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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1329

Senator IAN MACDONALD (5:40 PM) —Those Australians who might be driving home at the moment and listening to this broadcast might consider these things next time they go to the grocery store. When they notice their grocery bill increasing yet again, they should understand that it is the Rudd Labor government that is adding to the cost of their grocery bill, adding to the cost of their electricity bill and adding to the cost of their fuel bill. This government is putting upward pressure on inflation and that will mean increased interest rates. And we all know the Labor government’s record when it comes to interest rates—17½ per cent on housing loans back in the Keating days. This bill continues the approach of the Labor government to continue adding to the cost of the weekly grocery bill.

I understand that this bill effectively brings back the indexation of the fuel excise. Mr Acting Deputy President, you will remember the half-yearly indexation of the fuel excise, which was brought in by Mr Keating, the last Labor Prime Minister. It increased the price of fuel enormously back in those days, probably from something like 70c a litre to 75c a litre, and then to 80c as the excise went up each six months. That is how Labor manages the economy and their money. They sneak a bit in every six months by stealth. It does not go through the budget; it just automatically increases every six months. That was a disgrace.

One of the best things the Howard government did was to stop back in 2001 the automatic indexation of the fuel excise that the last Labor government introduced. That was seven years ago. Since then, the Commonwealth’s take from the taxes on fuel has remained constant in finite terms, which means that in real terms it has actually gone down. That is what the Howard government and the coalition were all about—reducing costs, reducing imposts, reducing pressure on inflation and pressure on working families.

Under this legislation—one of the first pieces of legislation from the next Labor government—what do we have? We have the indexation of fuel excise being brought back in. That is a disgrace. No-one from the government side has talked about it. My understanding is that the Fuel Tax Act—which is related to this and which was introduced on the sly in the House on 13 March to take effect from 1 January next year—is in fact bringing back the indexation of fuel excise. That is just going to add to grocery prices each day.

I pointed out in an earlier speech today that this is on top of the Labor Party’s approach to the mandatory renewable energy target, which, according to the experts, will add a cost of around $1.5 billion to the economy and drive up power bills by six per cent. You do not have to be a great economist to work out that, with those sorts of imposts on the Australian people, the cost of living is going to skyrocket. I am particularly distressed for people who live in rural and regional Australia, as I do. I live 1,500 kilometres from my capital city, and a lot of the produce that is produced up my way is, under the arrangements that seem to be the norm these days, sent down to Brisbane or Sydney or Melbourne and then trucked back to Woolworths or Coles or IGA up in the north. Just imagine the cost of transport on that—it is horrendous. But if you then think of what the cost of transport will be in the future under this legislation from the Labor government, you can understand that the cost is going to escalate enormously.

Another thing that is wrong with this bill—there are lots of things wrong with it—is that it will selectively have a greater impost on the more productive vehicles. As Senator Scullion quite rightly pointed out, the registration on B-doubles is going to increase from $8,000 to $14,000-odd and on a B-triple the charge is going to skyrocket to $20,340, to be exact. That impost on the more productive transport vehicles is going to discourage the trucking industry. I hear Senator Hutchins’s pious words about the tough time the Transport Workers Union has. Well, with him and Senator Sterle and Senator Conroy being part of the TWU, does one wonder why the truckies have not been terribly well looked after? Senator Conroy is a very senior man in this new government and obviously knows the trucking industry back to front—well, he knows the union industry back to front; I am not sure he knows which is the steering wheel on a truck. But one would have thought that at least someone like Senator Conroy, as an old TWU executive, would have been in there fighting for the industry and fighting to keep costs down and therefore to keep jobs in the industry. It seems that this government has absolutely no interest in the trucking industry and certainly no interest in those who use the trucking industry.

As I mentioned, these imposts in this legislation, this huge increase in taxes on the trucking industry, will impact more heavily on those who live outside the capital cities. I am trying desperately to think of any of the ministers in this government who might live out of the capital cities.

Senator Sherry —I do!

Senator IAN MACDONALD —You do? You are not in Hobart anymore, Senator Sherry?

Senator Sherry —The fourth in Tasmania.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The fourth in Tasmania?

Senator Sherry —Senator Polley, Senator O’Brien—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I was not sure that Senator Polley was a minister. Anyhow, I take your word for it. Senator Sherry, you used to live in Hobart. You must have been shuffled out of there by the powers that be in the Labor Party. But there cannot be too many in the Labor Party cabinet who live outside the capital cities. Perhaps you could help me there, Senator Sherry, if you could name one or two, because I am struggling. I think it is symptomatic of this government, which has no real interest in people who live outside the capital cities. All the votes come from the capital cities; there are lots of people there—look after them and you will win the election. But for those of us who have to rely on transport and particularly road transport to get the food we eat, these imposts are going to have an enormous impact.

I understand some independent research commissioned by the trucking industry—I think Senator Scullion might have referred to this research—has suggested that the sector is already overcharged by $130 million a year.

Senator Sterle interjecting—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is that not right?

Senator Sterle —They are supporting the bill.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Watson)—Order! Senators, would you please direct your comments through the chair.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —It is indicating that the industry is already overcharged by $130 million a year, so where is the argument for this industry to be slugged with additional tax? Senator Sterle, according to Senator Hutchins, is also a good TWU man. I would be very interested to hear his contribution to this debate and to hear how he justifies another impost on his industry, an industry that is already said to be overcharged by $130 million a year. So why do we have this additional increase? Senator Sterle is from Western Australia. If there is anyone who should be opposing this bill it would have to be a Western Australian. You are probably even worse off than we are in North Queensland. Everything you get comes by road or rail transport, most of it by road these days. So I am sure Senator Sterle will get up in this debate and join us in opposing this bill to make sure that these additional taxes are not put on the road transport industry.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I am sorry, Senator Macdonald, I was going to intervene in relation to the time for this debate. You can continue.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Until when, Mr Acting Deputy President?


Senator Sterle —No, no!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —You have 10 more minutes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I will take your timely intervention as a suggestion that perhaps I have had my say. I know my colleagues Senator Boswell and Senator Nash want to have a few minutes in this debate. I would not want to deprive them of time to do so before 10 to seven, and I know Senator Sterle will want to enter the debate as well to oppose this horrendous legislation.

But I will conclude on the point on which I started. The Howard government will go down in history as a government that has produced the best economy this country has ever known. We have taken this country from a $96 billion deficit to a position where, in the last couple of budgets, we have actually locked money away for the future in surpluses. Well, we thought we had locked it away, but I understand the Labor Party are already attacking one of the funds we had set up to pay for the future—but you expect that from Labor.

We left this new government an economy which was the envy of the Western world. There were huge surpluses, low interest rates, low unemployment and low inflation—a dream economy—and already, in a few short months in power, the Labor Party are turning it round. In spite of the promises made by Mr Rudd to decrease grocery prices, to decrease interest rates and to decrease petrol prices, we find that not only are they not decreasing the things they said they would but they are actually, by this bill and by some other measures, increasing those taxes. The horror of again getting those automatic fuel excise indexations is too much to fathom. I certainly hope that the trucking industry and those of us who live remote from the capitals and rely on transport start to understand just what this automatic indexation does. I hope that Family First are listening to this as well because they seem to have a lot to say about fuel prices. I wonder if Family First have caught up with the fact that, from 1 January next year, this bill will reintroduce those automatic excise indexations. If the government were intending to honour its commitments to reduce fuel prices, what they should be doing is cutting the excise, not putting it onto the automatic indexation, as it used to be under the Keating regime. I conclude on that point.

As people who are listening to this broadcast drive home tonight, they should not be surprised when the grocery bill goes up in a few months time. The reason the grocery bill will go up in a few months time is that legislation like this, brought in by an inexperienced government, will add taxes to the transport industry and therefore add pressure to the costs of the weekly grocery bill and put real pressure on inflation. Those particular points, I hope, would be understood by those who might be listening to this broadcast.