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Thursday, 28 May 1987
Page: 3487

Mr GOODLUCK(12.03) —In line with the comments of the Minister at the table, the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones), I will be very brief. Schedule 3 of the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill mentions the duty applic-able to certain refined petroleum products. We are going into an election on 11 July and I believe that there is a prime responsibility on the Government to sort out the problems within the petroleum industry. For example, I had a matriculation class from the Rosny College, in Hobart, here today and the first comment the students made to me when I addressed them outside was: `Mr Goodluck, why is the price of petrol in Canberra 10c a litre cheaper than in Tasmania?'. The first observation I made was that in Tasmania there is an imposition of 5.3c a litre fixed by the State Government to make up the shortfall in funds that they receive. But they said: `What about the other 4c or 5c a litre?'. Of course, when we express that in the old terms, it amounts to nearly 25c a gallon. I said `For various reasons', but I found it hard to explain. It is simple to me, but many people misunderstand the point. The pumped up Prices Surveillance Authority has been completely inadequate in fixing the prices for petrol in Australia. The prime role of the Prices Surveillance Authority is to scrutinise prices in areas of the economy where competitive disciplines are diminished and where price or wage decisions have persuasive effects throughout the economy. The complementary role lies in the encouragement and promotion of pricing restraint throughout the community.

The Prices Surveillance Authority fixes a maxi-mum wholesale price for petrol in Australia and it does not vary much from capital city to capital city. All of a sudden, we find that in the heavily populated areas, for example, of Melbourne and Sydney-and I have said this many times before-with three million people in Melbourne and three million people in Sydney, the oil companies are able to drop prices below the maximum wholesale price and to sell petrol willy nilly, sometimes for a long period and sometimes for a short period. Today people travel from State to State and see the variation in the price of petrol. Suddenly the oil companies say `We are losing money because of price cutting. Go back to the original price', and up it goes. Of course, the people who are paying the high price all the time ask why. It hurts me to think that the people in Hobart at the moment, with a depressed economy, are paying 65c a litre and even more for petrol. The Minister at the table will say that I know that there is roughly a 5c imposition by the State Government. That brings it back to 60c. There are very few places in Australia that are selling petrol for more than 60c a litre. So we need to have a very good look at this pricing principle after the next election, as the people of Tasmania, and those in some of the country areas, should not be penalised.

If we are to talk about tariffs and about making it fair for everybody, surely to God we could organise something in the petroleum market and make it fair for all Australians instead of having this variation. It is useless-and the Minister will understand what I am talking about-having a price watch committee looking at prices in Australia and saying that goods are sometimes dearer in Hobart than they are in Melbourne and Sydney, when we have this high price for petroleum, which surely flows through into transport costs more radically than any other factor. That is one of the reasons why so many things in Hobart are dearer. The people of Hobart are being penalised. The young people trying to afford a motor vehicle are being penalised. I have always said, and I repeat, that after a house the next most important thing in the lives of most young people and older people, people on low incomes, is their car, because it is firstly a means of transportation, and secondly, means of recreation and relaxation. So if the Government makes it difficult for them to afford to run a motor vehicle it will curtail their activities and make their lives even more difficult.

We have a system that nobody seems to be able to unravel. We need to look at it very carefully and to take away some of the variations that occur between the States, which make life so difficult for the ordinary person, the low income person and the person in business, who are paying those higher prices. I condemn-and I have said this before at length-some of the methods of marketing used by the major oil companies in Australia. They know what they are doing. They know that they have got control and that they have the mechanism to make things unfair for some and fair for others. The Treasurer (Mr Keating) said that it is theft at the petrol pump. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said: `I will reduce the price of petrol by 2c or 3c a litre'. Boy, it has gone up 18c a litre in some areas of Australia since the Australian Labor Party got into government. So the Government has not been able to handle this matter, yet it talks about price watching, about customs and tariffs and about making things fair for everybody.

Surely to goodness the Government could have a good look at this matter. Admittedly we failed, because we went to import parity pricing with the hope of future exploration and future conservation. Let us look at what has happened to liquefied petroleum gas. We export LPG because we have not got the capacity to store it in Australia. The Japanese must be laughing all the way to the cooker, sometimes for 7c or 8c a litre. In some States at the moment LPG can be bought for 17.3c a litre to 23.5c a litre. In Hobart we are paying 34c a litre because Boral Limited has a monopoly. The company said to me that it would try to reduce the price when it came to Tasmania, but it failed dismally. Surely, if we are going to make it fair for all Australians, especially young Australians, we should be able to do something about the pricing. I hope that during the election campaign much is said about the pricing of petrol, the pricing of LPG and the pricing of diesel. It should be fair and equitable to all Australians.