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Thursday, 10 October 1985
Page: 953


Senator DURACK(10.07) —I understood that the Government wanted order of the day No. 1 and order of the day No. 2 dealt with cognately. I wonder whether it could get its act together.


The PRESIDENT —Is that so, Senator Grimes?


Senator Grimes —We will debate them cognately as we frequently do. Either side can ask to do that.


Senator DURACK —It is for the Government to decide how it wants its business conducted.


Senator Grimes —What happened to you? Did you have a bad night?


Senator DURACK —You seem to have had a bad night every day.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Could we get on with the debate? I understand that it is agreed that the two Bills be debated cognately.


Senator DURACK —Thank you, Mr President. The Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Grants) Amendment Bill 1985 and the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill 1985 deal with matters which were part of the Government's May economic statement which the Opposition did not oppose. We welcomed the efforts of the Government in that statement to reduce government expenditures, even though we make no judgment about the priorities the Government adopted. That matter is the responsibility of the Government. Certainly, it was not the Opposition's intention then nor is it its intention now to oppose measures which give effect to that statement.

The first of these measures is the abolition of the liquefied petroleum gas subsidy which was introduced by the Fraser Government some time ago. It was introduced when the domestic price for LPG was very high and there were great discrepancies between those who were forced to use LPG and those who had access to natural gas and other cheaper sources of domestic heating. However, the situation has now changed. The domestic price of LPG is reasonably stable under the formula the Government has adopted, which we do not need to debate today, although the Opposition certainly would have some reservations about the Government's approach. Certainly some consumers will suffer as a result of this measure to abolish the subsidy. Under the present formula the benefit for consumers had fallen, but at least they were getting the benefit of something like $10 per annum at the wholesale level. As I said, it is estimated that the abolition of the subsidy will represent costs of that order for the average consumer. So it is a matter of some concern. However, the Opposition does not oppose this measure.

The States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill is also part of the May econ-omic statement, which emasculated the freight subsidy scheme and had a very serious impact on rural Australia. But as I have said, that is a priority the Government has adopted. It is no doubt consistent with the Government's general discriminatory attitude to rural Australia. That is the choice the Government has made about its expenditure controls. This Bill does not implement that change, but it is part and parcel of the Government's cost cutting arrangements. It is trying to tighten up what is left of that scheme which originally applied to some 4,000 locations around Australia where consumers received a freight subsidy. The new arrangements have reduced the number of those locations to about 1,650 and the Government estimates that it will save about $116m from this particular cost cutting priority which it has adopted.

It is interesting to note that in this Bill, which is trying to tighten up the administration of what is left of the scheme, the Government has been unable to identify any direct financial implications. That is a rather strange comment on the competence of the Government in its management of financial matters. However, there is one aspect of the Bill which the Opposition welcomes. In the other place we moved an amendment to widen the application of the scheme to mini-refineries around Australia other than the mini-refinery at Roma. Originally the Bill applied only to Roma and that is certainly the only mini-refinery that exists at present. However, there are moves to establish mini-refineries in other parts of Australia and, with the development of on-shore oil discoveries in very remote parts of Australia, it is likely that there will be further mini-refineries. Apparently this had not occurred to the Government when it drew up this particular provision. That again is an indication of its general ignorance of what is happening in remote parts of this country. The Opposition moved an amendment in the other place to rectify that, the Government supported it and that provision is now incorporated in the Bill. The Opposition welcomes that and does not oppose this measure.