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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 148

Ms VAMVAKINOU (11:13 AM) —I rise today on behalf of the many constituents living in my electorate of Calwell who continue to be affected by the very high cost of petrol. For many, high petrol costs further add to the financial burdens associated with today’s rising cost of living. They are eating into household budgets in a way that is unsustainable and their impact is especially dramatic for people who live in an electorate like mine, where having a car is close to essential if you want to get around anywhere—whether it be for school, for work or just for recreation.

People living in Calwell are generally far more reliant on cars than those who live closer to the Melbourne CBD and who have better access to public transport. More often than not, taking your kids to school, getting to work and doing the shopping all require a car. These trips are an essential part of our daily routine and they are becoming more and more expensive. The higher petrol prices go, the more they add to the pressure many working families now face as increases in the cost of living continue to far outstrip growth in household disposable income.

Perhaps one of the greatest contradictions today is that, at a time when the world is enjoying strong economic growth, more and more Australians are finding it harder to make ends meet and to keep their heads above water. Many Australians are already struggling to meet the soaring costs of child care, health care and medicine, dental care, education, and basic groceries as well as electricity, water, gas and telephone bills. High petrol costs play a role in this and community anger over the Howard government’s failure to do anything about high petrol prices has been palpable both in my electorate and elsewhere.

Last week, we finally saw the Howard government do an about-turn after having mocked the idea of a formal price inquiry into petrol prices in Australia for more than a year. I am glad that the government has finally chosen to heed the opposition’s call for it to direct the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to conduct a formal price inquiry into petrol pricing in Australia, especially after its previous ‘name and shame’ campaign went absolutely nowhere and has been all but forgotten.

The point of a formal price inquiry is that it gives the ACCC greater information-gathering powers, making it better placed to properly monitor petrol prices in Australia. It is about empowering the ACCC with information acquisition powers so that it can formally request information from oil companies who must respond to the ACCC rather than it just relying on the information that oil companies choose to make publicly available. This is the only way to make sure that the oil industry provides all the information we need to determine what is really happening with petrol prices in this country, especially when it comes to allegations of petrol price fixing and collusion between companies.

What has no doubt motivated the Howard government to act now is that, later in the year, we have an election pending. This is another eleventh-hour bid by the Howard government. What most people now fear is that this formal inquiry will have a shelf life no longer than beyond the next election. But high petrol prices are going to continue to hurt household budgets whether we are talking about this month, next month or next year.

To make sure that Australians start getting a fair go at the petrol pump, Labor has announced that it will appoint a petrol commissioner with tough new powers to monitor and investigate petrol pricing in Australia. The office of the petrol commissioner will be a permanent fixture within the ACCC, and it will be given full powers under part 7A of the Trade Practices Act to monitor and investigate any petrol price gouging or collusion.

The truth is that, for some time now, oil companies have seen long weekends, the Easter break and school holidays as a time to cash in at the expense of Australian motorists. Quick to raise petrol prices whenever the price of crude oil goes up, they are mercilessly slow to lower petrol prices when the cost of crude oil goes down. It is now common for petrol prices to be between 5c and 10c a litre higher than they should be.

Residents living in Calwell and Australian motorists in general need to know that petrol prices are being set fairly and that there is no price gouging at any point in the supply chain. That is why Labor will appoint a petrol commissioner as a permanent fixture in the ACCC to monitor and investigate petrol pricing in Australia and to ensure that my constituents as well as Australians generally get a better deal when it comes to petrol prices in this country.