive. If living costs are excessive and if people cannot find a home or adequate amenities in country areas, they will flock to the cities. It is to prevent that happening that governments should introduce legislation of this kind. It is not sufficient to give primary producers taxation concessions or money for extension services. We must look after their social welfare. The Government is now doing this.

Just recently we had placed before us legislation which provided for Commonwealth finance to be given to Western Australia to enable that State to extend its water supplies in the south-west. The extension of water supplies will lead to the provision of amenities for the people who are living in the area concerned. Those people will be enabled to grass their ovals and to maintain gardens, bowling greens and so forth. With the completion of Phase 4 of the Government's television programme, television coverage will have been provided for 90 per cent, of the people of Australia. Now in introducing this legislation the Government is lightening the burden of transport costs.

But 1 look beyond those benefits. I look upon this legislation as being a social measure. Not a great deal of entertainment is available in country areas and people sometimes have to travel long distances to go to football matches, picture shows or dances. This Bill will mean much to young folk in country areas. Two or three young people often dub in to buy petrol to go to dances in a nearby country town. Availability of petrol at Id. or 2d. a gallon less must surely help in keeping young people in the country areas. It will be seen that this legislation will be of very great benefit to people who live outside the city areas of Western Australia. For that reason, I have very much pleasure in supporting it.







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