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Tuesday, 12 September 2006
Page: 10

Senator JOYCE (1:07 PM) —Although, once more, I agree with the intent of what Senator Fielding is trying to achieve, and I understand completely how difficult it is to work with the resources he has, I have some concerns about a couple of issues. I have had a discussion with Senator Fielding and I agreed that, if his amendment went to volume, I would strongly consider it. But the amendment goes to sites. The problem we have with sites is that you could hold 25 per cent of the sites and 75 per cent of the volume. That could pose a serious problem. The number of sites is not a determinant of the amount of the market that you hold. You can have Big Bill’s discount sideline petrol station that sells 100,000 litres a year next to a major site on a highway that may sell a couple of million litres, 10 million litres or even 100 million litres. The number of sites is not the crucial issue here; it is the volume in the market.

I thank Senator Fielding for his support for a following amendment which goes to volume. We really need to change this and make it a volumetric statement which is part of the same amendment, because there is the possibility of getting only one through. If Senator Fielding’s amendment went through as it stands and mine failed—and I know that is not going to happen, but let us presume it does; we can always hope for miracles—we would have a position where four petrol retailers could control 100 per cent of the sites. We know there are six retailers—the four majors and Coles and Woolworths. So it is quite possible that we could have complete saturation of the marketplace without any independents.

The aim—and this is where I agree with Senator Fielding’s intent—is to find a section of the market in which the independents can live. It was the intent of the 1980 act to do that and the intent remains. People do not change that much. The principle of fairness does not change over time. Modern Australian freedom should include the principle of freedom to go into business. That principle does not change over time, or I hope it has not changed. If we all end up working for business, we may as well work for government. The conservative side of politics believes that it is an absolutely fundamental principle that you have the freedom to go into business and be master of your own ship. That is what I am trying to address when I seek a section for those operators to exist in, because we do not all want to work for somebody else. Some of us like to work for ourselves. It is a basic principle to be able to do so.

I agree with the intent of what Senator Fielding is trying to achieve. My concern is that we are talking about sites, not volume. When we talk about sites we make no statement whatsoever about the volume that can exist in the market. In addition, the amendment starts to cross paths with the ACCC and the role of the ACCC. I believe in having a stronger ACCC. I believe—and I place this on the record—that Professor Fels had a much stronger and more partisan view of being an arbiter in the ACCC than possibly that body’s current incumbents. But that is an issue for another day.

When I look at this amendment I see two issues. Firstly, four retailers can control 100 per cent of the sites. This would leave no room for independents to exist. Secondly, the amendment talks about sites, so you could have one retailer having 25 per cent of the sites but possibly 75 per cent of the volume. Obviously, you would ensure that you set off on a path of taking over the major sites that sold most of the petrol, which could have an arbitrary effect. The reason the 25 per cent figure is in the amendment is that it is roughly the figure used now in relation to independents, non-branded and branded, and franchisees. It is a section of the market that we know will not create a great disturbance. It is really drawing a line and saying, ‘This is where we are at,’ so it will not create great turmoil in the market. It is just going to protect the position of the existing independents. The 25 per cent figure applies monthly. Some time period has to be given to do a review, otherwise it has no effect.

I agree with the intent of Senator Fielding’s amendment. If a few things were done to it it could be something that I could support, but in its current form I cannot do so. It is the detail I cannot support, not the intent.