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Wednesday, 19 September 1973
Page: 1267

Mr HALLETT (Canning) - The measure before the House is one that will increase costs to a large number of people and industries throughout Australia. In 1965 the former Government introduced a measure into this House which at that time made fuel no dearer than 4d a gallon in the then currency - now 3.3c - in country areas than it was in the capital cities in the respective States. From memory, the price in the Northern Territory was based on Sydney prices. That scheme was of tremendous assistance to many people and many industries throughout Australia. This legislation proposes a reduction in that differential. The margin now will be no more than 5c a gallon. That will apply not only to petrol but also to many other fuels such as aviation fuel and distillate. The Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby), who is just leaving the chamber, spoke for 6 or 7 minutes and tried to justify his existence as the honourable member for Riverina.

Mr Giles - He has just said that he believes in an increase in the price of petrol.

Mr HALLETT - That is right. This is one of the many performances of the honourable member for Riverina since the Labor Government has been in charge of Australian politics in this House. When the Liberal-Country Party Government was in office the honourable member for Riverina accused the Government of doing various things such as putting up charges and costs. This particular measure will raise the price of petrol by about 7c a gallon in the areas about which I am speaking. It is beyond belief for any man to try to justify that increase in the present circumstances. We will see more such performances as the pressure grows. This measure is part of a Budget which is increasing costs in many areas.

I say to the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) who is at the table that the measure he adopted today in relation to people in country areas is very much accepted and appreciated. This is a big country and people are inclined to forget that fact. The vast area of Australia is much bigger, in relation to population, than most people in other parts of the world can imagine. Because of the vast distances involved people who go out into those areas and produce the wealth of the nation face excessive costs. A lot of the wealth of the nation comes from those areas. If everyone were to move to the cities the nation would lose its wealth. Everybody cannot live in the cities. As I mentioned yesterday people such as miners, farmers and their associates have to go to the country and produce the wherewithal. The measure brought down in 1965 assisted those people to a large extent.

It has been mentioned that fuel has been dumped by a particular company around Melbourne and sold at a much cheaper price than it can be obtained in some areas of Australia. I know that it has been going on for some time. A tanker can be brought into Melbourne to dump fuel in and around the city, but that is not the total scene. If that was all that was done we would have no fuel supplies throughout Australia. The cost of delivery of fuel throughout Australia is quite a large exercise. We need machinery to make fuel available to people wherever they are operating in Australia. To achieve this a vast organisation is necessary. We need an organisation that is prepared to go into the country areas and make fuel available when it is required so that people do not have to sit and wait for it. The Bill introduced in 1965 establishing the 3.3c differential helped the situation and enabled fuel to be taken to those remote areas of Australia and to be stored in depots where it was available. There is always a cost involved not only in transporting fuel to country areas but also in storing it, making it available for the requirements of various industries operating in those areas. That applies not only to industries but also to the people and involves all manner of supplies. It is no good the honourable member for Riverina screeching about a single company that brings a tanker into Melbourne, dumps fuel in the city area and forgets about the rest of Australia. Members on this side of the House have talked about this sort of thing while debating a number of Bills.

More people have to be considered than those who live in the cities and around the coast of this country. People live all over Australia and consideration must be given to their needs. I noticed in the Press quite recently that rail freights in my own State are rising substantially. It all adds to costs as does the measure which we are debating this afternoon. It has been said also that the Act gave assistance only to the people in the country areas.

This is where the whole thing gets into a mess due to the muddled thinking of various people.

A lot has been said in the Press, in this House and by myself about the price of meat. No doubt more will be said. Previous governments have spent millions and millions of dollars on such things as beef roads so that trains, as we call them, can operate and carry beef to various abattoirs in the northern part of Australia. That system works not only in the north of Australia but practically all over Australia. Obviously if the cost of fuel is increased, no matter what type of fuel it is, the cost of transporting beef from stations or farms to the abattoir and beyond must rise. That cannot be avoided. It is obvious that if the cost of fuel is increased the cost of that particular commodity will also rise. As I said, the previous Government spent many millions of dollars in improving the road system so that the road trains could operate effectively. It was done for a number of reasons. Previously bullocks could not be moved from many areas until they were a certain age. Now the bullocks can be moved at a much younger age and more beef can be produced. The moment that transport costs are increased the price of almost every item in Australia will rise. Freight is the biggest single component in the cost structure of any item. It comprises more than 30 per cent of the cost of any finished article which is in use in Australia "today. Any item such as petrol which we are debating here today that generates cost increases is a disadvantage not only to country people but also to people all over Australia. People in the cities of this country rely on country areas to produce their food requirements.

People in cities are used to having a bottle of milk delivered to their doorstep every morning. The transport costs involved in having that bottle of milk delivered are quite extensive. As I understand the situation the milk supply for Canberra comes from vast distances. Obviously supplies will be transported by road. The transport of that particular commodity is quite a large item in the total cost. That situation applies not only to milk but also to every single item which housewives and the people of Australia use every day. The Government, when looking at this measure, should consider the total scene. It should not be thought of as something which involves just the country people. As the Coombs report has indicated, .he cost of fuel affects everybody. When I spoke in 1965 on a matter, such as this I referred to some of the areas in central Australia. I will not repeat what I said. It is recorded in Hansard. The Government should seriously consider any matters concerning transport. Transport is more important in Australia, due to its vast areas, than it is in most countries of the world.

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