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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4726

Senator MOORE (2:47 PM) —My question is also to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer. Does the minister seriously expect us to believe her claim yesterday, in relation to the government's new excise and subsidy regime for ethanol:

... there is absolutely no benefit to any particular individual and that includes Manildra.

Can she explain then why a 12-month limit was placed on the producer subsidy on ethanol? Hasn't this just ensured that all the benefits will go to existing producers of ethanol, most notably the Manildra group, which is run by the Prime Minister's friend, Mr Dick Honan?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —I thank the senator for her question but, once again, it is misconceived and it is tilting at windmills. I understand that Mr Dick Honan has made a statement to the effect that he not only made some representations in relation to his and Manildra's position on ethanol but also went to see Mr Crean, the Leader of the Opposition, on that very issue. The situation is that the Labor Party has tried to keep this up by suggesting that because Manildra is one of the largest producers of ethanol and because it gets some benefit it has all happened for Manildra's benefit. There is no suggestion of that at all. There is no individual producer who is being benefited to the exclusion of any other producer. The measures are well targeted and well thought out, and they are entirely appropriate to encourage the use of biofuels and alternative energy. I would have thought that those on the other side and, I am certain, those on the crossbenches would have nothing but praise for the efforts made by this government to look at alternative sources of fuel. The issue relating to Manildra is a side wind; it has no relevance to the issue, which in all the circumstances is just a slur, and an unwarranted slur, on the Prime Minister.

Senator MOORE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that these measures are so well targeted and well thought out, is the minister aware that major potential new investors such as Bundaberg Sugar have said that the 12-month limit means they will not commit to any new investment for ethanol production? Isn't it obvious then that the 12-month limit is a powerful disincentive to investment in new ethanol production? Doesn't this put the lie to the government's claim that this is part of an assistance package for that same sugar industry?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —Thank you for the supplementary question, Senator, but once again you are not correct. It is a short-term subsidy to enable the environmental investigations to be continued. The task force has been appointed to continue to develop the policy, to look at the development of biofuels across a range of other measures and to ensure that this measure is well targeted. The subsidy will last for one year while the longer-term proposals are properly thought out. The fact that it lasts for a year, once again, has nothing to do with Manildra and it continues to be a totally unwarranted slur—a desperate tilting at windmills—which this whole issue has been from beginning to end.