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Tuesday, 12 September 2006
Page: 16

Senator JOYCE (1:34 PM) —It is very important, for a range of reasons, that we keep independents in the market. Obviously, regional areas are absolutely crucial in that. You can go to any small town and find independents there. That is one of the issues I had with the legislation that talked about sites. They are usually smaller volumetric sites—small sites in what they produce—but they are vitally important to the lifeblood of the town. One of the great fears that we have with this legislation is that we may end up with oil companies deciding not to supply them because it is uneconomic. What we are going to have is complete social dislocation.

Just imagine a small town like Surat, in Queensland, which is 75 kilometres from Roma to the north and 120 kilometres from St George in the south. You can forget about the closest towns to the east or the west; they are about 200 kilometres in each direction. There is one fuel station. What are you saying about the lifestyle of the people in that town when you close the fuel station down and their cars have to have the fuel capacity, and enough fuel, to go 75 kilometres to Roma and 75 kilometres back? They have to take a 150-kilometre round trip to possibly cover the five kilometres around town to do the shopping and such things. It is a vital part of life. I suppose you could tell them to walk. You could say, ‘People in these towns do not deserve the right to own a vehicle.’

Senator Milne —You could go back to the horse and buggy!

Senator JOYCE —That is right. So you only deserve the right to own a vehicle if you can afford to fill it with enough petrol to take you 150 kilometres out of your way to fuel up the car! That is one of the things that is wrong in this legislation that we have to deal with. We have to put in some protection mechanism for these people.

It is the height of absurdity to expect that BP will develop the conscience that we are supposed to be developing in this chamber. We are going to leave it to some corporate entity to develop that conscience: ‘Oh, you know, Caltex will look after you. BP will look after you. Shell will look after you. Coles and Woolworths will look after the people of Surat.’ I do not think so. I do not think that is going to happen, unless we have a section of the market that they have to supply—independents—and that is because we know that they have volume at the refinery that they have to move. They have to find the sites and, if some of those sites are independents, they have to go out and supply those sites—it is our best intention of trying to look after those people. People might say, ‘It’s naive. It’s got this wrong; it’s got that wrong,’ but where is your solution? Where is the solution in the current piece of legislation that looks after those people? Where is it? Take me to it and you will have won me. But you have not got it there.

It is a statement about fairness and what is primarily unfair. I do not think anybody in this nation should be just dropped off. We are talking about people—generally, pensioners—who do not have a lot of money, who probably have a vehicle that is not one of the latest models and is not very economical with fuel. It may be a bit old-fashioned, but I think we should look after them. I think we should give them something that says, ‘I believe you have a right to fuel up your car in your town.’ I am going way out on a limb on that one, but we will give it a shot and see how it goes; we will put up the flag and see who salutes on this one.

That will be interesting. We will come up with a few platitudes, and the Labor Party will have a good reason why they cannot. There will be some reason: it will be a bit too complicated, there will be something technically not right, the wind is not blowing in the right direction, the sparrows are not facing south today. There will be something—something fascinating—as to why they do not want to look after pensioners in small towns or other people except the oil majors who knocked on their door. They will be looking after them today; they will not be looking after their own.

This is one of the issues where we really have to give ourselves a bit of a wake-up call about what we are trying to do here. The only people we know who will supply people in those small towns are independents. Why? Because you just do not make a lot of money out there. Where the major oil companies want to be is on strangulated sites on major arterial roads. That is where they want to do business. They do not want to do business on the edges of suburbs, from corner stores and from independents. And, if they do—if they are telling us the truth—they will not be worried about this amendment because it will not affect their game plan. They will be saying, ‘We always intended to keep independents in the game, so we have no problems with the amendment because it’s what we’re doing already.’

But, if they do have a problem with that, it spells out clear as a bell that they are getting out of it—they are getting out of there, they are going to go back and we are going to have some beautiful new petrol stations around strangulated sites on the Gold Coast, putting out of business independents that are already there and putting out of business families that are already making a buck there. We are going to have some big sites up on the M1 and around the edges of Sydney, probably putting people out of business there, and big sites down the Gold Coast putting families out of business there. But, if they are not going to do that, they will have no problems with this amendment—none whatsoever.

There is a whole range of things that go away from the purely dry economics of this resolution. It talks about looking after people. It talks about the protection of that manifest belief that you have the right to go into business in Australia, to be master of your own ship, to determine your own destiny, to think your own thoughts and not be scared of what you have to say. One of the things that attracts me to this place is that you should be able to protect that in all the ways, shapes and forms in which it comes.

I have had some questions about my amendment (2) to add (f) to section 95A. We have to be able to review petroleum products and we have to have the capacity in that act to add in petroleum products as one of the mechanisms of review, because we are talking about a monthly period. If somebody says, ‘I don’t like a monthly period,’ I will meet you halfway. If you have a different period—two weeks, two months or three months —I will go there. We do not need to stumble around it, but you have to have the mechanism with the power of review, and that is where 95A(f) comes in.

It is vitally important that we get a fairer outcome. This amendment is all about fairness. Fairness is a simple word. What is this amendment about? It is about fairness. It is about fairness to people who are in business. It is about fairness to the aspirations of the Australian people and their ability in the future to go into business. It is about fairness to people in regional towns and their ability to source fuel. It is about fairness in giving people the right to jump in their car and be a part of a community. If you do not have a car, you do not have a community.

We cannot be sending people in regional towns back to 1911. It is not fair. We cannot be saying: ‘Mrs Smith, we know you’re 87 and you’ve got an old Commodore in the garage and it’s probably not the most economical car but, from now on, we expect you to ride a bike.’ I do not think that is fair. When you need to see a doctor in another town, you will have to drive to that town first, before you can see the doctor, because the only fuel station will be the big corporate site back in a major town. So you will somehow have to get yourself to the town to buy the fuel to get to the town. I do not think that is a fair outcome, but it is going to be fascinating to hear the arguments as to why it is fair. We will hear today some arguments about why it is fair. It will be interesting. The arguments about why this is fair will be something that we can put on with Monty Python tonight.

It is going to be an absolute expose of the power of major oil companies. People will be looking after themselves because it will be a case of, ‘If you guys get into government, you have got to be on the right side of us.’ The Labor Party will be saying: ‘We’re going to do that today. Don’t you worry, you can count us in. Don’t you worry about that. We’ll look after you today, Mobil, Caltex, BP, Shell, Coles and Woolworths. The Labor Party are going to look after you today, because all that other stuff we talk about is just rhetoric. We just spin that out—it’s a yarn. We’re programmed to say that sort of stuff; we don’t mean it. You don’t honestly think for one second that we believe in that? You don’t think we believe in looking after people in regional towns! You don’t think we believe in fairness! It is just theatrics. We’re with you, Caltex, Woolworths, Shell and Coles. We’re with you all the way.’ Maybe that is fair enough. There are a lot of people in the shop stewards union—maybe it will help union membership. I do not know. But it will be interesting. It is going to be a fascinating expose of the power of the major oil companies.