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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 933


Mr MARTIN(6.20) —My colleague the honourable member for Rankin (Mr Beddall) has touched on the important issues associated with the Liquid Fuel Emergency Amendment Bill and has indicated the problems in arriving at national legislation that could be put in place. Hence the need for this amending Bill to take up the sunset provisions that existed in the Act. The honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) asked earlier this evening of the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) why it was not possible for the States to agree with the Commonwealth. Apparently the reason behind that was that the Queensland Government had enacted some model legislation which had been put to the other States for enactment, but many of the other States could not, unfortunately, agree with what was contained in it. It is not surprising, I suppose, because essentially that legislation went to the very heart of industrial relations and put in place some very wide and far-reaching police powers associated with the fuel industry, and as a result many of the other enlightened States refused to embark upon a similar course of action. They saw what happened in the electricity industry in Queensland and did not want to see the same thing happen in another industry, particularly another essential service.

The other States have legislation associated with liquid fuel emergency procedures, but it is all on a regional basis and does not apply to a national emergency. The need for a national policy was most clearly demonstrated in the 1970s when the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries problem emerged. One can well recall that very grave problem for Australia and other countries in the Western world when the OPEC members banded together and endeavoured to control the supply and price of fuel. In later years we have had a situation that perhaps has gone beyond their control and OPEC is not the closely knit organisation that it once was. As the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) said, this has led to an enormous decrease in the cost of a barrel of crude oil imported into Australia. As a result, the cost of such a barrel in 1986 was down to around $US13 to $US15.

This has further implications because one of the points that were raised in the debate on this Bill when it was in the Senate concerned this Government being indifferent, therefore leading to a decline in exploration activity in Australia for added oil resources. The honourable member for Dawson mentioned this. I think he was being a little unfair, as he represents supposedly the market forces parties of Australia. As he comes from Queensland and is in the National Party of Australia, one would expect that naturally to be the case. We saw that he was not supporting that line. It is interesting because, as he would be aware, being market driven, oil exploration activity has declined world wide because of these continuing low oil prices to which he referred. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot have prices that are low as well as massive exploration. If the prices are high, naturally the market driven forces will lead to greater exploration.

The honourable member for Dawson also went to great pains to talk about fuel prices and how decreases in the international parity price have not been passed on to the average motorist and the average consumer. Naturally, any government faced with the circumstances with which this Government has been faced in broad economic terms would have to look very seriously at passing on the full flow-on effect of those fuel decreases when the cost of a barrel of oil dropped from $US27-odd to the $US13 to $US15 mark. Quite clearly, it is a major source of revenue for any government. It does not matter whether it happens to be this Government or whether it happened to be the Opposition when it was in power. One has to remember that the import parity pricing policy was put in place not by this Government but by the Fraser Government. This Government has simply continued that policy because it is a source of revenue which has enabled this Government to pursue a number of major and important initiatives. It leads to the funding of a variety of different things which this Government intends to pursue.

One other issue which is important to consider in talking about pricing at the petrol pump and which was alluded to again by the honourable member for Dawson is the question of price discounting wars which go on in the oil industry. In my electorate of Macarthur, which is on the coast around Wollongong, we have seen this in the last couple of weeks. I am sure the honourable member for Throsby (Mr Hollis) would have also seen it at Jamberoo and Warilla. The maximum wholesale price of petrol is set, and the retail price is normally around 59c-odd in Wollongong, but it is presently being retailed for as little at 49c. In Sydney that is also the case. This is a direct result of oil companies, leaseholders and the service station proprietors competing against each other. Ships come in and a variety of crude oils is offloaded; the companies therefore decide to offload some supplies at a reasonable rate, and that is passed on to the consumer. Consumers naturally are confused because of these various policies but, as the honourable member for Rankin suggests, that is another matter which requires further debate in this place but which is not really associated directly with this legislation.

The legislation is concerned with putting in place a national policy for dealing with emergencies in the provision of fuel. We hope that in the future, as the honourable member for Rankin has suggested, there will be further consultation between the various States, not along the lines of the Queensland Government's suggestion but rather in the form of a rational policy for dealing with matters before we can put in a national energy policy. I would certainly go along with the honourable member's hope that the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) can achieve this national energy policy and that it is put in place in the not too distant future.