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Wednesday, 19 September 1973
Page: 1262

Mr DOYLE (Lilley) - I do not intend to speak at any length on this measure, after hearing the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) indicate that the Opposition is not going to oppose the Bill. I listened to the Leader of the Country Party and I was rather amused at some of the comments he made. He made great play on the endeavours to bring about decentralisation of this nation. I would venture to say that during the term of office of successive Liberal-Country Party governments there has been a greater drift to the cities and to the provincial towns than ever in the history - if we take a comparison and a ratio of population - of this great nation. So, if the subsidy that has been applied by the previous Government to petroleum products is a measure which it was hoped would bring about a situation in which people would not move to the cities, it has failed dismally.

Mr Fisher - Do you not think it can get worse?

Mr DOYLE - It certainly would have become worse, had a government like the previous one been re-elected. But we have a progressive government in office now, a government which is really looking to the future of the nation as a whole and is not just picking out certain areas where distinction and differentiation can be brought into operation against certain citizens.

The States Grants (Petroleum Products) Act was introduced in 1965 and its purpose was stated as being a means of providing payments to the States to subsidise the distribution and sales of certain petroleum products sold in country areas. At that time, the scheme was introduced in order that people in the country areas would pay no more than 4d. a gallon above the price paid by people in the cities. But, of course, nobody has mentioned that the difference in the rate to be paid for petroleum products was based on the wholesale price. It was introduced ostensibly to assist people living in the country. I am supporting the Bill that is before the House because it is a measure aimed at assisting the general economy of the nation. All honourable members opposite would have received a copy and perused the terms of the review of the continuing expenditure policies of the previous Government. Dealing with the petroleum products subsidy scheme under item 7, it states:

Although the scheme was ostensibly designed mainly to benefit country dwellers and country industries. the largest Government payouts financed fuel costs of major inland towns and cities such as Canberra, Broken Hill and Toowoomba.

I believe that one of the previous speakers from the Opposition side mentioned Toowoomba. I happen to know a little bit about Toowoomba. It was mentioned earlier by the Leader of the Country Party that country people drive for long distances and that they use a lot of petrol. If I could take a working man living in Toowoomba as an example, he would be able to drive to his place of employment in about a quarter of the time that the average resident of Brisbane would take to drive to his office or other place of work. I would suggest that the average person living in Toowoomba would use about 25 per cent of the fuel used by the average city dweller, such as the dweller of metropolitan Brisbane. According to the Coombs report, Toowoomba is one of the areas where the greatest measure of assistance has been made available. So, if there is to be some assistance to people in remote areas, the scheme has fallen down in substance as it relates to Toowoomba because people in that area are probably better off than they would be if they were living in Brisbane.

When speaking about country people, I would suggest that for about a quarter of a century these people were treated in no way differently from the city dwellers and the other people of Australia generally by previous governments. I say this because measures such as the petroleum subsidy scheme were introduced usually on the eve of an election with a view to gaining some electoral support for the then government parties. But when we talk about discrimination, I think it is just as well to examine just what we mean when we talk about country people. Anyone would think, listening to speakers from the Opposition, that the description 'country people' applies only to farmers and graziers and other people who are primary producers. Like my colleagues, I have the highest regard for the Australian countryman. I lived in the country myself and I know their value to the nation. But I believe that our primary producers are not overly concerned with the slight alteration in the amount of subsidy proposed by this Bill. I have no doubt that they have grown tired of some of the meagre measures to which I have referred that were introduced by previous governments. I believe that they look to the national Government to provide tangible assistance by way of acquiring on their behalf sound markets for their products. They look to the Government to take action to remove the shackles of the monopolies which in the past have controlled some of the products which they produce, to the detriment of the primary producer. These monopolies were allowed to take over during the term of previous Liberal-Country Party governments. We now have a Government in federal office which will act on behalf of the primary producers and country and city people alike.

Mr O'Keefe - The country producers do not think so.

Mr DOYLE - That may be your story. The Leader of the Country Party spoke of concern for people living in these country and provincial towns and in the country areas. He expressed some concern that the amount of subsidy might be reduced or, in fact, that these people would have to pay up to a maximum of 1.7c a gallon on their fuel. Having lived in the country, and knowing the method by which graziers and primary producers acquire their fuel, I know that already in those areas these people have a distinct advantage over other people living in country towns.

Mr O'Keefe - Why?

Mr DOYLE - For the simple reason that the average farmer - I have been on many farms over a period of years - and the average grazier purchases his petrol in bulk. He gets abulk rate, and probably over a period of time he is buying his petrol much more cheaply than are the people living in the city areas, but the ordinary working man in the country towns and provincial cities does not get his petrol cheaper.

Mr O'Keefe - That is nonsense. He has to pay freight on his fuel.

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