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Wednesday, 10 May 2000
Page: 16219

Mr HORNE (6:21 PM) —I take a great deal of pleasure in rising to talk on the Fuel Sales Grants Bill 2000, and I know that the member for Ballarat is going to stay and listen to me because he is so interested in what I have to say. Actually, I quite like the member for Ballarat. He is a nice bloke except when he comes into the chamber, and then he adopts a completely different persona, and I know that the words that come out are not his. He knows that he is in line for promotion; he knows that if he says the right word to follow that leader that once upon a time said `never, ever' maybe he will get there. And I think that that is what his speech was about tonight.

It was interesting to listen to the history of price rises for petroleum, because I happen to have here a copy of a speech that was made in 1978-79. Who was it made by? It was made by the then Treasurer of Australia, the Hon. John Winston Howard. What did he have to say? He said:

Subsidised indigenous oil prices encouraged a wasteful use of the key energy resource and inhibited the adoption of more energy-efficient processes and technology.

He went on to say:

In the light both of the budgetary situation and the desirability of improving energy use and the allocation of resources, the government has decided that all Australian produced crude oil should from tomorrow be priced to refineries at import parity levels. This will mean that consumers of petroleum products will in future pay prices based on world oil prices. However, the proceeds of the increased price paid by refineries as a result of this decision will accrue in the first instance to the government.

So not only do we have a Prime Minister who can say `never, ever' but also he is the man who introduced parity pricing for Australian oil. It goes right back to 1978 when the boost in petroleum prices occurred, and it shafted right back to our current Prime Minister. So now what do we have? We have a government that has lost support in the bush. Let me just quote from another publication. Let me quote from a paper I read a fortnight ago. It says:

As I write, with the Australian dollar worth less than US 60 cents...

It is now down to 57c. It continues:

In June 1996 it was worth 79 cents US. Just think about it: in June 1996, when this government came to power, at the time of its very first budget, it was 79 cents and it is down to 60 cents. In four years of coalition management we have lost 25 per cent of our purchasing power on the international market. In the same time we have increased our external debt from $175 billion to $250 billion. In 1978 I wrote a letter to the Land suggesting the Fraser Government was the worst since Federation. Malcolm Fraser can now relax. His team has been surpassed in incompetence.

Where did that come from? I can tell you it did not come from any left-wing publication. It came from the Land newspaper, which comes from the stable of J.B. Fairfax, a right-wing newspaper that I normally would not buy. That was an editorial comment by John Carter.

This piece of legislation is about trying to restore some commonsense to transport. I was most interested in listening to the member for Ballarat and other government speakers today because they kept using the word `if'. They kept using the word `if' because this legislation cannot guarantee a single thing. While there is no doubt that I support the amendment moved by the member for Wills, I also support the private member's legislation that has been put on notice by my colleague the member for Hunter. The hypocrisy of this government is just so broad. This is a government that will come into this place and state repeatedly that it believes in free market forces. But when the member for Hunter has a proposition that the operators of service stations should have the right to purchase 50 per cent of their fuel on the open market what does the government do? It turns a deaf ear, cannot hear and ignores it. It cannot support a good idea from the opposition. Those opposite can be the champions of free market forces, but when it comes from our side—no action; no action at all. So we have got the `never, ever' tax, we have got the man who gave us parity pricing for fuel and now we have got a government that is trying to find a way to get the transport of goods cheaper.

Let us have a look at the reality. I have been very critical of the Prime Minister at question time this year because he has quite deliberately confused the issue, as has the Deputy Prime Minister. When asked a question about petrol pricing, the Prime Minister would always talk about fuel. He would talk about fuel because everyone knew that diesel was going to come down. That had been promised, and we have been looking forward to it. Mind you, if you have been a transport operator for the past 12 months, you would really be wondering when the government was going to come to your rescue, because in the last 12 months diesel has gone up by 30 per cent. Most trucking operators that I know are subcontractors to bigger operations. What have they had to do about those costs? Has the government gone to their assistance? Not one jot. They have had to absorb those costs and at the same time they have been confronted with tyre costs going up by 15 per cent. They have been confronted with a GST that they cannot claim back yet because it is not law until 1 July. They have been confronted with GST on their insurance costs, and I can tell you that on a rig worth about $220,000 that is not cheap. You would be paying seven grand insurance, and 10 per cent on that used to be $700.

At the same time everyone is telling them that their costs should be coming down. I have got a couple of letters from a few trucking companies that employ subcontractors. For example, TDG Logistics Ltd in a letter to a trucking operator says, amongst other things:

Any cost savings that you realise should be passed on to TDG by way of lower rates for your services.

There is a letter from Austral Bricks—`Build a better home'. They are going to have to worry about GST on their product now where there was not one before. It says:

You have probably heard in the media that the ACCC has been given wide power to scrutinise pricing issues to ensure that profiteering, no increase in profit margins, occurs as a result of the introduction of GST, and this will also apply to both our companies. You have got to pass on your savings.

Let me tell you what one of the big trucking companies—Tolls—has done. While they have been sending out a letter similar to one of those letters, saying to their subcontractors, `You must pass on any savings to us,' what have they done with their transport costs? They have increased them by 16 per cent. Here is a trucking company increasing its costs to its users by 16 per cent and, at the same time, saying to subcontractors, `Any savings you make must be passed on to us.' Now I know why the member for Ballarat said `if'. Now I know why it says in this speech that at the last election the government announced that it would reduce excise on petrol on the introduction of GST and for consumers it will mean that prices `need not rise'. It does not say that they will not rise. It does not say, `We will guarantee there will be a drop.' It says they `need not rise'. That is the strength of this legislation.

This government cannot guarantee a thing. They cannot guarantee that any savings will be passed on. If you do happen to know trucking operators, husband and wife owner-operators who work seven days a week, working long hours and probably up to about here in debt, because that is what our transport industry operates on, those people are the ones who are going to bear the full brunt. They are going to bear the pressure of the ACCC to ensure that they pass on any savings. At the same time, the big operators they work for will be pressuring them and saying, `If you're not going to drop your costs, you're only a subcontractor, so tough.'

I remind the minister at the table, the Minister for Forestry and Conservation, about another silly thing that this government has done without thought. The government has brought in another piece of legislation, unrelated to this, to not allow the importation of used diesel engines or parts over five years old. Let me tell you that 80 per cent of the trucks on our roads are over five years old and we do not have an industry that produces the motors they use. Just work it out. If the government is not going to allow them to be imported, what is going to happen when someone puts a con rod through a block or breaks a crankshaft? What are they going to do?

Mr Tuckey —You caused that.

Mr HORNE —And just for your information, Minister, let me tell you that the trucks that are owned and used by our defence forces and the Macks that operate around the Hunter Valley are 20 years old. The Unimogs, the four-wheel-drives that we use, are Mercedes. They are 30 years old. When the engines go in them—`Sorry, you've got to put a new motor in those or you've got to throw the truck away.' This government is screaming out that we are supporting a transport industry—supporting them to get out of the industry. Is the government, the champion of free market forces, supporting business when it will not allow private operators of service stations to buy half their petrol supplies on the open market?

Mr Tuckey —You would not support it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mossfield)—Order! The minister at the table should address his remarks through the chair.

Mr HORNE —The government will not support that legislation, yet it claims to be the champion of the free market. I am extremely disappointed with this piece of legislation. I support the amendment moved by the member for Wills. The government, with its legislation, as I have shown, cannot guarantee a thing. Is it any wonder when you go back to 1978 and find out that our Prime Minister, then Treasurer, introduced world parity pricing for crude oil with the statement that Australians simply had to be prepared to pay world price for fuel. Now that the government realises how unpopular it is in the bush—and the smokes and mirrors trick of last night's budget does nothing to change that—it is trying to find a way to reduce fuel prices.

In my electorate, that dreaded line, where if you are on one side of it you qualify for the levy and if you are on the other side of it you do not, is going to be a nightmare to police on its own. Petrol is still going to be affected by the GST. As the Treasurer said in his second reading speech, he cannot guarantee that it will drop the price of petrol in rural Australia. There are plenty of places where the price of petrol is still up around 90c a litre. It will stay at that price after the GST. It will not come down. We will continue to pay dearer prices for our petrol, but we will also be paying dearer prices for other consumables because there will be a 10 per cent GST on them where there never was before. I am not sure how the government can pull the rabbit out of the hat with this piece of legislation. All I can say is that it appears it has failed again.