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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18748

Mr WINDSOR (5:32 PM) —I would like to raise a number of issues. I will first comment on a couple of things that the member for Wentworth said about reform of the Senate. Another issue that I intend to raise is Telstra and the way in which the current government is not listening to its constituent base, particularly those in the country—but not only those in the country. I hope that, when the Telstra (Transition to Full Private Ownership) Bill 2003 arrives before the Senate after its passage through the House of Representatives, the Senate will oppose this facilitating bill and demonstrate to the Australian people that, where minority groups believe they are disadvantaged and can show that they are disadvantaged, the Senate has a role in representing their views. The minority group I refer to in this case is country people, who have been badly neglected by their representatives—and by the way in which our supposedly democratic system operates on their behalf, because they represent 30 per cent of the vote in this particular chamber. The democratic process represents the 70 per cent and overcomes the 30 per cent. So I hope that the Senate will show that part of its role is to represent those groups.

The member for Wentworth spent some time talking about states that have smaller populations. I note that he comes from Sydney. If he had his way, I think he would reinforce the power that Sydney has over the Australian continent. If that is the sort of Australia that we want to end up with—a feedlot based on one side of the nation—God help us. I would urge people not to be conned by some of the discussions about the Senate that are taking place. If members of the chamber were indeed interested in the democratic process, they might be interested to know that the member for Calare was the only Independent in this chamber in 1996, even though around 20 per cent of the population voted for Independents. If we are talking about the parliament reflecting the democratic processes of the people, maybe we should be looking at some of those issues.

I raised the matter of Telstra. I am very aggrieved by comments that were made by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Alston, when he referred to a Liberal member of this parliament, one Alby Schultz, with whom I served in the New South Wales parliament for some years. The minister was referring to the water that people drink in Mr Schultz's electorate of Hume, in my electorate and, I presume, the electorates of the member for Kennedy and the member for Calare. Surveys and any other sources available show that those electorates are opposed to the sale of Telstra. For the minister to make those allegations against those constituents is, I think, unbecoming to a minister of the Crown—particularly in relation to the member for Hume, a country member and one of the people in this place who has at least had the guts to stand up and reflect the views of his constituents on this matter. I condemn the minister for the view that he has taken on this matter.

Another issue I would like to raise is in relation to a constituent of mine, Mr Gerald Bullen. It reflects a problem in our society. I am not totally on top of the solution to this, but it is important and it does bridge the state and Commonwealth issue of carers, as well as health and aged care. I am pleased to see the Minister for Ageing is in the chamber. Mr Gerald Bullen is from Deepwater. I am sure the member for Wentworth is familiar with Deepwater—

Mr King —Yes, I am very familiar with that area.

Mr WINDSOR —The member is very highly regarded in Deepwater—and in shallow water, for that matter! Mr Gerald Bullen is a carer for two women. One is his 73-year-old Aboriginal mother-in-law, who has dementia; the other is his wife, who has a lung disorder. They have two children, aged 11 and seven. Mr Bullen receives $85 per fortnight for each lady.

Mr Bullen has listed petrol, incontinence pads, medication, power, food and water as some of the added expenses he struggles to pay. Mr Bullen estimates his carers pension to be worth 13c per hour compared with the some $80 per hour which he believes it costs to care for a patient in a nursing home. Mr Bullen says that he spends $100 a fortnight on incontinence pads and that there is a two-year wait to get on the Program of Appliances for Disabled People, which is known as the PADP. I recognise that it is a state scheme and I am not casting blame on anybody here. I think it is the hospital system that has failed with such services. Mr Bullen believes it is ridiculous that carers are so poorly valued when they are saving the government millions of dollars by looking after the elderly for as long as possible rather than placing them in aged care beds. He says that there is a two-year waiting list for the PADP for incontinence pads.

This just came to me today from my office and I think it reflects on some of the concerns that are out there and the relationships between the states and the Commonwealth in the provision of care. I compliment the Minister for Ageing, who is in the chamber, for the work that he is trying to do in overcoming some of these problems. But perhaps it is time in terms of Commonwealth-state relations—I know that meetings are taking place over the next week on the new arrangements—that we start to look at the care that is provided in the home and the way in which we cost the provision of that care. Most people would recognise that, once an elderly or infirm person or a person with a disability enters an institutionalised system, the cost to the taxpayer, the government, the minister or, more broadly, the system is much greater than it is with carers looking after particular individuals. I ask the House to use Mr Bullen's circumstances as an example we should consider in relation to the future.

Ethanol is another issue that is currently prevalent that I would raise. The ethanol issue is of particular concern in the northern part of the state, where there are three ethanol plants in the planning. I would reflect back on some of the early initiatives in terms of approaches to the government and ask the government to reconsider the mandating of ethanol in fuels, given the furore that has occurred—and the campaign by the petrol companies in particular—and the politics that have been seen in this place. Leaving things to a voluntary arrangement between fuel companies and ethanol producers will in no way initiate the commencement of a major ethanol industry. Under the current arrangements, with an excise of 38c a litre being left on until 2008 and then being phased out by 2012, the only real recipient of benefit will be the Manildra Group, which is headed up by Mr Dick Honan. I suggest that the government bite the bullet on this, mandate the process and extend the excise on fuel of 38c a litre out to seven years rather than five, bearing in mind that it would take at least two years for some of these plants to get up and running if building were to commence tomorrow.

Once again, I urge the government to stop playing around with this. If we want an industry, there is one there to be had. It appals me that in this place we actually see the removal of a tax as a subsidy, particularly by a government that purports to represent free enterprise and to be on the global stage—and I commend the Minister for Trade for what he is doing in terms of free trade—talking about a level playing field. Here we have an industry that should not be subject to the phasing in or out of any tax regime at all, and yet the Treasurer and many others in this parliament are actually referring to the removal of a tax, an excise—in this case, 38c a litre—as a subsidy to that industry. I think that is an absolute disgrace and, if anything, excise arrangements for all fuel should have been included in the GST arrangements some years ago. It is a disgrace that we are currently adopting a language where the removal, as I said, of an excise is considered a gratuity to an infant industry. (Time expired)