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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 18

Mr HARTSUYKER (1:37 PM) —No-one can ignore the recent increases in fuel prices—least of all those of us who live in regional and rural Australia. If you have a drive of several kilometres or more to the nearest shop, doctor’s surgery or school then the increases have a disproportionate effect on your weekly household budget. And, of course, this hits rural businesses as well.

We all know the reasons for the increases. Movements in world markets; strong demand; the effects of Hurricane Katrina and the other storms which have hit the refining areas in the last few months; and political tensions in producing areas all combine to produce the current price at the bowser. May I remind members that if the government had not already acted to end automatic CPI indexation of the excise duty on petrol the price per litre would be 6½c higher than it is currently. For the government to cut the price of a litre of fuel by just 1c it would cost $380 million—$380 million less for health, education and defence.

While there is no doubt that the rise in the price of petrol is hurting, perhaps the long-term view is of most concern. The price is showing evidence of slipping back somewhat but we are talking about a limited resource. Long-term, there is only one way the price is going to go—and that is upwards. We are not only talking about a limited resource, we are talking about a resource which affects our environment and our health.

That is why we should be treating the current price rises as a wake-up call to redouble our efforts with regard to commercialising alternatives to the use of petrol. That is why I welcome the government’s measures to promote the use of ethanol. Unlike oil, it is a renewable resource, being produced from such crops as wheat and sugar cane. If you fill your tank with a 10 per cent blend of ethanol and petrol, I have been informed, you are likely to cut your petrol consumption by up to seven per cent. It is good for the economy and good for the environment.

It is generally agreed that the use of ethanol results in reduced emissions of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and other pollutants. I welcome the roll-out of BP’s E10 fuel and its launch here in Canberra last week. The fact that ethanol is duty-free should enable the blend to be sold for less than the price of unleaded petrol. Given the concern—as a result of misinformation from members opposite—about possible damage to cars, I also welcome the agreement struck by the industry minister with four motor manufacturers to develop a label stating that ethanol blends can be safely used.

Calls to 12 service stations in and around Coffs Harbour, in my electorate of Cowper, have revealed that three are offering an ethanol blend. I hope to see that figure increase in the coming months. Ethanol is not the whole answer to our dependence on oil—we have a personal contribution to make in the way that we consume resources—but it does represent a move away from a non-renewable source to a renewable source of energy.

The member for Holt mentioned petrol prices in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I wonder if he has had the opportunity to look further afield, outside the major capital cities—perhaps to visit Brisbane to see the impact of fuel prices there. The ACCC’s informal monitoring of petrol prices shows the average weekly retail price for unleaded petrol in Brisbane during October was between 4½c and 11½c lower than in Melbourne. Why? Because the Queensland state government offers a rebate to the retailers and, as a result, the price in Brisbane is consistently below the average price in our five major capital cities.

So if the member for Holt wants to do something to help his constituents cut their fuel bills, I suggest he goes along to his friends in the state government and ask them to follow the example of Queensland. And if the New South Wales government was not so busy entering into contracts to the ultimate detriment of the people of that state, it might also consider such a rebate and doing something practical for the people of New South Wales for a change.

Certainly, the efforts of the New South Wales government with regard to the debacle of the Cross City tunnel and the Lane Cove tunnel provide evidence of the way in which the New South Wales government is dealing with transport infrastructure. I might also note that motorists in that state find it abhorrent that public infrastructure, already paid for, is being restricted so that motorists must use the Cross City tunnel. It is an outrage—and one that I think the people of New South Wales will punish the New South Wales government for at the next opportunity. The fact that we are degrading public infrastructure, already paid for, to enhance a poorly conceived toll project is a disgrace. The increased congestion can only add to our consumption of fuel and add to the pollutants in the environment. It is a disgrace in New South Wales and the government should be held in contempt for its actions.