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Thursday, 21 February 1980
Page: 264

Mr HURFORD (Adelaide) -First of all, the good news, which is that I am grateful to the new Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Garland) for responding positively to requests I made on similar occasions last year for more information to be given when these Proposals come to this Parliament. As the former Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, now the Minister for Education (Mr Fife), is in the House, I would like to thank him for the obviously thorough briefing he has given his successor and for the excellent way he has educated him in that respect. That is the good news.

There is some indifferent news, which is that as yet there has been no announcement that the forms of the Parliament will be improved by the establishment of a parliamentary committee which will examine Proposals such as this in the tariff and excise field so that on behalf of the people of this country these Proposals may be properly debated. Of course, I had no advance notice of this debate and I am speaking at very short notice. Later in the year a customs validation Bill will be introduced when we will have an opportunity to debate a whole list of these Proposals that have been introduced in the meantime. The horse will have bolted. There will be no point in debating them at that stage. The poor unsuspecting members of the public will have had their pockets fleeced by the Proposals in the meantime. Whether or not the Proposals are good or are in the interests of the Australian people will be immaterial because the Australian people will have been paying the piper up till then.

Now the bad news. This excise Proposal, the last of the Proposals which the Minister has brought before us, is enormously significant in this country inasmuch as it is the latest example of the imposition of a petrol tax on the Australian people. I want to say a few things about that petrol tax and about this latest imposition in the short time available to me now. These Proposals in the excise area implement the latest increases in the price of Australian oil which the Government has set as part of its import parity pricing policy. In the 1979 Budget the Treasurer (Mr Howard) estimated that the revenue from the crude oil levy in 1979-80 would be $2,023m. As a result of slightly higher production than was anticipated at that time and, more particularly and importantly, as a result of these 1 January 1980 price increases, the revenue from the crude oil levy now will be about $2,500m. The $2,023m was going to be bad enough, but we have here introduced to the House, almost furtively and with no advance warning whatsoever, an imposition whereby that amount goes up by $400m.

Normally there would be no debate on this Proposal that has just been tabled. I do not mind the Government Whip looking crossly at me because I know he wants to get on to another debate, but when the Australian people are being imposed upon to the extent of $400m by the two paragraphs that the Minister has just read to the Parliament, then I think it is right and proper that a representative of that community should have something to say about it. The Opposition has repeatedly pointed out that the Government's crude oil pricing policy is entirely unsatisfactory. It is inflationary. Indeed, the increase in inflation in the December quarter was 3 per cent- the worst since 1976. A quarter of that increase was due to this oil pricing policy. It is inflationary; it is an inefficient way of increasing Australia's oil reserves and of extracting the maximum amount possible from Australia's oil fields. Most importantly, the levy acts as a tax on consumers of oil products. It is an unfair tax because it affects in particular those who have no choice but to drive their cars to work, to their shopping centres and so on.

Furthermore, it is a regressive tax. It is particularly burdensome for those on middle and lower incomes. It is so burdensome that, due to this tax and other impositions of the Fraser Government, the standard of living of the average person in this community has declined over the last three years by about $17 per week. It is not surprising that the Government back bench members who are interjecting at the moment are finding that the public is becoming very restless, to use the words of the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron). I wonder when he is going to bring up this matter in the party room. Nobody should allow himself to be hoodwinked by what happens if this Government puts aside its import parity pricing policy before the next election as it will be only a temporary move. But what damage has it done to the Australian residents in the meantime? How can we be sure that the Government will not reimpose it after an election if, by a long chance, it gets re-elected, which I trust it will not.

As the honourable member for Fadden pointed out, the Fraser Government's import parity pricing policy for crude oil has increased the cost of travel for country people and city people. It has also increased the costs to business- costs which are ultimately passed on to consumers. Worse than that, these increases in costs are making us less competitive and thus are ruining our chances to go out into the export markets of this world and are ruining our chances to compete against imports. The Government's pricing policy is causing an enormous amount of inflation. The last inflation result of 3 per cent for the December quarter was, I repeat, the worst since 1976. These Proposals increase the price of Australian crude oil by $6 a barrel. The effect has been to increase the price of petrol by around 5c a litre. This is what the users of petrol in Australia, who are of course the vast majority of Australians, are having imposed on them by the Fraser Government.

This tax on Australian petrol consumers has increased dramatically over the last five years. In 1975-76 the Commonwealth received $280m from the crude oil levy. That is absolute peanuts compared with what is happening now. In the current financial year it will receive over 10 times that amount of $280m. Over $2,800m is being taken out of the pockets of the public of this nation by this Government under the iniquitous levy which is furtively being increased as a result of the piece of paper which has just been read by the Minister.

Since the Fraser Government came to office its oil policy has more than doubled the price of petrol, at the same time giving substantial unearned windfall gains to the oil companies. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure that privately you will be disgusted with this, as I am, even though you probably find it hard to speak up in the party room. I believe that these policies of the Fraser Government have meant an extra $3 billion to the oil companies of this nation. If ever a group does not require that $3 billion it is the oil companies that are fleecing the Australian public. Government spokesmen have repeatedly said that this policy will be maintained despite its effects. For example, just last December, Senator Carrick said:

The Government has made it clear that it will stick to world import parity.

However, the unsatisfactory and ad hoc nature of this policy is becoming increasingly apparent. Since the 1 January price increase for Australian oil, Saudi Arabia has put its price up by a further $2 a barrel. This price has not yet been passed on, but I suppose we will have another piece of paper being read at some time by this Minister- in April- passing on the $2 a barrel increase. It has not yet been passed on to the Australian oil companies, presumably because the

Government is scared of the impact in an election year, but it eventually will be. If the Government is consistent about its policy, if it continues with this iniquitous policy, the Australian oil users must expect this further $2 increase to be passed on to consumers on 1 July. If it is passed on it will mean that in the calendar year 1980 there will be an increase of $6 70m in oil tax revenue which the Government would not otherwise have expected.

The Labor Party would abandon this unnecessary, absurd and chaotic pricing policy. It would implement pricing policies which kept the price of Australian oil down. Oil and petrol would be cheaper under Labor than it will be under the Liberals: Let that be quite clear. There is no need for oil produced in Australia to be priced unthinkingly in line with prices set by governments in other countries. A Labor government would also replace the system of levies which now operates for Australian oil with a resource tax which takes into account, as the levies do not, the cost of producing oil from Australian oil fields and which returns to the public a fairer share of the money to be made from Australian oil production. We are quite satisfied that the community is becoming dissatisfied -

Mr Bourchier - Who will pay?

Mr Wallis - I raise a point of order. Mr Deputy Speaker, is the Government Whip al: lowed to interject continually in the way in which he has being doing for the last 10 minutes?


Order! The honourable member for Bendigo is reminded that if he persists with his interjections the Chair will have no option but to deal with him.

Mr HURFORD -The interruption has given me time to collect my thoughts. I point out to the Government whip and to other honourable members- indeed to anybody who is listening to this debate- that a fellow who drives 10 miles to work is today paying an extra $1 for his petrol, thanks to this Government. We of the Labor Party and the Australian public generally have a right to know how the Fraser Government plans to use the windfall revenue which these excise proposals for a $6 a barrel or 5c a litre increase in the prices imposed on us will give it. We want to know whether the Treasurer will honour his promise of 8 January this year to use this oil tax revenue to provide tax relief in other areas. We wanted to raise this subject in the Parliament yesterday as a matter of public importance but, of course, we were gagged because it was such an embarrassing issue. It was decided by the

Government, using its numbers to steamroll us, that it should not be brought before this Parliament. It is an issue which we will bring to the Parliament's attention and the attention of the people on every possible occasion. There is a tax office at every petrol bowser in this country, to quote my colleague the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating). The Treasurer said on a Willesee at Seven program of a little while ago:

We have made a conscious decision that because the extra $450m represents a tax increase . . . that we believe it ought to go back by way of taxation relief in other areas.

We are going to keep the Treasurer to that promise. We of the Australian Labor Party believe that tax relief ought to be given to the Australian people and that they ought not to have to wait until just before an election for tax relief to be given. The Australian people deserve tax relief now because these millions of dollars are being taken out of their pockets. We have a right to know in which areas the tax will be reduced, when those reductions will take effect and how much of the oil tax will be returned to the public.

The Government should be warned by the observations of the odd back bench member who has the courage to bring it up. But if indeed this tax relief does not come about and, if indeed there is a change in the iniquitous oil parity pricing policy, let the people of this country not be duped into thinking that it is a member of the Liberal Party or a member of the National Country Party who has brought it about. It will be because of the persistence of the Labor Party in this Parliament and in the country generally. To summarise, the proposals that the Government is now bringing before this Parliament are iniquitous. I am glad to have had the opportunity to say what we in the Labor Party believe about them. They are regressive. They will hit people in the lower and middle income groups in particular This year they will raise $2,800 billion for the Treasury. Part of that money ought to go back to the Australian people. Under Labor petrol will be cheaper.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (MrMillarOrder! The honourable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Mr Bourchier) put:

That the debate be now adjourned.

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