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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3124

Senator DURACK(9.52) —The purpose of the Customs Tariff (Stand-by Duty) Bill 1985 is to impose a special customs duty of 3c per litre or about $5 per barrel on crude oil imports by local refiners who do not pick up their allocation of Australian crude oil under that voluntary allocation scheme. This may appear to be a genuine attempt by the Government to guarantee the future of the Australian oil industry, but in fact when we look at it this is measure which is really designed to lead to further govenrment control and an increased tax burden on an industry already overwhelmed by government controls and taxes. I have already had something to say in detail about that earlier and I do not propose to repeat it now.

The only real purpose of this Bill is to secure such government control over oil production and maintain its already bloated crude oil levy on old, intermediate and what is now new oil as well. The Opposition will oppose this short-sighted and unnecessary legislation. We will vote against it. It is interesting to note that the Bill was initially introduced into this Parliament in May 1984 by the predecessor to the present Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Gareth Evans. However, there was a storm of criticism of it within the industry and I think the Bill was withdrawn. It was not proceeded with and presumably it disappeared with the election at the end of the year. It may be that the Government has made some concessions to meet the criticisms of it, but the general principle of the legislation remains unchanged. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether he has had any genuine consultation with industry about the matter, but the impression I have is that there has not. Nor does the Bill reveal any great indication of that. Maybe it is just another indication of Senator Evans's penchant for fixing everything up by passing laws through this Parliament in the belief that that somehow does so.

Senator Gareth Evans —You were never guilty of that sin.

Senator DURACK —No. I had a little more judgment, I think, about these matters than he has. I think his predecessor had perhaps a little more judgment than he has about the virtue of legislation and the role of lawyers-which is an every increasing one, of course, if Senator Evans had his way. This legislation is contrary to the spirit of the voluntary allocation arrangements and it is contrary to other measures to deregulate the crude oil market, particularly since longer term exports have been permitted in the current year.

The proposal is also inequitable in that there are no other controls over fuel imports and the duty would not apply to, say, the importation by independent retailers. Refiners have had an incentive not to pick up locally produced oil during the market downturn and following the depreciation of the dollar, both of which were thought to be providing a threat to the local industry, but that threat has not been of any significance. While some refiners have sought a reduction in crude oil allocation levels, the industry still substantially accords with the voluntary arrangements and, in fact, producers have increased production to take advantage of the export opportunities which they have been given. Government revenue has substantially increased as a result of the export of oil and increased production. There has been an extra $507m in the 1984-85 Budget revenue and a further increase of about $300m is forecast for the current Budget year.

The Government has been having a financial bonanza from its taxes on oil production in this country, yet here we have a measure designed by the Government to increase its revenue further. The Government estimates that the proposed duty would raise $4m each month in which any one medium sized refiner remained in a shortfall or underlift situation. I believe that that would be justified only if there had been a collapse in existing voluntary arrangements.

This legislation is contrary to the Opposition's deregulatory stance. It makes a mockery of the rhetoric from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) about deregulation. I do not think that I can accuse Senator Gareth Evans of being an enthusiast for deregulation on the basis of his record as Minister for Resources and Energy, but we hear a lot of empty rhetoric from the Prime Minister about deregulation. Yet in this measure the Government proposes further regulation and taxes for an industry already, as I said, overwhelmed by such imposts. For those reasons the Opposition will oppose what we can only see as a draconian measure.