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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5900

Mrs GASH (Gilmore) (18:49): I see that the Minister for Defence Materiel is still in the chamber. With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to place on record our sincere thanks to the minister for coming to the electorate of Gilmore with the wonderful announcement that Sea King Shark 07 will be made a permanent display in our museum. Thank you very much, Minister.

The only amendment I will be supporting in this quadrella of bills—the Taxation of Alternative Fuels Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 and related bills—is the cleaner fuels amendment, and I will explain why. This government constantly and loudly crows about its so-called green credentials, about its commitment to the environment and about what a bunch of environmental philistines the coalition is. If anyone cared to drill deeper they would find that this persistent noise and crowing is no more than a self-constructed idol with clay feet. The credentials they lay claim to do not stand up to scrutiny, and in this suite of legislation is the evidence. Alternative fuels are the latest victim to have a Labor tax imposed. Unfortunately, the government cannot see that this new tax will do nothing more than add further pressure on struggling families and businesses and stop any encouragement for industry or motorists to use alternative fuels.

It is an unjustified and unfair impost. The tax will impact the taxi industry, couriers, freight carriers and anybody who relies on vehicle transport propelled by LPG. It will especially impact on regional Australia, which is dependent on alternative fuels like LPG, LNG and CNG. A number of significant inconsistencies are evident in Labor's approach to the environment. A newspaper article on Wednesday, 18 May revealed that some of the more recent champions for a cleaner, greener Australia—Labor ministers—choose to drive gas guzzlers. The article said, in dot points:

Labor ministers are driving gas guzzlers

Only 2 cabinet ministers driving "hybrids"

Greens say revelation is "disappointing"

No doubt some of their more creative environmental ideas were conceived as they burnt up fossil fuel driving around selling their solar panel and pink batt schemes. Admittedly, the article also said that the opposition was little better in its choice of cars—but at least we are not making hypocritical statements like this government is. It seems to be a matter of do as I say, not as I do. The federal resources minister believes ministers should be able to choose whatever car they wish to drive. 'I'll drive the car of my choice,' he said. Even the PM drives a 3.6 litre Holden Calais while she contemplates slugging Australians with a carbon tax that seems to be destined to achieve nothing but to get people to pay more while the cost of living continues to rise. Perhaps that is why the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency is now suggesting there will be no carbon tax on petrol. That will be handy in keeping the petrol costs down on his 3.6 litre Calais Sportswagon as he goes about the countryside promoting environmental reform. I have not yet established whether the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, who drives a Ford Territory, agrees with him. The question that has to be asked is whether they fuel their cars with E10, or do they prefer high-octane fuel? I drive a four-cylinder Tarago, which I fuel with E10 fuel and have done for many years. I have an account at the Marina Service Station in Nowra which once was used to promote ethanol fuel that was being produced at the Manildra plant in nearby Bomaderry, one of the largest ethanol plants in Australia. I am happy to produce the receipts for my regular E10 purchases. My track record on promoting ethanol is on public record and I am sure the chairman of Manildra, Dick Honan, will verify that during the days of trying to get the use of ethanol mandated.

It is important to remind the electorate of this historical background because Labor have a talent for rewriting the record to suit themselves. On 12 September 2002 the Howard government announced that ethanol would be subject to excise at the same rate as unleaded petrol, 38.143c per litre. A production subsidy equal to the excise was also provided to domestic producers, thus bringing the effective rate to zero. The government also imposed a customs duty of 38.143c per litre on imported ethanol. Who can forget the hyperactive campaign waged by Labor at the time suggesting that using ethanol would rot your engine and other doom-and-gloom warnings? The former member for Canberra made an outrageous comment that he had seen evidence that ethanol in cars was destroying engines. Later it turned out that the culprit was either methylated spirits or kerosene that had been put into the car.

With the emphasis now on saving us from global warming, surely a case has been made for encouraging the uptake of cleaner fuel and even more efficient fuel systems. So it is surprising to now find the government wants to apply a disincentive on the use of some alternative fuel types such as gas. The AusIndustry website says that 'the objective of the LPG Vehicle Scheme is to increase the use of LPG as a transport fuel'. Surely slapping another 12.5c per litre on LPG can only make the use of petrol a more attractive proposition. The government has spent over $400 million over the past five years to encourage motorists to convert to LPG. Gilmore had one of the highest take-up rates of LPG subsidy conversions. Now the government is increasing the excise, which will discourage the use of alternative fuels. This new tax on LPG is a punishment on the 700,000 families that made the right decision to take advantage of the conversion grants because LPG is up to 50 per cent cheaper at the petrol bowser and environmentally friendly. Of these families who converted, two-thirds live in regional Australia, where LPG is the preferred fuel used by agricultural and small businesses. Anybody in tune with the electorate will tell you that what the government is doing has people scratching their heads. They are saying to me: 'Jo, what's going on? One minute they're giving us money to convert to LPG because it's supposed to be good for the environment and, now that we've done that, they're putting the price up!' What am I supposed to tell them?

More than 270,000 vehicles have made the transition. Most are now stuck with their LPG converted cars, so you can imagine how angry the owners are. Many made the conversion as an economy measure in the face of rising fuel prices, so they are justified in feeling they are being cheated. And it was those rising fuel prices that we were berated over by Labor, so isn't it ironic that it has now come to this? We will be paying more for our energy needs than ever before despite its promises and as a result of policies introduced by this government. Yet the government still wants to put on a carbon tax. It just doesn't make sense to keep inflicting more costs on those that can least afford it.

So here we are facing up to another raft of taxes that will do nothing more than raise revenue to help pay back Labor's massive debt. In an era of peaking oil production, concerns over carbon emissions, global warming and increasing energy demands, isn't it rather incongruous to be taxing an alternative fuel? These are fuels that industry especially has opted for because they represent a cheaper input cost to production and distribution. In my electorate of Gilmore, LPG is a popular fuel for the thousands of utes being driven by independent tradies. They are trying to keep their costs down but now they will have to charge more to recoup the additional costs being imposed by this government. Some might have to absorb those costs because they are in a competitive market and they do not want to lose customers by passing on these new taxes. Others will charge more, and it is the consumer that will foot the bill. Just another tax in a raft of taxes to come, the biggie being the carbon tax next year. And we still don't have the details except to say it will be definitely passed down the food chain to the end user, in one way or another—of that there is no doubt.

Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is to have a 26.13c a litre tax imposed as a result of this bill, as will CNG, compressed natural gas. Both are used in the transport industry, which feeds into freight and other production costs. The question that has to be asked is why the government is choosing to do this. Why is it saying we need to go to more environmentally friendly fuels and then slugging us when we do? Why did it commit to keeping down the price of groceries, even to the extent of setting up Grocerywatch, when its own policies will be adding to the price of everyday consumables? Why did it give the impression it was concerned about the price of fuel, even establishing a commissioner to monitor price rises, when the government itself is feeding fuel price increases through its own policies? Gas is less environmentally polluting than other fossil fuels, so you would think that a government that professes its green credentials would be doing all it can to steer us in that direction. But here we have the opposite effect. Let me repeat a concluding remark in the parliamentary research paper I alluded to earlier:

The use of natural gas is less polluting than the use of coal and oil. A major benefit is that natural gas is some 65 to 70 per cent less greenhouse gas intensive than either brown or black coal. Another decided advantage of gas is that it contains far fewer particulates and other elemental contaminants than either coal or oil. As a consequence natural gas can be used as an alternative fuel for transportation in the form of either compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas, especially in heavy transport such as public buses or road freight carriers that can use centralised refuelling points.

That is why I and my colleagues will be opposing the introduction of yet more taxes on a resource upon which many Australians are dependent. There is no justification except as yet another tax grab to fund a record deficit that could have been avoided with smarter management. And I suspect it won't be the last. The answer to my question as to why the government is choosing to tax alternative fuels is $518.5 million. That is the amount estimated to be gained in additional revenue. But will it be used to pay back the debt or will it be frittered away? That is the multibillion-dollar question. This is Australia paying for the plasma TV stimulus spending of the Rudd government and its successors.

Page 5 of the explanatory memorandum to these bills states:

Although the taxation based advantage of alternative fuels will be reduced, the tax changes continue to provide support to the alternative fuels industry in recognition of the potential environmental, fuel security and regional benefits that these industries can generate.

The thing that is missing from that statement, as warm and fuzzy as it is, is how that will be achieved. Again, long and reassuring on rhetoric but gravely short on vital detail. All I can see happening is a displacement effect of motorists going over to diesel or even hybrids. Then I suspect—give it a few years to build the numbers—the government will hit them with another new tax. It is a modus operandi that is becoming a feature of the government. Do we have to trust them again? Not this pollie.

Earlier this week I noted, of the many press releases produced by the government, one saying that the Prime Minister has vowed to cut red tape for small business. What has not been explained is how, through this legislation, red tape will be cut when more is being produced and, in distinguishing fuel LPG from non-fuel LPG, how my local service station operators, for example, will deal with that. Are the government still working on the detail, as they say they are with the carbon tax, or are they just asking us to believe that they will get it right, much the same as they have done with the previous attempts, such as the pink batts fiasco, the BER overspending and the asylum seeker debacle?

Despite what it loudly proclaims, it is not a government that is a friend of small business; it is a government that is confused as to what it thinks small business actually is. I read an interesting newspaper article last year reporting the vocations of politicians—in other words, what they did before they got into politics. I think only one, or perhaps two, Labor politicians were self-employed or managed a business. Maybe the same two, or perhaps another one, actually held down a real job. Most were dependent on the union movement for their bread and butter and in that statement there is a clue as to why there is this incapacity to manage effectively. When your whole career is spent trying to throw a spanner in the works, eventually you become very good at it. This legislation is yet another example.

In closing: the only thing I will be supporting is the Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Amendment Bill, because I want to encourage people to use cleaner fuels. It is one thing to rail against the coalition, accusing us of being climate-warming sceptics, yet quite another when we ourselves have introduced many initiatives towards a cleaner environment. The Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Act 2004 was introduced by a coalition government. Surely, that points to the lie of Labor and their self-constructed new heresy on global warming. I supported the philosophy of a cleaner environment then and I will support that philosophy now. But I will not support a great big new tax just for the sake of it or just to save Labor's hide.