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Thursday, 20 May 1965

Senator McKENNA (Tasmania) (Leader of the Opposition) (12:45 PM) . - May I remind the Minister that there were two questions which he did not answer? I do not blame him, because I asked quite a lot of questions. 1 now ask whether any obligation is cast upon the oil distributor to invoice at the full wholesale price and then show the subsidy as a deduction.

Senator Anderson - The invoice will not show the amount of subsidy. It will show the point of sale. That will be sufficient to indicate the amount of subsidy.

Senator McKENNA - Am I to understand that the figure that will be shown on the invoice will be the full wholesale price less the subsidy, or will it show the net figure?

Senator Anderson - That is right.

Senator McKENNA - I merely invite the Minister to consider whether it would not be very much easier if it were done the other way. Would it not be then clear to everybody what was happening?

Senator Wright - And it would be an additional check.

Senator McKENNA - It would seem to me to be an additional check. I do not press the matter, but merely raise it with the Minister.

Senator Anderson - The honorable senator will agree that it is purely an administrative matter.

Senator McKENNA - It is.

Senator Anderson - Of course, my officers are expert in this field. That is the way it was put in the first place. I cannot do more than give the honorable senator the facts.

Senator McKENNA - It would seem to me to be so much clearer if the oil distributor were to show his wholesale price, then the deduction, and then the net amount. 1 understand that what he will do will be to show the net amount and we will have to go behind what appears on the invoice to get at the real facts.

Senator Anderson - It will show the point of sale, which is the fundamental thing.

Senator McKENNA - That is all very well for knowledgeable officers who know all the ropes in relation to these hundreds of places. But there are many people who will be entitled to various wholesale rates - the primary producer as opposed to the industrialist and so on. However, I am merely asking for information at the moment. The other question I ask is this: Will the reimbursement to the oil companies, after taking into account expenses incurred in administering the scheme, include the cost of their trips, conferences and everything . else prior to the actual launching of the scheme?

Senator Anderson - I am happy to be able to say that the answer is " No ".

Senator McKENNA - I am happy to hear that. My final comment is this: Senator Wright pressed the Minister in relation to the possibility of variation in the city prices of petrol and that variation extending evenly into country areas. The Minister mentioned that three States - South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales - are concerned to fi\ prices. In view of another remark that the Minister made about price fixing, is it not to be anticipated that price fixing will cease to operate in New South Wales in the near future and that the only States to which we will be able to look for a norm in price fixation will be Queensland and South Australia? Would not that weaken any persuasive effect on the other States? It seems to me that what the Minister has told us here today is that, regardless of what increases occur in the basic price, the Government will not lose anything because the differential will remain constant.

Senator Anderson - Yes.

Senator McKENNA - I appreciate that, but I am certain that what Senator Wright was concerned about - I am concerned about it too - was this: Supposing the price went up by 4d. a gallon immediately, as it could in four States, the Government would be no worse off but undoubtedly the consumers would be. They would be in the same old position that they were in prior to the operation of the subsidy.

Senator Sir William Spooner - That presupposes that the metropolitan price would not go up.

Senator McKENNA - I made that position clear. I said that. You begin at the base in the capital city, and the effect spreads.

Senator Sir William Spooner - I said that it presupposes that the metropolitan price would not go up.

Senator McKENNA - I put the other proposition. I am assuming that the price did go up and that it went up evenly throughout the country. The Government would lose nothing, because the differential is constant as between all those points and the capital city. The poor old consumer would be paying just as much as he was before the subsidy was granted.

Senator Wright - Unless the subsidy is shown on the invoice, he has no method of checking it.

Senator McKENNA - There are these difficulties. There is always a grave danger in subsidising an uncontrollable price or charge. I would have been happy to have time to pursue the matter very much further and to have reassurance on the point of protection for the consumer.

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