PRIME MINISTERPosted May 27, 2008
Mr BOWEN (Prospect—Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, and Assistant Treasurer) (3.59 p.m.)—It took an election defeat, but at last we hear from the Liberal Party about cost of living issues for Australian families. At last we hear from the party of Work Choices, the party that introduced a law which put downward pressure on Australian wages, about the cost of living pressures on Australian families. In his address for election to the leadership of the Liberal Party which we just heard, the putative leader of the opposition at last makes reference to Australian working families. This is a man who not long ago, when he walked through the House of Representatives entrance to this Parliament House, said that a 25 basis point rise in interest rates was overdramatised. The alternative treasurer of this country said, ‘All this talk about interest rates is overdramatised.’ Now we have crocodile tears from the member for Wentworth—who dares to lecture us on working families in Western Sydney and dares to come in here and lecture us about the cost of living pressures on Australian people.
Those opposite are from the party that just 150 days ago believed that Australian working families had never been better off. They are the party led by the man who just five minutes ago said interest rates were coming down under the previous government. How out of touch can you get? It is a race to be more out of touch between the member for Wentworth and the Leader of the Opposition. They are the party which care so little about working families that they are prepared to raid the surplus to put upward pressure on interest rates. They are prepared to raid the surplus that has been built by the Australian government to put downward pressure on Australian interest rates. They are the party led by the man who just a few weeks ago said inflation—and, therefore, cost of living pressures—was a charade. And today we see crocodile tears from them.
Today, in a few minutes time, the opposition can decide whose side they are on. Are they on the side of Australian motorists? Do they agree with the leader of the Liberal Party in New South Wales, who said that FuelWatch:
... will ease the burden on families and pensioners by helping drive down petrol prices. This is about putting the interests of motorists’ wallets ahead of company profits.
Do they agree with their colleagues in Western Australia? Does the Deputy Leader of the Opposition—a Western Australian Liberal, who presumably has been a delegate to Western Australian state conferences which have endorsed the FuelWatch policy—agree with her state colleagues? Would she agree if she became leader of the Western Australian Liberal Party, for example. Would the member for North Sydney agree with his state colleagues if he became leader of the New South Wales Liberal Party? I am just plucking a title out of the air. This is the time for the Liberal Party to choose. Do they agree with their state colleagues? Are they on the side of motorists or are they on the side of those with vested interests?
We all know their 5c per litre plan will not happen. The shadow Treasurer knows it. The Prime Minister invited him to confirm that it would be his policy at the next election should he lead the Liberal Party at the next election. He declined to take up that challenge. They are entitled to a fantasy. I do not begrudge them their fantasy, but, while they engage in their fantasy, let us get on with our practical plan, our modest but sensible measure, to put downward pressure on petrol prices. We all know their plan cannot be delivered. The shadow Treasurer knows it, the member for Higgins knows it and the member for Mayo knows it. We do not have much truck on this side of the House with the member for Higgins or the member for Mayo. We do not always see eye to eye but we do recognise they are experienced. We do recognise they are realists. They know what can be delivered and they know that this plan of the Leader of the Opposition is a fantasy. While you engage in your fantasy, do not stand in the way of our plan. Do not stand in the way of our plan to help Australian motorists. Do not stand in the way of our plan to help motorists find cheaper petrol, petrol which can be 30c a litre cheaper in any given city on any given day. Do not stand in the way in this House in a few minutes time and do not stand in the way in the other place when the legislation is introduced.
We heard during question time about what the Liberal Party seem to support. They seem to support the situation which the ACCC described as being conducive to anticompetitive coordination. Tell us where you stand when the ACCC says the direct exchange of price information between suppliers is conducive to anticompetitive coordination. Tell us where you stand on the ACCC’s view that the circulation of price data on a very frequent or near real-time basis raises the concern that it could be promoting anticompetitive behaviour amongst refiner markets and supermarket chains in the retail market. Tell us where you stand on the one-way street that is petrol pricing in this country at the moment. Tell us where you stand on the issue of Australian motorists getting real-time information about petrol prices and knowing with certainty that, when they go to a service station, the price that was advertised will be the price when they get there. Tell us where you stand on information about the spikes in petrol prices in the lead-up to weekends and long weekends.
If those members opposite stand in the way of this legislation then every time there is a big increase in petrol prices, before a weekend or before a long weekend, and every time I receive an email from a motorist—and I get hundreds a week—saying, ‘What can you do to help us deal with these big price rises just before the weekend?’, I will respond by saying, ‘I have forwarded your email to the member for Bradfield, because he is the man standing in the way of FuelWatch. He is the man who has stopped a scheme which could give you information, in advance, saying: petrol prices are going up tomorrow; you had better buy today. He is the man standing in the way of the chairman of the ACCC.’
We heard a lot from the shadow Treasurer about this socialist scheme from that well-known socialist Graeme Samuel. The shadow Treasurer is the man standing in the way of this scheme supported by the ACCC and the Petrol Commissioner. We know those opposite do not support the Petrol Commissioner. We do not know whether they would keep the Petrol Commissioner if they were elected at the next election, but we know they never got around to appointing a Petrol Commissioner. We know they do not support the Petrol Commissioner, but, while he is there, why don’t we put in place a plan which he says he needs to do his job? Why don’t we give the Petrol Commissioner a scheme he says will help Australian motorists?
We have heard a lot of rhetoric from the opposition about petrol prices under FuelWatch. They pluck out figures; they pluck out certain days of the week. What they will not tell you is this: the analysis is that in every year—2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007—average petrol prices in Perth have been lower than in every other capital city. And what they also will not tell you is this: fuel standards in Perth are higher than in the rest of the country. They have higher environmental standards, which makes their fuel more expensive and yet it is still cheaper under FuelWatch than in other capital cities, except of course Brisbane, with the subsidy.
What we hear from the opposition is half-truths and misleading statements. Let’s not have this rhetoric from the opposition about fuel prices in different parts of the country. If they bother to read the ACCC report they will have the evidence before them. When they have their briefing tomorrow from that well-known socialist, the chairman of the ACCC, and he explains to them what work the ACCC has been doing with the government on developing the proposals in the ACCC’s report, and when the Petrol Commissioner explains to them why the Petrol Commissioner views this scheme as being vital to delivering more information and transparency to Australian working families, they might then reconsider their position. They might then reconsider their position and give Australian families a fair go. They might say: ‘Fair enough. We will give motorists the opportunity to find that cheaper petrol. We will give motorists the opportunity to log on to the ACCC’s website, the FuelWatch website, and put in their route between home and work and find the cheapest petrol along the way.’ They might even support business in Australia.
We have heard a lot from the opposition about how cheaper fuel prices lead in to inflation and lead in to cheaper grocery prices. Imagine if a major transport company delivering goods in trucks across the country could have an employee log on to the FuelWatch website and say to their hundreds of drivers spread across the country, ‘Here is the cheapest petrol you can buy,’ and it might be 20c or 30c or 10c a litre cheaper than the average. Can you imagine the savings for a large business in this country? Those are savings that members opposite appear certain to block. We heard the putative Leader of the Opposition this morning saying, ‘We oppose FuelWatch but we are not sure how we will vote.’ It had rings of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition: ‘We neither support nor oppose.’ We have been here before. Soon we will know. In five minutes time we will know where they stand.
Do you stand with motorists or do you stand against motorists? Do you stand for more transparency or do you stand against transparency? Do you stand for more information or do you stand against more information? These are the essential points. While you are engaging in your fantasy of reducing the excise on petrol, let us get on with our practical plan—a practical plan that will introduce more transparency and competition into the Australian petrol market, a practical plan which builds on the work done by the Petrol Commissioner and the increased powers for the ACCC, a practical plan which builds on the election commitment made by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to introduce more transparency and competition into the Australian petrol market. This is what we promised to do at the election.
We have heard a lot of verballing from the opposition about what we actually promised. They allege that we promised we would solve all the world’s problems. Of course, unlike them in 2004, we levelled with the Australian people and said, ‘This will not be easy.’ We levelled with the Australian people and said, ‘There are no magic bullets.’ We levelled with the Australian people and said, ‘We can’t guarantee that grocery or petrol prices will come down, but we will do everything we can to put downward pressure on them by introducing more competition.’ Those opposite cannot deny it, because the member for Higgins pointed it out at the time. The member for Higgins raced out and held a press conference after the then shadow Treasurer was asked by Laurie Oakes on the Sunday program:
Can you guarantee if you win government petrol prices will fall?
The then shadow Treasurer said:
No, I can’t guarantee that, but I can guarantee that we will do the maximum amount possible to make sure that people aren’t being ripped off.
That is what the now Treasurer said—unlike you. The former Treasurer, our old friend up in by-election alley, the member for Higgins, raced out to hold a press conference and said:
Here is the Labor stunt machine at work ... They want to pretend they are doing something on petrol—you ask them does it mean petrol prices will fall, no.
So they knew what we were committing to. We were committing to increased transparency and competition to put downward pressure on petrol prices. They knew it then and they know it now and they are trying to fit us up for being as silly and as dishonest as they were when they promised to keep interest rates at record lows. We have a different approach. We have the approach of being honest with the Australian people and saying that when world oil prices are so high it is incumbent on the Australian government to actually do something to ensure more competition and transparency in the Australian petrol market—something they failed to do.
Their official policy was the shoulder shrug: ‘Nothing we can do.’ That is their official policy in government. It was: ‘Australian working families have never been better off; therefore there is nothing we can or should do.’ We have a different approach. We have the approach that we can, through a range of modest measures, put downward pressure on petrol prices. We have the view that we can give consumers more information and get rid of a system which the consumer watchdog, the people charged to independently stand up on behalf of consumers in this country, say is conducive to anticompetitive coordination. We say that is not acceptable. We say that is not good enough.
They were always soft on competition on the other side. They were soft on cartels; they never criminalised cartels—we are doing it. They were soft on the Trade Practices Act and soft on predatory pricing. We are toughening it. They were soft on competition in the petrol industry. We have introduced a petrol commissioner, a full-time cop on the beat, to ensure no price gouging and proper competitive conduct in the petrol industry in Australia. We are doing what they never had the wit to do, because they were so out of touch that apparently they believed there was not a cost of living pressure in Australia. Apparently, according to the Leader of the Opposition, they believed that interest rates were coming down. No wonder they have lost in the economic credibility stakes, according to the Australian people. They thought interest rates were going down. They say that everything was okay, that Australian working families had never been better off.
We have got news for them: Australian working families were and are doing it tough and they need somebody on their side, and the people on their side sit on this side of the chamber. The people on their side believe that you can make a difference through competition and transparency. The people on this side of the chamber believe that you can make a difference by putting downward pressure on prices by having transparency in the Australian petrol market—something those opposite ignored for 11 years. They were thrown out because they were out of touch. They were thrown out because they were full of people like the Leader of the Opposition, who says that interest rates were coming down, and the putative Leader of the Opposition, who says that an interest rate increase is overdramatised. Don’t lecture us about working families in Australia, because Australian working families finally have somebody on their side.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Rudd’s amendment) stand part of the question.
Add A Comment