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Tuesday, 5 November 1985
Page: 1520


Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Is the Minister for Resources and Energy aware that the net fuel tax cost to farmers this financial year will be $440m provided there are no more fuel price rises before next July? Does he realise that primary producers will be worse off than they were last financial year despite the Labor Government's supposed help in the Budget to reduce farm costs? Can the Minister inform the Senate whether this Government has any plans to reinstate the petroleum products freight subsidy scheme, the withdrawal of which by the Labor Government has cost rural Australia $109m?


Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government has no plans to reimpose that subsidy, for the reason that it has not operated equitably or effectively in the past to significantly reduce costs on the scale that has been claimed by some honourable senators opposite. A very significant program of misrepresentation was mounted at the time that subsidy was removed, or at least limited in its scope. The situation is only that rural consumers are up for another up to 4c a litre as a result of the removal of the subsidy and a great many of them, of course, are up for either no extra costs or something less than 4c. Some of the more extravagant claims about the impact on particular consumers that were made at the time the subsidy was removed are utterly unfounded.

I remind the honourable senator that the Government has taken close account of the problem of rural costs by taking such measures as extending to a full rebate the excise duty on diesel fuel used by farm consumers. That measure has been noted-it has not been applauded because it is very difficult to get any applause out of the rural community for anything-as a significant contribution to farm costs. The difficulties of the rural community at the moment are universally acknowledged by probably everyone except National Party of Australia representatives here as being very largely a function not of internal Australian cost factors at all but rather the external market situation that has been created in particular by the operation of the European Economic Community and the real problems that that has created for producers of rural commodities. I further make the point that, insofar as Senator Bjelke-Petersen represents the sugar industry and purports to speak on behalf of that sector of the rural community in what she said here today, the stumbling block for the resurrection of that industry to the extent that it is possible to attain that within this country has not been the Federal Government, which has gone out of its way to try to reach a rational solution in that area, but rather her own State government which has behaved in a manifestly pigheaded, obstreperous and selfish way. It is one which has not won any support from the cane growers in that State.