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Wednesday, 16 November 1983
Page: 2833

Mr GOODLUCK(8.21) —I do not intend to talk about the wine industry, but I compliment the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Hicks) for an excellent speech on it. I direct my attention to the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill. The Bill proposes to amend the States Grants (Petroleum Products ) Act 1965 to enact legislative changes to the petroleum products freight subsidy scheme. The freight subsidy scheme will be the subject of my short address. Last time this item was debated I voted by myself. I did not vote with the Australian Labor Party, which opposed the measure. I sat in the corner and said: 'I vote by myself'. I did so for one specific purpose, because the legislation provided that the price of petrol in country areas would be 1.1c a litre above the relevant city price. The oil industry is a tough and vicious industry.

Mr McGauran —Ruthless.

Mr GOODLUCK —Yes, ruthless.

Mr Groom —You know it.

Mr GOODLUCK —I do know it. I am sad that I have such a small audience tonight, with very few Tasmanians able to hear my speech and very few Australians able to hear my speech. But my good colleagues are in the House and I hope they understand the point which I am driving at. Of course, members of the Press are here, and it is good to see them. The question I asked was: What is the relevant city price? The Petroleum Products Pricing Authority fixes a maximum wholesale price in every capital city in Australia. Unfortunately, the oil companies had a great ability to be able to move their prices up and down within the maximum wholesale price. As a consequence, at the time of debate, there were various retail prices in every capital city. Therefore, there was no relevant city price because it varied from State to State and from city to city. I refer by way of example to this statement by the oil industry: 'Shell leads industry move to cut petrol discounting'. Of course, the two major markets in Australia are in Melbourne and Sydney, and that is where the oil companies make most of their dollars. I do not disagree that they should make a profit. They need profits in order to develop alternatives to petrol, such as liquefied petroleum gas and other fuels that are so necessary. Unfortunately, they take a lot of good people who are involved in that industry to the cleaners when they decide to vary the price of petrol. People cannot compete. There may be one service station on one corner and on another street there may be another service station selling petrol below the price for which the other poor fellow has bought it. So it is a difficult industry to control.

Mr Groom —Chaos.

Mr GOODLUCK —It is chaos, and it has always been chaos. My first speech in this House was on the petroleum industry. I said it was a difficult industry to control. On one side, the oil companies say that they are over-regulated and on the other side the consumers say: 'Look, we don't know what the price of petrol is in Australia because it varies so dramatically from city to city and from State to State'.

Mr Groom —What is the answer?

Mr GOODLUCK —Now we come to it. First of all I will talk about the provisions in this Bill which relate to the freight subsidy scheme. I will use Tasmania as an example. Petrol is sold for 1.1c a litre above the relevant city price. The price of petrol in Hobart at the moment will astound honourable members from other States. The retail price in Hobart at the moment is 52.8c a litre.

Mr McGauran —That is not possible.

Mr GOODLUCK —That is a fact. We are talking about a price which is about 10c a litre above the price of petrol in every other capital city. Let me say that in politics we argue about people having $5 in their pockets every week. In Canberra, for example, the price of petrol is about 47c a litre, which is a difference of about 6c a litre. If we analyse those figures, every week the motorist in Tasmania is paying 6c a litre more for petrol, which is another $5 a week out of his pocket each week if he has to travel to work by motor vehicle. That is the fundamental point.

The freight subsidy scheme is funded by the taxpayers. It is really a component of freight that is given to a person who lives in a country area. One would say that if petrol is 52c a litre in Hobart, the poor country fellow out of Hobart should pay 53.9c a litre. Of course, that does not occur. In fact some country people are paying 60c a litre. It just does not work. In his Budget Speech the Treasurer (Mr Keating) announced that the Government had decided to amend the scheme. He said that over the years the scheme had become complex-I agree with that; it is extremely complex-and difficult to administer. I agree with that; it is not administered correctly because the people who are involved in the administration do not understand the intrigue in the oil industry. They do not understand the ability of oil companies to drop the price of petrol at the whim of their marketing strategy; they do not understand what is involved with the freight components and, as a consequence, the whole thing is a sham. In fact, I should vote against this legislation tonight, but no one would second the motion . Of course, the Labor Party will support the legislation, and the Opposition has promised to support the Bill. But I will not vote on it. I will walk outside . I am not against the principle of the Bill. I believe that the country people of Australia should get a fair go in regard to the price of petrol because they need it more than the city people need it. The city people can use buses and trains, but country people depend on petrol.

Mr Uren —Will I open the door for you?

Mr GOODLUCK —No. The Minister should not open the door because I will talk about him. The Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) is involved in this matter because he is worried about the price of petrol in Canberra. He knows that in Sydney-is it only 100 miles away? It feels like it.

Mr Hicks —It is a suburb of Canberra.

Mr GOODLUCK —It is a suburb of Canberra. It is not very far away. But the price of petrol in Sydney has been regulated. There is a freeze on the wholesale price and on the retail price. Yet people in Canberra have been paying 4c and 5c a litre more than is paid for it in Sydney. Petrol is a precious commodity. We need it. It is like the water we drink and the air that we breathe. I notice that the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys) has entered the chamber. He is another ex-service station proprietor. He is a good member. Like me, he knows the intrigues of the oil industry. He knows what it is all about.

I return to this fundamental point: Why should petrol cost 5c a litre more in Canberra? Why should there be a 5c a litre difference in price? Sometimes the difference is even greater. As a matter of fact, in Sydney not so long ago a discount war occurred and petrol was about 33c a litre. There is something wrong with the industry. It is prostituted in such a way that it needs reform. I do not know how that reform can occur because the oil companies are powerful. They pull the strings and they know how to manipulate-if that is the word-the market to suit their own whim and fancy. Therefore, I urge the Government and the Treasurer, who is responsible for the pricing of petrol, to consider this matter , because we are responsible for the PPPA. We are accountable for that organisation, which recommends to the Government what it should do about the price of petrol. I would say that the petroleum market in Australia is one of the poorest markets in the world. We have not been able to reform it in the interests of the consumers and of all people in Australia, and I believe that that should be done.