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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1612


Mr EWEN CAMERON(9.07) —The Appropriation Bills we are debating tonight concern money and the Government's responsibility to the people of Australia in money matters. I wish to speak up in support of the poor old Australian motorist who has been taken to the cleaners by successive governments and will, no doubt, continue to be taken to the cleaners by future governments. On 8 March 1979 I raised a matter of public importance in this House regarding motor vehicle emission controls. I referred to the importation by both Federal and State governments of a set of United States rules for motor vehicle emission control. I referred to the dumping of these rules on the poor old motorist with little regard for our unique demographic and meteorological conditions. I referred to the failure of governments to conduct cost impact studies and cost-benefit analyses, and a lack of regard for cost effective ratios.

We now appear to be entering the next stage in this costly farce. Once again the poor old Australian motorist will be the meat in the sandwich. Recent newspaper headlines have highlighted the introduction of unleaded petrol on to the Australian market. The decision to introduce a national policy for more stringent emission controls was taken in 1981 by agreement between State and Federal Transport Ministers. The policy calls for the introduction of unleaded petrol at service station outlets in July this year. After 1 January 1986 all new passenger vehicles will be fitted with catalytic converters and will be required to run exclusively on unleaded petrol. The decision to change over to unleaded petrol was made in response to concern expressed by health authorities and conservationist groups which claim that pollution levels in Australian cities are too high. Emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide from motor vehicles contribute to photochemical smog in the atmosphere.

Existing emission controls fitted to vehicles since 1976 are not performing adequately. However, a table of frequency of smog episodes, based on data obtained from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the New South Wales State Pollution Control Commission and the Victorian Environment Protection Authority show that in 1983 in Los Angeles, where about 50 per cent of cars had catalytic converters fitted, more than 80 days of the 90-day summer season had at least one hour when the ozone level was greater than 0.12 parts per hundred million. The National Health and Medical Research Council set that 0.12 parts per million standard in 1979. It has suggested that this level not be exceeded more than once a year. However, a warning is not issued unless the ozone level reaches more than 0.25 parts per million.

According to the same table, in 1983 Sydney had approximately six days and Melbourne approximately 24 days with an ozone reading higher than 0.12 parts per million for one hour or more. While readings of this magnitude are not to be condoned, it is interesting to note that in Sydney since 1975, during the summer season the highest number of smoggy days peaked in 1977, with 40 days. Since that year Sydney has experienced fewer than 10 smoggy days in any one year. Melbourne's highest number of smoggy days per annum since 1974 was in 1983. In 1978 and 1981 there was only one day with an ozone reading above 0.1 parts per million. Los Angeles's lowest number of smoggy days during the nine-year period was 42 in 1983.

One could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion from these statistics that fitting motor vehicles with catalytic converters and the use of unleaded petrol have very little to do with ozone levels. It would seem that governments acted too hastily in imposing the changeover to unleaded petrol in Australia. No consideration appears to have been given to the vast areas of Australia where pollution levels do not even remotely approach this figure.

In my speech on a matter of public importance in 1979 I referred to this situation:

The problem is confined to a few square kilometres in the centres of our largest cities and all motoring Australians living and working outside those areas are asked to pay for a problem which is theirs neither in manufacture nor consumption. Motorists from all over Australia are carrying this heavy cost day in and day out for the benefit of those who live and work in the centres of metropolitan Melbourne and Sydney, and even then possibly to ease a problem which exists for a very few days in the year. The imposition of these emission controls is, in the main, a direct result of traffic congestion caused by poor inner city traffic management and a lack of efficient trans-central business networks.

Mark Grenning, the 1984 winner of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia prize for his thesis 'Australian Motor Vehicle Emission Policy 1970-96', alleges that policies chosen by bureaucrats and politicians were inefficient, that there had been an overstatement of our cities pollution problems, that inappropriate United States policies had been adopted and that there had been little consideration of alternative approaches. One recent media report states: 'Catalytic technology has been proven over ten years in the United States and Japan.' It may have been proven, but the question is whether it has been proven to be effective or ineffective.

Late last year Mr James Creal, President of the American Automobile Association, addressed the annual meeting of the Australian Automobile Association. Alluding to lead free petrol, he said:

With things going so well for you 'down under', why in the world would you want to follow our lead in matters as important as the environment?

Mr Creal went on to discuss some of the problems which occurred in the United States when lead free petrol was introduced and problems which are now current 10 years later. He said that there is still debate in the United States as to whether taking lead out of one grade of petrol was a significant ecological benefit. Looking at the Los Angeles pollution levels, it would appear that it was not. Mr Creal went on to say that there were still questions as to the technology involved in cars needing unleaded petrol and that there were concerns about unleaded fuel as far as availability, price and quality were concerned. He warned about the potential for misfuelling and vehicle tampering and the consequent lowering of environmental expectations from these actions.

A recent headline in the Age stated that there will be a maximum fine of $800 for deliberate use of leaded petrol in vehicles designed to take unleaded petrol. Maybe this pressure on the hip pocket nerve will reduce the incidence of this practice in Australia.

Liquid organic lead alkyls are added to petrol to increase its octane rating. Lead additives allow high quality petrol to be produced with a minimum of refining, thereby saving Australia many millions of barrels of crude oil every year. Lead will be removed from petrol because it will destroy the metals used in manufacturing the catalytic converters. Government authorities determined the optimum octane rating for Australian unleaded petrol as 92. Vehicles manufactured after the January 1986 deadline will have lower compression ratios than present vehicles.

It is interesting to note that in America the octane rating had to be lifted from the original 91 to 96 because of complaints regarding engine knocking. As the Australian decision was partially based on the need to cut down on the consumption of crude oil in the refineries and to cut down on costs, it seems likely that it was badly conceived. Australian motorists may ultimately have to pay more for their unleaded petrol in order to regain the level of vehicle performance being currently experienced. It does nothing to increase our confidence to read in the December 1984 issue of the Institute of Training Standards magazine:

The new standard, AS 1876.2-Unleaded Petrol, is concerned primarily with the performance of unleaded petrol, particularly in terms of its anti-knock value. Requirements for properties such as distillation range and vapour pressure have not been specified because of the wide range of climatic conditions encountered across Australia and the necessity of varying these properties according to season and location.

The original estimated cost of a catalytic converter was $250. That estimate has now risen to $400 and some manufacturers have suggested $750. According to the Petroleum Gazette of spring 1984 these converters are:

. . . intended to last the life of the vehicle and should need no maintenance.

Mr Creal, in his address to the Australian Automobile Association said:

We're now into the third generation of catalytic converters. Those on late-model US vehicles are capable of reducing not only carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions, but also oxides of nitrogen which contribute to urban smog. Some believe catalytic converters forced US automakers into the computer age. To control emissions, some newer US cars are now equipped with computerised fuel injection, oxygen censors, electronic readouts and diagnostic capabilities. Though sophisticated, they are still fragile. And too many motorists-perhaps two of every dozen-drive round with their catalysts totally destroyed from fuel-switching or improper engine maintenance.

We are seeing signs, too, that new catalysts may last no longer than 30,000 miles, instead of the 50,000-mile warranties they carry.

American experience has seen a move to three-way converters, which are more expensive and more complicated than those being used now. Platinum, rhodium and palladium, which are used in manufacturing converters, are supplied primarily by South Africa and the Soviet Union. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that greater demand for these metals will lead to an increased price for them.

A recent engineering report states that no catalyst so far in service lasts more than about 30 minutes at speeds in excess of 125 kilometres per hour. Whilst I acknowledge that the speed limit on Australian roads is 100 kilometres per hour, studies have shown that speeds on the open highway are generally above the posted speed limit and that towing of caravans, horse floats and boats, making the engine work harder, is commonplace. One source quotes examination of a catalyst which had failed after about 2,000 kilometres at 125 kilometres per hour.

In the United States new emission testing equipment must be installed at all service stations as present emission measuring systems are inadequate. The New Jersey Department of Environment Protection reports about a 25 per cent failure in catalysts. The catalysts have been found to suffer from melt-down or casing failures. The melt-down is caused by the hydrocarbon part of the catalyst detecting a high level of unburnt hydrocarbon and attempting to deal with it. This causes excessively high temperature which in turn burns out the inner casing even when it is of stainless high temperature steel.

The condition can occur for a number of reasons, including spark plug failure, incorrect mixture, failure of the oxygen sensor or a failed air cleaner. When catalyst failure is detected, the average catalyst replacement cost is about $US300, plus tax, plus labour. The actual air pollution figures in New Jersey are not showing an improvement. In fact, ozone levels are increasing and fuel consumption by new cars has increased over that being experienced prior to the introduction of emission controls. The possibility of ignition advance is negated by the fact that drivers in New Jersey do not appreciate a knocking engine, any more than I expect Australian motorists do.

There is a problem with fuel quality in the United States. Uncontrolled use of methanol has occurred and the oil companies use it as blending stock without regulation. As there is a growing demand for unleaded super and other high quality unleaded gasolines there is a growing temptation to use even more methanol to boost octane at the expense of other qualities. The cost of methanol is well below the cost of conventional fuel and it can be purchased from many sources.

Although data on fuel blending is supposed to be supplied on a continuous basis to the United States Environment Protection Agency for comparison tests, information is not supplied by jobbing blenders or corner garages. With the addition of only 12 per cent methanol, the fuel creates drivability problems which encourage motorists to top up with other fuels, including leaded fuel. The problems involved with the use of unleaded petrol are legion.

To get back to our friend Mr Creal, why would we want to follow the lead of the United States in this matter? In 1980 the Committee on Motor Vehicle Emissions, on whose report the unleaded petrol decision was based, estimated that the cost of changeover to catalytic converters and unleaded petrol would cost the nation $1,000m for the 10 years from 1986 to 1996. About half this is the cost of the conversion of facilities and half is for the motorist. All in all, it is proving a most expensive exercise with a doubtful result.

A recent report by the Committee of Common Market Automobile Constructors to the European Economic Community Commission claims that high compression, lean-burn engines are better than catalytic converters for reducing harmful exhaust emissions. The submission points out that the European air quality in 1982 was very similar to that in the United States despite the use of catalysts and stringent emission control in that country. The estimated annual cost of unleaded petrol to motorists within the EEC would top $US2,000m with an increase in annual energy consumption of more than four million tonnes of crude oil equivalent.

The decision to change to unleaded petrol in Australia cannot now be revoked. However, it is important that we take heed of the lessons we have learned. Future environmental issues must be addressed with objectivity and decisions must be made after consideration of reasoned and reasonable advice.