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Thursday, 8 September 1983
Page: 548

Dr THEOPHANOUS(10.49) —Mr Deputy Speaker--

Mr McVeigh —You want petrol rationing.

Mr McGauran —He hates the farmers.

Mr McVeigh —Tell him not to take the petrol off the farmers. He hates the farmers.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —When the Opposition rabble have finished their comments, I will make some sensible remarks on the Liquid Fuel Emergency Bill, as distinct from the nonsense that we heard from the former Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Anthony). I say at the beginning that this legislation is long overdue to protect this country in the national interest. The former Deputy Prime Minister was responsible for a delay of over three years in the implementation of this legislation. The Opposition parties dragged their feet. In fact prior to that, notwithstanding the urging of the Australian Labor Party, they made no moves whatsoever. It was only when the importance of having legislation of this kind to protect this country in a national emergency was hammered to them time and again that they finally started to do something about it. When they did try to begin this process they dragged their feet for years and years. I will outline this process in a little while.

This Government, immediately upon coming to office, took steps-especially the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh). Let us face it, he deserves credit. We must give credit where credit is due for his positive and constructive approach. Negotiations were finished on 1 June, and at the first available opportunity legislation has come into the Parliament. This shows the kind of active approach of this Government in contrast to the talk and inaction of the previous Government, its approach being that every interest but the national interest was important. We heard the Country Party rabble talking about --

Mr Ian Cameron —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, we are known as the National Party.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! I ask the honourable member for Burke to be less provocative.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Mr Deputy Speaker, the National Party has made a series of somewhat provocative comments about the Government and its intentions in relation to this legislation. Most of the comments of the Leader of the National Party in relation to the consequences of the Government's Budget legislation with respect to petroleum products are nonsense. Furthermore, they are not relevant to this Bill. He was simply trying, in the context of a Bill of this kind, to score some cheap political points when he should have been focusing on the importance of this legislation to the national interest.

Why was there the delay of three years? It was because of the opposition of certain States-they shall remain nameless, but I am sure one does not need an enormous imagination to deduce which States they were-to achieving a co- ordinated national approach. Of course, we heard from the Leader of the National Party all the arguments that those States presented. First, he says that he supports the legislation and then he raises all sorts of difficulties and objections about the implementation of the legislation which go back to one thing-the old States rights bogy. Let me make it quite clear: We are one nation and we are determined, in the case of a national emergency in relation to petroleum products, to act as a unified country. This business of saying that somehow some States rights issue is involved is not right, as I shall point out when I come to the actual nature of the consultative mechanisms which have been set up. The Leader of the National Party knows that there is no such States rights issue at stake here. It is quite clear that we are proceeding on the basis of consultation with the States and Territories in our constructive approach to a national emergency.

The Government wishes to express its appreciation of the role of the National Petroleum Advisory Committee, the body responsible for putting the general outline of this legislation in its report entitled 'Management of a National Liquid Fuels Supply Emergency'. That important report came forward in October 1981. This body is a very representative body, its members being drawn from the agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, mining, shipping, transport and oil industries, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and motorists organisations, as well as the Commonwealth, State and Northern Territory governments. It presented its report in October 1981, but it was not tabled in the Parliament until September 1982, nearly a year later. This is the extent to which the present Opposition, the Liberal and National parties, are concerned with national emergencies. This is the extent to which they tell us they have some considerations about the Australian people as a whole and what would happen in this kind of situation. Their lackadaisical approach resulted in two years of delay after the report in relation to this matter came down.

Let me say something about the importance of this legislation. The first important point to be made is that we hope, and every Australian must fervently hope, that the legislation will not need to be used, that such a national emergency will not arise; but, of course, caution and responsible government require that measures be put into place to protect the Australian people and especially to protect essential services in times of emergency. For example, it is conceivable that the legislation would be used mainly in such a situation as the sabotage of our Bass Strait oil installations. Of course, all Australians would hope that that never arose. In that situation we would want the national Government to act in a co-ordinated way because all States would be affected. If there were another Middle East supply crisis and the Government was faced with a serious shortage of petroleum products, it would be important to ensure that rationing or some other means was used to make petroleum products available, in the first instance, to essential services and, secondly, to the Australian people on a fair and equitable basis.

Obviously, this kind of approach requires substantial powers, and substantial powers have been granted to the Government under this legislation so that it can direct and allocate petrol resources from any part of Australia to any other and can introduce rationing procedures at both the bulk and retail levels. One would hope that it would be at the bulk level rather than the retail level, but both powers are required in a national emergency. The general mechanisms have been referred to, and they are important. The Leader of the National Party tried some scaremongering, and I think it was a disgraceful exercise. On the one hand, he was saying 'We support the legislation' and, on the other hand, scaremongering on an issue of national importance, he was saying: 'If the Federal Government gets hold of these powers it will have petrol rationing forever more'. This kind of irresponsible statement from the Leader of the National Party, the former Deputy Prime Minister, is one very good reason why the people who are presently in opposition will remain in opposition for a very long time.

The general mechanisms have been worked out. Moves have been taken already to establish the National Fuel Emergency Consultative Committee, which will have representation from the State, Commonwealth and Territory governments. Senior officials will be represented on this body and the Federal Minister will liaise directly with Committee members and consult with them before any action is taken . Of course, that body may need to be called together quite quickly and the Federal Government has undertaken to ensure that that will be the case. In the meantime this body will meet and determine guidelines and general procedures to be put to the Minister in the case of a national fuel emergency.

Let me deal at this point with the worries that people have. What will happen if the determinations of the Advisory Committee and the Minister are such that someone feels aggrieved or wrongly affected? We have included a provision for an appeal to be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Surely this is an indication of the extreme lengths to which we have gone to indicate that we are not providing for some authoritarian taking on of powers. We are attempting on the one hand to exercise national responsibilities and on the other hand to ensure that someone who feels aggrieved by some specific determination can take his complaint to the Tribunal.

We also had references to the sunset aspects of the legislation. The sunset aspects of the legislation are important because it is this Government's intention to ensure that the consultation process takes place over three years and that uniform legislation is introduced in each of the States after a three year period. There may be some minor delay in this matter. All indications are that there will not be any National Party members left in the Parliament in a little while, but if there are we might have some frustrations or holdups. There is no sinister intention at all on the part of the Government to get around the States or to try to undermine the authority of the States in this matter. But it is obvious that the Federal Government must take the primary responsibility in a national emergency. This is the point which the Leader of the National Party seems to have some difficulty in getting into his head. He went on to talk about how these enormous powers for the Government will be such that we might end up with 15 or 20 years of petrol rationing after one fuel emergency. This sort of mischievous and irresponsible comment needs to be seen for what it is-a disgraceful attempt to undermine the meaning and intention of the legislation simply for cheap political point scoring. When since the Second World War has an Australian government been concerned about petrol rationing? Surely the war situation justified petrol rationing. Is the Leader of the National Party trying to tell us that even a war does not justify it? Is that what he is trying to tell us? Is he trying to tell us that after a fuel emergency we should in some way continue rationing? Why should we continue the rationing if the emergency is over? It is not even logical. This is the sort of ridiculous political point which the Leader of the National Party is trying to raise in what should have been a serious debate about the importance of this legislation to this country.

The Government fully supports this Bill. It has acted with the utmost speed to get it on to the statute books because it takes seriously its responsibilities in relation to emergency legislation and disaster situations, unlike the previous Government which left this country totally unprepared for disaster situations. We need only witness, for example, our total lack of preparedness for the fire disasters that occurred in this country because of the inaction of the previous Government in relation to the Natural Disasters Organisation. I just mention that point as an aside but it is an illustration of the general point, that we intend to protect the national interest and we will not be intimidated by talk about States rights and about the Federal Government getting too much power.