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Wednesday, 19 September 1973
Page: 1274

Mr KING (WIMMERA, VICTORIA) - I thank the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) for cutting short his remarks to allow me to be associated with the opposition to this Bill. I thank also the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) for giving me the opportunity to speak. I am fully conscious that he wishes to reply to some comments that have been made and that as most members realise, the sitting will be suspended at 6.15 p.m. I refer firstly to the following portion of the second reading speech which I find very hard to follow and which I am sure many people outside could not follow:

The objective of the scheme is to reduce rural costs by effecting a significant degree of equalisation between city and country wholesale prices of such petroleum products.

That refers to the principle of the legislation but not to the spirit of this particular Bill. This Bill does not cut the price to the consumer but increases it. A little further on the speech states:

The margin has hitherto been 3.3c per gallon. In the course of his Budget Speech the Treasurer (Mr Crean) indicated that the margin will be lifted to Se per gallon with a consequential saving in Government expenditure.

One can see therefore without further explanation what I mean. The member for Angas quoted figures, which he said he could not substantiate but which no doubt will prove to be very close to being 100 per cent accurate, which showed that the cost of this particular proposal to the nation will be about $50m, or $20m to country people. Some who have referred to this piece of legislation of being of advantage only to the country people are quite wrong because, as the member for Angas has pointed out, this is an indirect cost that must be passed on the consumer in metropolitan areas.

I want to make only one other point on this costing. I refer to the comments made in the discussion on this Bill and on similar Bills about trying to reduce costs. The Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) to my way of thinking made a complete fool of himself this afternoon. On the one hand he was trying to protect the Government and on the other hand he was trying to indicate to people outside this place that this legislation would be of great advantage in the long term to country users. How silly can you get, when one considers that as a result of the last Budget excise went up by 5c and that this particular item is to rise from 3.3c to 5c which means that people in areas which are at present gaining some benefit from the margin of 3.3c will naturally face an added cost of 1.7c. That will mean a total increase of 6.7c per gallon for many of the constituents whom the Minister for Immigration represents. He accused me of being in a privileged area and of getting a reduction of 11c or 8c. I assure the Minister that I am not in that privileged position because very few of my constituents can buy petrol at a cut price. The cut price applies in the metropolitan areas, and I wish the Minister would bring himself up to date.

The final point I want to make concerns the fixed price that has been mentioned. I repeat what I have said on numerous occasions outside this House. We are talking about fixing the price of petrol in Australia. The price is based on the South Australian price fixing arrangement and is carried through to other States; they get their guide from South Australia. The price is set at, say, 50c in the capital cities. Immediately a cut price war begins. This is a fair indication that the Prices Commissioner in South Australia is a long way from accurate when he tries to fix the price. I would like to say a lot more on this particular matter, but in fairness to the Postmaster-General I will resume my seat so that he may close the debate.

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