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Opposition Leader discusses FuelWatch; and price of fuel.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. DR BRENDAN NELSON MP

27 May 2008

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. DR BRENDAN NELSON MP INTERVIEW WITH STEVE PRICE RADIO 2UE, SYDNEY

Subjects: FuelWatch; price of fuel.

EO&E………………………………………………………………………………......

PRICE:

The Opposition Leader Dr Brendan Nelson is on the line. Thanks for your time.

DR NELSON:

Thanks Steve.

PRICE:

Is FuelWatch a waste of time and money and do you agree with Martin Ferguson that it will cost jobs and send independents out of business?

DR NELSON:

Well that’s our concern. I know the NRMA seems to support it but the other motoring organisations around the country share that view. And the concern we’ve always had about it, now confirmed by Martin Ferguson, is that the real battlers, Steve, that are

lined up on a Tuesday night trying to get that maximum discount, that they’ll end up paying a couple of cents a litre more and the people who are less price sensitive, who buy it at any time, will probably pay a couple of cents a litre less. And the other evidence that we’ve now got is that it forced the… would be likely to force the last few independents out of the market.

PRICE:

So when you did your investigations on how it unfolded in Perth, that’s what you found, did you? That, you know, like on Tuesday now - and I drove to work this

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morning, I think I saw $151.9 - so you know today in Sydney and in New South Wales you drive in today the chances are you’ll get it cheaper. You’re saying if FuelWatch was in today we wouldn’t get this lower low in the cycle?

DR NELSON:

Yeah that’s the concern that we have which is shared by a number of motoring organisations and by tonight, for example Steve, you’ll see the price will be down much lower and there’ll be queues half a kilometre along out onto the road of people waiting to get in, which confirms the fact of course that people would like five cents a litre cut off the excise. But in Western Australia Richard Court when he was in government he introduced it and the purpose for introducing it was not actually to reduce the price, it was actually to give consumers more information over the 24 hour cycle. But of course enforcing the retailers, the petrol stations to give you that

information 24 hours in advance, what of course they do is they hedge their bets by not going as low as they otherwise would. And so our concern, which Martin Ferguson has confirmed in writing to Chris Bowen and to his own Cabinet colleagues,

is that it is not only anti-competitive but it will hurt most the people, and that’s people basically in Western Sydney for example, who are queuing up on a Tuesday night every week to get the discount.

PRICE:

You had to cop criticism over Malcolm Turnbull sending you that email disagreeing with your excise move. It now appears that the Government itself can’t agree within Cabinet on how to bring prices down. The reality is the only way for cheaper fuel is to cut taxes, isn’t it?

DR NELSON:

Well it is Steve. Look we all know that global prices of oil and refining costs are the key contributors to fuel but we also know that there’s 38 cents a litre in excise and just under 14 cents in GST at the moment, and the one thing that Kevin Rudd can do, and the country is in a strong position financially as a result of a decade of good economic management, the one thing that he can do is cut excise. It’s a tax cut, and you know I get really angry when people say, ‘well five cents a litre off excise, you

know, what’s that going to do?’ Anyone that says that does not understand the pressure that Australians are under as far as petrol is concerned.

PRICE:

Well they don’t look at the queues?

DR NELSON:

No of course not, and Steve I reckon if you, you know, 2UE, if you go do a vox pop, just interview drivers lining up tonight for example for cheap fuel, you ask them whether they’d like another five cents a litre cut off the excise, I bet you I know what they’re going to say.

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PRICE:

Well Woolworths have made a fortune out of giving four cents a litre off with dockets?

DR NELSON:

Well of course, and you know you’ve got pensioners who go through the local papers trying to find the cheapest sausages or chops to buy and who are still struggling in many cases to run a car and they will seize on every single cent less that they possibly can. And petrol is now, as we know, $1.50 to $1.60 a litre and it’s reached a point where it seriously is at breaking point. Australians - you know Mr Rudd says you know there’s no silver bullet - well ,as I said in my Budget-in-Reply, well of course we know there’s no silver bullet but we expect more than a Government firing blanks.

And the one thing that the Government can do that it, does have control over, is that excise. And I think, seriously believe Mr Rudd should be considering it.

And the other thing Steve, as far FuelWatch is concerned, the Prime Minister should guarantee - and this is what he won’t do - he should guarantee Australians that under no circumstances will you pay a cent more in petrol than you currently do as a result of FuelWatch coming in.

PRICE:

Your critics say you didn’t do anything when you were in government; that John Howard and Peter Costello refused to do what you are going to do. In hindsight should you have looked at the excise?

DR NELSON:

Well there are a couple of things there. I mean the excise was cut when the GST was introduced. Further to that John Howard and Costello stopped the indexation of fuel excise…

PRICE:

[Inaudible]

DR NELSON:

…in 2001. Petrol was not then $1.50, $1.60 a litre. I’m running the show now and my very strong view is that, consistent with our lower taxes philosophy, is that Australians need some relief. It is the one thing that you can directly [inaudible]. You know Mr Rudd is talking about maybe taking the GST off the excise…

PRICE:

What do you think of that idea?

DR NELSON:

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Well look it obviously has some merit but here’s the… it’s very complex, we’ve already got the states complaining that they won’t accept any reduction in GST revenue…

PRICE:

Well Michael Costa today says he’ll need a cheque for $400 million if they do that.

DR NELSON:

Well that’s a start, but having said that I’ve got to say, I mean, if the Federal Government is going to make [inaudible] kick the tin in terms of giving a bit of relief, so too should the states.

But Steve what Kevin Rudd is basically saying is he’s got a committee. In 18 months time it might come back and recommend something that will give you less than four cents a litre off. I mean what we need is decisions. We don’t need another committee. We don’t need a summit. We don’t need a plan to have a plan. We need a government that will make decisions, and that’s what he needs to do and, as far as I’m concerned, from our perspective we will go forward with this at least five cents a litre cut in excise. I think it’s one of the things that if he wants to do some me-tooism he ought to be looking at and reorder his priorities. And he ought to also by the way, and this idea where he says he’s done everything he possibly can to help Australian family budgets, as I said yesterday, I mean that’s putting up the white flag and quitting.

PRICE:

Just before you go. A lot of calls to this programme yesterday about the price of diesel. As you know, we’re right across New South Wales. A lot of truck drivers listening to us. They are really getting hammered. I mean is there a way that we can look at bringing the price of diesel down? That’s now up around, yesterday I saw it at $1.80 a litre.

DR NELSON:

Well that’s one of the things we’re looking at at the moment. I mean Kevin Rudd’s hammered me over proposing a cut in the petrol excise. Diesel is one of the things we’re looking at at the moment. And by the way, one of the things the Government has actually done amongst the tax increases is to increase the road user charge on a truckie, which of course feeds into grocery…

PRICE:

Which you’ve blocked in the Senate?

DR NELSON:

Yeah, yeah. As a matter of principle we don’t support higher taxes particularly in this environment and it’s just madness to increase the cost of trucking groceries and other

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stuff around the country, so all I can say is that we’re focused on diesel Steve and we’ll have something about that to say in due course.

PRICE:

Appreciate your time, thanks a lot.

DR NELSON:

Thanks Steve.

[ends]

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