QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICEPosted May 26, 2008
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Mr SYMON (2.17 p.m.)—My question is to the Assistant Treasurer. What is the government doing to promote competition and transparency in the petrol industry? Does the government foresee any obstacles in achieving this transparency?
Mr BOWEN—I thank the honourable member for his question. As the Prime Minister has said, rising oil prices around the world are causing concern for Australian motorists. I can report to the House that, with a rise of $8 in the last week, the current price for Malaysian Tapis oil is $139 a barrel. Increasing transparency and competition in the fuel market has been a priority for this government. That is why we have substantially increased the powers of the ACCC, and that is why we have appointed Australia’s first Petrol Commissioner. An important result of the ACCC’s petrol inquiry was to suggest the consideration of a national FuelWatch scheme. FuelWatch was introduced by the Court Liberal government in Western Australia in 2001 and has received bipartisan support in that state since then. FuelWatch is a scheme which will put motorists back in charge and will give them more certainty when buying petrol. It is a scheme which will enable motorists to map their route between work and home to determine where the cheapest petrol will be today and tomorrow and to make their decision on that basis. We know that there is a big gap between the most expensive and the cheapest petrol in any capital city on any given day. Today in Brisbane the gap between the cheapest petrol and the most expensive petrol is 24c a litre. On 15 May, the day the Leader of the Opposition responded to the budget, the gap in Melbourne between the cheapest and the most expensive petrol was 30c a litre. FuelWatch will enable motorists to find that cheap petrol from their home or from their work on their computer. This will put motorists back in charge.
I am asked if there are any obstacles to the introduction of FuelWatch. I regret to inform the House that there is an obstacle to the introduction of FuelWatch, and they sit opposite, because FuelWatch will require the passage of legislation through both houses of the parliament. Obviously, it will be a lot easier with the support of honourable members opposite. Now, we are not sure where they stand. The Leader of the Opposition and others have criticised FuelWatch. Yesterday the leader of the opposition in the other house said they have yet to make a decision about where they stand on FuelWatch, so we are not sure where they stand. But on this side of the House we stand for the Petrol Commissioner. On this side of the House we stand for giving the ACCC real teeth and we stand for FuelWatch while the opposition prevaricates. Some of them say that the better policy is to reduce the excise. The Leader of the Opposition says that. We are not sure if that will be the policy at the next election. They are not sure whether FuelWatch will be their policy, and they are not sure if reducing the excise will be their policy at the next election. The shadow Treasurer was asked whether it would be policy at the next election to cut the excise and he said, ‘Well, it might if Brendan—look, if that is our policy then I will argue for it as eloquently or not as I can.’ That is as certain as they could get.
Mr Hockey—Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Assistant Treasurer was not asked for an alternative view. In the first question the Prime Minister was asked for an alternative view.
The SPEAKER—There is no point of order. The minister was asked about obstacles. I call the Assistant Treasurer.
Mr BOWEN—We know the shadow Treasurer could not bring himself to say this was good policy. The best he could do was say it was good politics. We know the member for Flinders has misgivings, we know the member for Mayo has misgivings and we know the member for Higgins opposes the policy, so why don’t they just get behind FuelWatch? We had an indication as to their thinking yesterday. We know that, on excise, they have more positions than you would find on a cricket field. But, on FuelWatch, we have an indication as to their thinking when the leader of the opposition in the other house, Senator Minchin, whom we understand is a man of very great influence on that side of the other house under current arrangements, said, ‘We don’t support FuelWatch because it is very expensive.’
Mr Hockey—Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Assistant Treasurer was asked about obstacles; he was not asked for alternative views. Therefore, I would ask you to bring him back to the original question.
The SPEAKER—The member for North Sydney will resume his seat. The Assistant Treasurer will return to the question.
Mr BOWEN—Mr Speaker, I was asked about obstacles. And it is an important obstacle that we may not be able to get FuelWatch through the upper house. Yesterday the leader of the opposition in the upper house said that they have misgivings about FuelWatch because it is so expensive. Honourable members opposite would have read the budget papers. They know that FuelWatch will cost $20 million over four years. Apparently that is too expensive. But $8 billion over four years is not too expensive. I know the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education has a great concern about the quality of maths teaching and teaching standards in this country. I have referred this to her as a case study for studying value for money—that is, that $20 million over four years is actually cheaper than $8 billion over four years. But I am pleased to report to the House that there is one leader of the Liberal Party in Australia who has shown leadership on this issue. Unfortunately, it is not the honourable gentleman who sits opposite, but it is one well known to members from the great state of New South Wales. Mr O’Farrell has said of FuelWatch:
This will ease the burden on families and pensioners by helping drive down petrol prices.
He went on to say:
This is about putting the interests of motorists’ wallets ahead of oil company profits.
We will soon know where honourable members opposite stand on that particular equation when they announce whether or not they will support FuelWatch in the upper house.
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