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Parliament House, Canberra: transcript of doorstop: ethanol; Newspoll.



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Transcript

BOB McMULLAN MP SHADOW TREASURER ACTING SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS FEDERAL MEMBER FOR FRASER

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP, TUESDAY 17 DECEMBER 2002, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Ethanol; Newspoll

MCMULLAN: Australian motorists, when they travel at Christmas, will continue to be at risk of damage to their motors, reduced performance of their cars and potentially increased costs because of the Government’s continuing refusal to act to set a cap on the percentage of ethanol on petrol.

The Government has been warned for more than two years that it should act to set a 10 per cent cap on ethanol. Environment Australia told the Government in November 2000 that they should set a cap, and they have continually refused. This Christmas, as every motorist runs the risk of increased damage to their engine because they don’t know if their cars have excessive ethanol, they can all thank John Howard, and John Howard alone, for his deliberate intransigence in refusing to act on this matter. It typifies the 2002 performance of the Howard Government. They failed to act on domestic issues. They put vested interests and special interests ahead of the interests of ordinary Australians, and they try to pass the buck to somebody else when problems get to a critical level. It is a dereliction of duty by the Government - they put the interests of their mates ahead of the interests of motorists.

JOURNALIST: When you say this a matter that affects every motorist, that’s not quite right is it? I mean, they have released this data now that says that 85 per cent of samples with ethanol come from New South Wales, so this essentially a New South Wales issue isn’t it?

MCMULLAN: It is predominantly in New South Wales, although we don’t know for sure. And there is legitimate use of ethanol in some service stations in New South Wales and elsewhere where people know what they are buying and there is a proper limit on how much ethanol is in the petrol; and those are perfectly legitimate operations. But a lot of people travel interstate at Christmas, and a lot of people travel and buy petrol from places from which they don’t usually buy it, and they could get some unpleasant surprises over Christmas.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to the New South Wales Fair Trading Minister about why he hasn’t yet made labelling compulsory while we wait for a decision from the Federal Government?

TELEPHONE: (02) 6277 4803 ã FACSIMILE: (02) 6277 8496

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MCMULLAN: Well, all the states have made it clear, and New South Wales in particular, that this will best be dealt with by a national standard. And the Federal Government has had more than ample time to act. Joe Hockey, as Minister responsible for Consumer Affairs, in March 2001 said that consumers have got a right to know what they are buying when they buy petrol and referred it to the ACCC, who responded promptly, and the Government has done nothing. They knew 21 months ago that they had the capacity to act and the responsibility to act. 21 months ago Joe Hockey acknowledged the Federal Government knew they should act and had the responsibility and the power to act and they failed to do so. Now they are embarrassed - they are trying to pass the buck to the States. But fuel standards is a Commonwealth responsibility.

JOURNALIST: Is there any practical reason why the States cannot ask that petrol stations label it?

MCMULLAN: The States can fill in the gap; it is a second best measure. But it is the Commonwealth’s responsibility. The failure to act is the Howard Government’s failure and it is not a failure of omission, it is a deliberate continuing refusal to act.

JOURNALIST: Have you actually spoken to Bob Debus, the relevant minister, requesting him to do so? I mean that would surely be a step in the right direction?

MCMULLAN: I have spoken to some state ministers and I think, in an emergency, they are probably all prepared to fill the gap; but they all know that this is best done nationally. All the Commonwealth’s own agencies tell them this is best done nationally. All the submissions to the Cabinet told them that they should act and they have been doing so for two years. And the Howard Government has not just failed to act, they have deliberately decided not to act. They have made conscious continuing decisions, including today, to refuse to act because they are putting vested interests ahead of the national interest - they are putting mates before motorists.

JOURNALIST: Why shouldn’t the consumers get the best of both worlds - get a cap but also get labelling so they know what is in the petrol?

MCMULLAN: They should get both and the Commonwealth should do both. The ACCC has been advising the Commonwealth for more than a year that it should set labelling requirements. The Fuel Standards Act gives responsibility for fuel standards to the Commonwealth. They should both get a cap and get labelling. Some ethical sales people in some States are producing E10 petrol where they tell everybody that it has got ethanol in it and it has got a 10 per cent cap. That is a perfectly legitimate product and those people are suffering because ethanol is getting a bad reputation because the Government won’t set a cap and won’t require labelling.

JOURNALIST: What evidence that Labor have that the Government is putting the interests of Manildra ahead of the interests of motorists?

MCMULLAN: Well, the outcome makes that clear. The outcome makes it clear that the Government is refusing to act and when you see the minutes of committee decisions, the only body that is arguing against the 10 per cent limit are Manildra and their representatives; and the Petroleum Institute has made it clear that they were told by at least one minister that no cap could be set because the Prime

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Minister wouldn’t allow any decisions to be made that would have an adverse affect on Manildra. The evidence is mounting. It is not just all the anecdotal evidence, the minutes make it clear and the outcome makes it clear.

JOURNALIST: So is David Kemp lying when he says the information is vague and conflicting?

MCMULLAN: Well, he is gilding the truth; but the fact is even if it is uncertain, if a significant body of evidence says there is a risk at more than 10 per cent, the proper responsibility for a government, to whom people look to protect them from these risks, is to set the cap and then continue to review to see if it can be lifted later. You don’t say: ‘we’ll let the risk continue for two years and then if in six months time, 12 months time, we find that there should be a cap, we will impose it’, and all that time people’s cars have been damaged, people are paying thousands of dollars to have their cars repaired because of the impact of ethanol. And that is all sheeted home to the Howard Government.

JOURNALIST: What would Labor’s response be if the Federal Government brings in legislation to force the states to label?

MCMULLAN: Well, they won’t bring in laws to force the states to label. What they have said is they will bring in a law to give them the power to label. I think they already have that power, but if they don’t, if they bring in a law to give themselves the power to do it, we will support it. It is our policy. We have announced our policy - there should be labelling of petrol containing ethanol.

JOURNALIST: Could the impact of ethanol actually be dangerous for motorists?

MCMULLAN: It is not dangerous to motorists. There is some risk to boat owners, which is very serious at Christmas, and we have cited evidence months ago from boat owning organisations of concern about stalling of two-stroke engines in boats and some risk to boat safety which is very serious at Christmas. But I don’t want to be alarmist. There is some evidence of that. Dr Kemp refers to it in his material today. But the principle concern, because most petrol is used by cars and motorbikes, but to some extent there is a problem for boat owners as well and that is very important at Christmas.

JOURNALIST: Mr McMullan, today’s Newspoll has Mr Crean’s dissatisfaction rating at a record high. How concerned are you, as one of Labor’s senior strategists, that the voters, after 12 months as Opposition Leader, the voters have marked down Simon Crean?

MCMULLAN: Let me make the first thing clear. That poll says that the voting intention at the end of the year is exactly the same as it was at the beginning of the year. For 12 months when you have all been writing about the Government having had a magnificent year and a year of unsurpassed success, the two-party preferred result at the end of the year is exactly where it was at the beginning. So, if we had had a good year, we would obviously be astronomically ahead. Next year has to be better than this year, but the focus has been too narrow, the media and highlight attention is on what is happening internationally. But behind all that fog of war and terrorism, serious issues are affecting the lives of families at home, and they are seeing it, and that is reflected in the fact that the voting intention is staying strong for the Labor Party. Of course I would like to see it stronger, but we have

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maintained our support this year through a very tough year, we have to do better next year and get ahead.

JOURNALIST: So Simon Crean retains your confidence as Leader and will lead Labor to the next election?

MCMULLAN: Yes and yes.

JOURNALIST: And you think even if these ratings are maintained at this level, that doesn’t suggest there is going to be a move against him at some time in the New Year?

MCMULLAN: I expect Simon to lead us to the next election and I think the pre-conditions for us winning have been established - we have to be good enough in the next 12 months to build on it. But we had some hard decisions to make this year

about matters, particularly internal matters, not just the Party reform process but the asylum seeker policy. And having both of those behind us, they are very important to the Party, they were necessary things to do but they are not part of communicating more broadly on issues affecting the day-to-day lives of Australians. That is where our focus will be in the next 12 months and I think you will see that reflected in enhanced support for Simon and the Party. But it is a challenge for us. We have to be good enough to deliver. The potential for us to do significantly better is there. The pre-conditions are there. The base has been built, but it is up to us to be good enough to deliver on it.

END