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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 15288

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (4:19 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Fuel Quality Standards Amendment Bill 2003 fulfils the Government's commitment made in April this year to empower the Commonwealth to require labelling of fuels, as well as to ensure that the key offences under the Act are able to be properly enforced.

The Howard Government's Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 is a landmark piece of environmental legislation for Australia. It established, for the first time in this country, a national regulatory regime for fuel quality. That regime is backed up by a comprehensive monitoring and enforcement program that is among the best of its kind in the world. The Act ensures that key fuel parameters are regulated in a uniform manner throughout Australia and enables the Commonwealth to progressively tighten standards to achieve better environmental and operational outcomes.

The amendments in this bill will complement and enhance the existing regulatory regime by providing a power to introduce and enforce uniform national fuel labelling where such labelling is needed in the public interest. They will also ensure that the objectives of the Act can be achieved, by declaring key offence provisions to be offences of strict liability.

The bill establishes a comprehensive and transparent fuel labelling framework that fits comfortably within the existing regime of fuel quality regulation. This framework will provide for determinations to be made that set Fuel Quality Information Standards for specified supplies of specified fuels. This is a flexible mechanism and, in the first instance, will be used to set parameters that will apply to the labelling, at the point of sale, of ethanol blends. This step has been promised by the Government, and represents a crucial element in restoring consumer confidence in this renewable fuel.

Each Fuel Quality Information Standard will set out the type and supply of fuel to which it applies, the information that must be provided in regard to the fuel, and the manner in which it must be provided. For example, a standard could be set in relation to retail sales of petrol at service stations, and require that labels stating the octane rating of the fuel be attached to each bowser. The standards would be enforced through Environment Australia's existing national fuel monitoring program.

Each Fuel Quality Information Standard could also impose information requirements on suppliers at other points in the fuel chain. In most cases this is likely to be an obligation on fuel suppliers to provide retailers with the information they need in order to comply with the standard—for example, whether or not the fuel contains components that are subject to a labelling standard.

Consistent with existing provisions for fuel quality standards, the bill also allows for variations to the Fuel Quality Information Standards to be granted in cases where strict application of the standard would be inappropriate or excessively burdensome, and where the objectives of the legislation would not be compromised.

To ensure transparency, the bill provides that Fuel Quality Information Standards and variations to these standards cannot be made without first consulting the Fuel Standards Consultative Committee, a body established under the existing Act to provide a voice to the many stakeholders affected by fuel regulation.

These amendments acknowledge that there are situations where consumers have a right to be informed about the attributes of the fuel they are buying, and in such cases, they need to be confident that this information will be consistent and reliable, even as they travel across State borders. This is something that cannot be achieved by relying on State labelling powers.

This bill also amends several key offences in the Act related to the supply of fuel that does not meet the Australian specifications. It is proposed that the key offences of: supplying `off-specification' fuel; altering fuel so that it doesn't meet the standards; and supplying or importing prohibited additives be made strict liability offences. Similarly, the new offences relating to the supply of fuel that doesn't meet the fuel quality information standards will be strict liability offences. This will ensure that offenders can be properly prosecuted and cannot avoid conviction by simply denying that they had the requisite knowledge of the standards. These amendments are crucial to ensure that the objectives of the Act can be achieved.

This bill affirms the Government's commitment to a uniform, enforceable national fuel standard regime that will ensure our move to world's best practice fuel standards, supported by best practice monitoring, compliance and enforcement practices and protocols. Together, these enable consumers to be confident about the quality of fuel they are purchasing.

Debate (on motion by Senator Crossin) adjourned.