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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 2066

Mr McVEIGH(11.58) —The Customs and Excise Legislation Amendment Bill, the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill and the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill, which are the subject of a cognate debate, are quite obviously the full responsibility of the Federal Government. Under the Constitution, as we all know, customs and excise is the complete responsibility of the national Government. Like a President of America many years ago, the Federal Government in this instance has a sign on its table which says: 'The buck stops here'.

I support the comments of the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), who indicated certain amendments which will be moved. The legislation reminds me of a recent discussion I had with the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones). Those honourable members who know the Minister have always admired him for his knowledge of all things from A to Z. In that conversation he reminded me of a cartoon in Punch magazine dealing with the curate's egg. I would just like to repeat that cartoon. The bishop said to the curate: 'How is your egg?'. The curate, in his sanctimonious way, always careful to try to say the right thing to the bishop, replied: 'My Lord, it is excellent-in parts'. So it is with this legislation. I want to comment on one matter which, to my mind, is excellent and then I will deal with other matters which I think are certainly doing nothing to increase the international competitiveness of Australian industries.

I was delighted to read in Schedule 3, amendment No. 5, that there is to be a decrease in duty for radio receivers and tape players, combined or separate, for tractors. I believe it is appropriate to remind Australian people that farmers have never had the emphasis on research into occupational health and associated matters that people in factories have had. A recent inquiry in my area in Queensland indicated that most farmers had a high degree of deafness. With the introduction of cabs that deafness decreased. I am pleased to note that farmers all over Australia, who unfortunately have to work very long hours indeed, at least have been given some consideration by being able to purchase that equipment at a reduced rate. Of course, they are entitled to exactly the same working conditions as those who work in factories.

I mentioned international competitiveness. Recently I talked to representatives of the National Farmers Federation and they are very concerned because of tariff duties and Customs duties placing an enormous cost burden on them. In the recent cost summit for rural industries between the industries and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), there was great disagreement about the cost per farm in tariff protection. It is immaterial to this debate whether that figure is $16,000 per farm or a higher or lower amount. It needs to be pointed out that farmers cannot possibly absorb this very high cost input, particularly when we note that over the next financial year costs will exceed prices received by 2 per cent. It is little wonder that after that conference the President of the National Farmers Federation, Mr Ian McLachlan, was quite upset. I repeat what he said:

It is the Government's prerogative to decide on levels of assistance to any industry, but farmers are sick and tired of picking up the bill. This whole exercise will be viewed by the rural sector as a smack in the face to the farmer facing the cost-price squeeze.

I was very disappointed to note that, in reply to what I felt was a valid and constructive criticism by Mr McLachlan, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) described Mr McLachlan's response to the meeting as 'rather immature'. At the same time, the Minister is on record as indicating that farmers are not subsidised. In reply to a criticism by Mr Justice Staples, who said that Australia should not assist primary industries, the Minister said primary industries were not subsidised. One therefore has some difficulty in equating those points of view.

I want to talk about the Schedule 2 summary of amendments dealing with the removal of developing country preferences from certain areas. Whilst all of us can understand the difficulties that Australian manufacturers face in meeting competition from overseas, it appears to me that all of us in this country need to take cognisance of the fact that other countries in our vicinity do not have our standards of living, do not have our great natural resources, do not have the opportunity to improve their standard of living and do not have the wherewithal to purchase primary, mining and manufacturing goods from us because of their inability to obtain export income. We should consider sympathetically the developing country margin of preference. I do not want to comment in any great way on the Government's decision to remove the developing country margin of preference in respect of under quota imports of cold rolled strip and sheet steel from the Republic of Korea, Taiwan Province and Brazil. That decision should not have been made then, irrespective of the circumstances, given the enormous pressure and competition that Australian farmers will face from dumped produce from the European Economic Community and other countries. Quite obviously, this is one of the reasons we have missed out on iron ore and coal contracts to South Korea.

I want to refer, as my colleagues have done, to a matter of very great concern to primary industry and to many other people engaged in the consumption of diesel fuels. I particularly appeal to the Minister at this stage that, irrespective of other decisions-and we accept that the Government has the right and responsibility to make decisions-the Government should look again at this legislation and try to rebate the total amount of diesel fuel excise to aged persons homes. Like my colleagues on this side of the House who spoke earlier in the debate, I would like to see that total amount refunded to agricultural, mining, fishing and forestry industries, households and hospitals; but, to me, people who live in nursing and aged persons homes and those who build, run and organise those homes are surely entitled to a little extra assistance. This is particularly so when we note the statement in the second reading speech that because of the changes in the legislation the loss of revenue to the Government in a full year will be $4.3m. It seems to me that these grand old pioneers, the pathfinders and trail blazers of our great Australian society-

Mr Blunt —The people who built this country.

Mr McVEIGH —As the honourable member for Richmond says, they are the people who build this country. Surely, when we have a significant number of Australian people, aided and abetted by the Government, who spend a great amount of their time tugging away at the gigantic udder of social welfare cow, irrespective of whether they require it or not, some special consideration could be given to these aged people. I make that request in a non-partisan way, as a person who is concerned about our elderly citizens. The Government should rethink the matter, and, in a spirit of generosity of heart and mind, amend the legislation to allow the full amount of the diesel fuel rebate to be refunded to nursing and aged people's homes.

The full facts about the diesel fuel rebate need to be spelt out clearly in this debate. The excise prior to the 1983 Budget was rebated at the full rate. The first Budget of the present Treasurer (Mr Keating) increased the excise by 1.5c per litre to 9.027c per litre, while the rebate remained constant at 7.155c per litre. The excise was also indexed in accordance with the consumer price index and currently stands at 9.641c per litre. In the Treasurer's second Budget, finally he recognised the inconsistency and announced that the rebate would be indexed in accordance with the CPI. The rebate is currently 7.298c per litre. In 1983 the difference between the excise and the rebate went from zero to 1.5c per litre. In 1984 the difference was 1.872c per litre and now it is 2.343c per litre. We would like to see the total amount in those instances rebated.

I also request the Government to come clean on this whole matter of excise duty and taxes on fuel. When we were on the Government side of the Parliament, the then aspiring Treasurer was quite often in the habit of approaching the dispatch box and accusing the then Prime Minister and the then Treasurer of setting up a tax collector's office at every bowser in Australia. That may have been a legitimate expression of opinion. If it was legitimate then, it is still legitimate. I give an instance. In my home city of Toowoomba, the garden city of Australia, well known for its flowers and its municipal emblem of the violet, a sign is displayed outside one service station, which is called the Central Service Station. It is owned by a very distinguished gentleman called Mr Russell Brown. He comes from a long list of Darling Downs pioneering families. His sign says: 'My price for fuel is 26c a litre'. Under that, in the same sized print, he has a sign which says: 'Plus government tax charges'. His price is 26c a litre, plus government tax charges-which double the price. I compliment Mr Brown on his honesty in graphically displaying the rip-off in which the Hawke socialist Government is indulging in this area of taxation policy. I would think that the example of Mr Russell Brown in Toowoomba is an example that every fuel agent in Australia could follow. These insidious government taxes should be made known and made visible. Half of the retail price of petrol goes to the Government.

In the few remaining minutes left to me, I want to talk about the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill which contains certain adjustments to the excise rate on naturally occurring liquefied petroleum gas. I shall not enter the debate about what happened, Mr Deputy Speaker, in your home State of Western Australia. That is history. I refer, of course, to the Woodside development in the great and exciting part of your great State, up in the north-west. I pay tribute to the Woodside company for what it has done, particularly regarding the environment. It has a slight problem with the gas which is discharged from one of its chimneys, but it has top people there working determinedly to overcome the problem of pollution of the atmosphere.

I say this to all environmentalists in Australia, and I make no apology whatsoever for being an environmentalist myself: The greatest environmentalists in Australia are the mining companies. It is about time that the greenies of Australia gave them adequate recognition for what they have done. Wherever I go, up in the Pilbara, in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, on my beloved Stradbroke Island off the shores of that great State of Queensland, I am amazed and impressed, as an environmentalist, by the enormous job that the mining companies have done in challenging nature and returning the areas that they have mined to a greater state of environmental protection than existed when they first went there. So, rather than concentrating on criticism of our great mining industries, it is about time that the greenies and the people of Australia gave recognition to the mining companies for being the real environment protectors of this country and gave them credit for the millions of dollars that they have spent.

I have had the privilege of visiting most of the areas concerned. I publicly congratulate the mining company people in Australia, and I shall consistently do so, on the wonderful job that they have done, not only in protecting the environment but also in restoring it to a situation that is far better than that which existed when they found it, thus ensuring that nothing has been depleted and that the people who follow us will have the benefit of a better environment than that which existed when the mining companies took over.