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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 12

Ms KING (1:11 PM) —I think the contribution we have just heard from the member for Bowman makes exactly our point: policy laziness from the government, no solutions whatsoever and no interest in having a proper debate about these issues or in doing anything at all about petrol pricing. They are ready to just criticise any solutions that come out but are not able to offer a single solution themselves. I am angry that this motion is necessary. It is necessary only because the government have been lazy on this issue. We have seen how quickly the government are prepared to act when they want to ride roughshod over the rights of working families. We have seen how quickly they are prepared to act when they want to cut disability support pensions and pensions for sole parents. Yet they plead absolute powerlessness when it comes to strong leadership on petrol prices and fuel strategies.

In just one week alone in September, Ballarat motorists in my district paid $1.3 million extra for petrol, compared with what they were paying in January. That is $1.3 million out of the pockets of country Victorians. For the average Ballarat family that translated to $11.72. In that same month the Prime Minister had the gall to say that it was of some consolation to him that this was ‘occurring at a time when people’s disposable incomes incomes were higher because of the recent tax cuts, the high real wages and the low unemployment’. Even the most basic maths will demonstrate that $11.72 is almost double the incredibly mean $6 tax cut which this government provided to the vast majority of working families.

We have seen how this price hike is impacting on families in our region as fuel costs flow on to impact all other sectors. Retail costs are soaring, and we have seen increases in basic family items such as food. This in turn has bitten sharply into the family budget, and for many families this has meant a choice between buying petrol to go to work and buying the basics of life for their kids, paying the mortgage or covering the health costs that have increased under this government. As usual, regional and rural areas have been hardest hit, with a clear and demonstrable inequality between city and regional pricing.

This morning, Ballarat petrol prices are at $1.27 per litre while Melbourne and Geelong motorists are paying just over $1.18 per litre. The Australian Automobile Association has released figures demonstrating clearly that the gap between city and regional figures reached record highs during October. Even with the recent slight drop in fuel prices, regional and rural Australians are still doing it very tough. I quote from a press release from the Australian Automobile Association, which states:

… the figures refute claims that the high petrol prices were purely the result of international oil prices.

It absolutely refutes the claim that we just heard from the member for Bowman. Not just individual families are suffering but the economy as a whole is being affected, which Labor have been predicting since the beginning of these high price increases. Regional tourism is taking a battering, as the disposable income of families shrinks and as travel becomes more expensive. Manufacturing and other major businesses are less likely to relocate to regional areas when they know that their transport costs will blow out and they will have no protection from this government, while existing regional manufacturers are being severely disadvantaged by petrol costs.

Australia’s consumer confidence has also taken a major hit, according to the monthly index from Westpac and the Melbourne Institute, which is at its lowest since March 2003. The National Retail Association is ringing alarm bells, with the retail sector in a panic about the likely effects on Christmas trading. Recently, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank warned policy makers that they can no longer ignore the pressure that high petrol prices are actually putting on inflation.

Labor have strongly called for the government to instruct the ACCC to formally monitor petrol pricing. We wrote to the ACCC in that regard, and we have seen that the government have absolutely failed to instruct the ACCC to formally investigate and monitor petrol pricing. The government have been asked on a number of occasions under the act to investigate services provided by Airservices Australia. They have also looked at Australia Post, they have looked at aeronautical services provided by Sydney Airports Corporation, but they have not been formally asked by the Treasurer to monitor petrol prices. It is an absolute disgrace that they have not done it. There is proof in this letter from the ACCC that the Treasurer has not instructed the ACCC to formally monitor petrol prices. If the ACCC cannot formally monitor petrol prices, they cannot get the evidence they need, and that is a disgrace. (Time expired)