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Wednesday, 16 April 1980
Page: 1476

Senator CARRICK (New South WalesMinister for National Development and Energy) - The Australian Labor Party, through Senator Walsh, has invited the Senate to consider the difference in the welfare of the rural community in terms of costs generally and fuel costs specifically under Labor Party policies and Government policies. The rural community in both 1975 and 1977 made that judgment emphatically and overwhelmingly. It will do so again. I wish simply to demolish Senator Walsh 's argument today. As the whole thrust of his argument was on inflation, I remind the Senate that the Labor Party when in office forced inflation up through 18 per cent and on to 20 per cent. This Government has managed virtually to halve inflation. We are talking about a Labor Party under which inflation went through the ceiling. This affected everybody in the rural communities from the poorest person to the richest person. We are talking about a government which has reduced inflation throughout Australia for everybody, including those people in the rural communities. Demonstrably, Senator Walsh 's argument goes out the door in terms of which government can control costs. The farmers and the farming communities have spoken on that matter repeatedly throughout history and they will do so again.

It is rather fascinating to hear today a solicitude for country people. It is the Labor Party that sneers day by day at every kind of support for the farming community. We hear this every time we are talking about, for example, fertiliser support or anything to do with subsidies for the farming community. Every time these matters are raised there is just a continuous sneer from members of the Labor Party. Suddenly they think that a few cheap votes might be gained in this area. The farming community knows that the Labor Party is the high inflation- high interest rates party. The farming community knows that it is the antisupport for the rural community party generally because that is its track record.

Senator Young - They are anti-private enterprise.

Senator CARRICK - That is right. Let me examine what this matter is about. The question to be asked is: What does the farming community really need in terms of fuel policy? The first thing it and the metropolitan community need is an assurance that Government policies will provide an adequate quantity of the whole range of petroleum products into the indefinite future. We need to provide the whole range of products- petrol, distillates, avgas and power kerosene.

It is no good talking airy-fairy nonsense about price freezes and all this jiggery-pokery if the Labor Party's policy, as it demonstrably would, produces less petrol and forces Australia to go shopping around the world to buy spot price petrol at enormously higher prices than at present. This would leave the farmers and the metropolitan communities of Australia in the position of having less fuel at enormously higher prices. Also it is no good members of the Labor Party trying to be clever and saying that the Government is taking this large subsidy. But the Labor Party has failed to say, as is on the record now, that it is committed to a resources tax which would take more than this subsidy. It will take out of the community a greater volume of profits. We have only to recite the list of its promises to know that there is something like $2 billion more to be taken out of the pockets of the taxpayers. Yet the Australian Labor Party has initiated this debate today.

The fundamental situation in relation to this Government 's policy is that in the very uncertain world of today we have been able to extend Bass Strait exploration and development so that it will yield supplies for four years more to supply nearly 70 per cent of our needs. We are able to say that there are more proven reserves in Bass Strait today, four years after we came into office, than there were before we came into office. The farmers need the oil that is available to them. If Labor Party policies had persisted and exploration had disappeared, as was the case by 1975, of course there would be less reserves and a lower yield from Australia with a greater necessity to pay spot prices on the overseas market. In fact, we are producing policies that are conserving fuel and that are making people use alternative fuels. We are encouraging exploration and, in fact, we are about to produce major synthetic fuels. They are exciting concepts and they will achieve, as the Labor Party's policy will reject, a guarantee of continuous fuel supply for the rural communities of Australia. This is the fundamental question of any policy which one might put up: Will it in fact produce the fuel for the future?

The proof of our policies is the Rundle shale undertaking itself, the largest undertaking ever envisaged in Australia and one that is projected to yield something in the order of 240,000 barrels of oil a day by 1988, roughly the equivalent of the total amount we are importing today. That is happening on Rundle 's own say-so because of the oil import parity pricing. It has made it abundantly clear that without that pricing there would be no Rundle.

Let me make it clear that, without the coming on stream of synthetic fuels like Rundle and without coal liquefaction, there would be no oil and we would be forced back to a perilous world. We have a very simple situation. The Labor Party is putting forward policies that would deny totally the availability of oil and therefore immobilise the rural communities. Our policy, courageous if unpopular, says: 'Here is a policy that brings on Rundle, that will bring on coal liquefaction and that will guarantee this situation. ' It is a policy which is producing, in terms of the Western world countries, petrol and distillate at prices which are roughly half those of other countries. We are producing petrol in Australia at, say, 33c a litre compared with France at 75c; Italy at 72c; Japan at roughly 66c; the Netherlands at 67c; West Germany at between 59c and 63c; the United Kingdom at probably 60c today; and America is slightly ahead of us. Only Canada of the Western world countries is behind us. We are producing fuel at a cost which is the second cheapest of those countries with which we move and with which we trade. Whether we talk of that or whether we talk of automotive distillate in Australia at 33c, to be discounted by the fact that distillate on farm does not-

Senator McLaren - Because of the vital information being given by the Minister I think Government members ought to be in the chamber to hear it instead of being absent. Mr Acting Deputy President, I draw your attention to the state of the House. ( Quorum formed).

Senator CARRICK - The device used by the Labor Party of calling quorums is, of course, a device to try to deny the speaker his time to put forward arguments; therefore it is clearly frightened of the arguments.

Senator McLaren - We learned that from you between 1972 and 1975.

Senator CARRICK -Senator McLaren acknowledges the technique, and I hope that those who are listening understand the device. What I have said is that our policies are providing petrol and petroleum products at roughly half the price at which countries overseas are providing them. Distillate in Australia for automotive purposes is 33c for on-farm, or slightly less than 28c compared with, if you take the 33c, distillate in France at 52c, or in West Germany at between 55c and 61c. We are providing the fuel. The storage of the products around Australia has been kept at an adequate level. We are moving towards an assurance of greater production of avgas in Australia. Shell will be opening its new avgas plant at the end of this month, so is can be seen that great progress is being made in this regard.

The country people are being looked after by this Government. Let us look at something a little more important- the petroleum freight equalisation scheme. We must remember that the Labor Party when looking at this scheme increased the differential and put a greater burden on country people. Then, of course, as a result of the Coombs task force it was abolished. We know what the Labor Party would do with freight differentials for country people; it would be opposed to such policies. The Government has decided that the freight differential should be removed in two steps so that, as between the metropolitan and rural areas there should be no more than the difference of 4c a gallon and, more recently, 2c a gallon. That is costing the taxpayers of Australia $123m a year. That is huge evidence of the Government's understanding of the need to help rural people, as indeed is the fact that it has removed excise from distillate for on-farm purposes; as is the fact that it has encouraged and is issuing licences for experimental ethanol development; and as is the fact that the Government is proposing to remove any excise from ethanol for such purposes. The Government policies are all aimed in that way.

I want to make clear the attitudes of the Labor Party and the alternative philosophies of the Liberal Party in State governments. For example, Senator Walsh has criticised the liquefied petroleum gas policy. 1 cannot imagine what the country people will say about Senator Walsh's complaining about the fact that, because the Prices Justification Tribunal doubled the country gas bills and put an extra price upon automotive LPG, this Government, by a series of arrangements, in fact has lowered the price of gas to country domestic gas consumers, not just below the PJT's ruling but below the price it was before the PJT put it up. All those country gas consumers had better know that they are under attack because the Government's policies are presumably wrong.

The fact is that the price of LPG was $ 1 47 a tonne before the PJT increased it to $252. It is now $ 125 a tonne, and there is much being made of the fact that this reduction is to be loaded upon petrol itself. The New South Wales Government has strangely made vocal utterances now, but when in fact the PJT doubled the country gas bills of domestic consumers and increased the price to automotive users it was ominously silent. It could have come forward by any one of a series of devices. For example, it would be competent upon a State Labor Government in New South Wales to do what the Victorian Liberal Government does and to equalise gas prices throughout the State. It would have been quite competent upon it to move into those things, but not a word was said then. Because the PJT had earlier raised the price of LPG well beyond its normal trend and therefore kept the others artificially low and was now adjusting it- the adjustment lies between one-fifth of a cent and one-tenth of a cent per litre- because that is so, they are noisy now. Senator Walsh uttered a complete inaccuracy when he said that I had invited the refineries to go to the PJT and seek a price increase. The world knows now, as it is in Hansard, that because it would be an insubstantial rise, that because it would be a fraction of a cent, I invited the refineries to defer so doing- the very reverse. Those who listen and those who read can measure the accuracy of the Labor Party's arguments by that means.

Let me draw this matter to a conclusion. We are invited to compare the impact upon country people of the pricing policies and the inflation policies of this Government and of the Labor Party, including the policies in relation to petroleum products. I have said that the people of Australia twice rejected the Labor Party after it had shown that its general inflation policies were disastrous to country people and others and had priced us out of world markets. I have shown in numerous debates that the Labor Party is anticountry. It is always sneering at any kind of support programs for the country. I have shown that the Labor Government weakened the freight equalisation scheme, which disappeared ultimately with the Coombs task force, and that this Government reinstated that scheme. It has now equalised freight to the country down to 2c a gallon, which is a fractional amount. I have shown the effect of the fact that there is no excise on distillates on farm. I have referred to the storage of the products in good shape throughout Australia and to the growth of avgas refineries in Australia. But fundamentally I come to this: It is no good mouthing popular policies and hoping that we can take a quick trick. That is what the Whitlam Government did in 1972. It promised the people of Australia the Garden of Eden and it produced Hades.

It is easy to say popular things when one is in opposition, but there are no popular policies for petroleum products. There are correct policies and disastrous policies. The correct policies are those which by their incentives will ensure that Australia gets petroleum products over the years ahead; that we will conserve, as we are doing; that people will switch from oil to alternative products, as they are doing; that we will get greater exploration and development, as we are getting; and that, above all else, synthetic fuels will come on stream so that we will not be as reliant upon the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and we are doing that. Australia is leading the world in the Rundle kind of situation.

Country people have been invited to choose between the policies of a government which is setting the pace in ensuring that Australia has oil in the ground, a government under which Australia has more proven oil reserves than it had when that government came to power four years ago, a government which is providing petroleum products in Australia at the second cheapest price of all the Western countries with which we deal and a government which has reduced inflation by half, and the policies of a Federal Labor government. I would have thought that the invitation from the Labor Party today has resulted in a complete knockout, that it lies flat on its face on its past failures and the failure of its arguments at present.

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