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Tuesday, 7 September 1993
Page: 1065


Senator COULTER (4.12 p.m.) —It is rather interesting that the opposition invokes the workings of the market so much in debate and in its rhetoric, and yet when we are dealing with a question that pre-eminently concerns the user pays principle—the underpinnings by which the market gives the correct price signals to those who consume goods and services—those opposite jump up and down and complain.

  Half the world's leading Nobel prize winning scientists have said that we face an urgent problem with respect to greenhouse gas emissions. Australia is one of the worst polluters in the world with respect to greenhouse gases on a per capita basis. The use of motor vehicle fuels on the road probably costs roughly $1,000 at least per motor vehicle in deaths and accidents.

  We have the problem of lead in children—a problem which has been raised particularly in recent days but which has been around for 20 years. Some statistics suggest that 44 per cent of children in the under-four age group may be suffering some mental impairment because of lead in petrol. These are all significant costs on the community which are directly related to the use of petroleum and are clearly not being represented in the price structure of petroleum. Therefore, they represent distortions in the market. People are not getting the right price signals and they are not making the right judgments regarding the use of fuel. Therefore, they are causing these things to be imposed on their fellow citizens.

  Having said all that, I point out that in our Getting to Work document, which we launched in July last year, we set out a much better alternative to what the government has proposed. This afternoon we are not debating our budget, but the government's budget—a budget that has been moderately amended through a process of consultation and negotiation. It is not our preferred budget, but it does go some way towards addressing this problem of putting in the right price signals.

  However, there are still two basic problems with what the government is doing, and to that extent we agree with the motion. First is the issue of equity, particularly in respect of country people. Undoubtedly, this increase in price, which the government has modified to some extent, still impacts adversely on country people. My colleague Senator Woodley will address that issue.

  Secondly, because this increase in price is going into general revenue, my primary concern is that it is not being used to address those very significant problems that I alluded to earlier. I refer to the problem of greenhouse gases, looking to ways of addressing the excessive use of fuel in this country and the development of alternative fuels, increased expenditure in areas, such as rail transport and so on, which would address that problem, and solutions to the problem of getting the lead out of petrol.

  Recently Senator Schacht answered a supplementary question of mine in which he said that by the year 2002 lead would go out of petrol simply because there would be so few cars using lead in petrol that it would be uneconomic to the petrol companies to market leaded petrol. He admitted that the government's lead strategy is simply falling into line with the petrol companies.

  We believe that there is a solution to this problem, which is to use alcohol as a supplement to petrol. That would allow us within a period of two years to get lead out of petrol and make a fuel alternative available to those people who continue to drive cars needing octane enhanced fuel.