Thursday, 5 June 2008
National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) Bill 2008; National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008
I am always delighted to speak in the House of Representatives chamber of the Australian parliament and to very strongly speak for the constituents of Ryan, who I have the great honour of representing here in the parliament, and to ensure that their voices are loud and clear in this place. The National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) Bill 2008 and the National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 are very important, because they impose a certain scheme upon the Australian motorist. In the time that I have available to me, I want to talk on that and related points. Before I do, I want to make the observation that I regret very much the inference that the previous member speaking to these bills made on the character of the member for Dickson, the shadow finance minister. He referred to 1989 and the Queensland police force and its activities. In the same breath, he said ‘The member for Dickson might be able to learn something from his former colleagues.’ It is most regrettable that that sort of inference can be cast upon other members of this parliament. We are here to debate ideas and to debate policies. We are here to debate each other in the spirit of democracy and goodwill and to question the policies of each other and each others parties, not to cast aspersions on individual members.
If the member for Longman wants to talk about evidence, let me draw his attention to a piece of evidence, which the Hansard will very clearly highlight. In this place last week the Minister for Resources and Energy talked about petrol prices being ‘a little problem’. If he cares to challenge that, he might take the time to look at the Hansard from parliament last week where the minister talked about a little problem for the motorists of Australia and, of course, that includes the motorists of Ryan that I represent here. Let me say to the parliament, to the government and to the Prime Minister that increasing petrol prices is no little problem for the people of Ryan. Increasing petrol prices affects students, pensioners, standards of living, businesses and those families that depend very much on petrol prices being stable and maintained at an affordable level. It is no little problem, Minister; it is no little problem, Prime Minister. I will ensure that the people I represent will be constantly reminded that increasing petrol prices is no little problem, which under the watch of this government has increased 13c since the last election.
I think that time has caught up with the Labor government because there is absolutely no doubt at all that at the last election the Prime Minister and his colleagues in the Labor Party gave the very, very clear impression to the people of Australia that only they had the solutions to the petrol issues, only they had the solutions to the problems of the country and only they would do something about it; Mr Howard’s government was incapable of it. Of course, as I said, Labor’s true colours are really showing through now, because since 24 November last year petrol prices have gone up and we have a Labor Prime Minister and a Labor government.
I am sure that the Deputy Speaker will be interested in this because his seat of Brisbane is adjacent to the seat of Ryan which I, very proudly in my third term, represent. At the Matilda station on Waterworks Road in The Gap, petrol prices today were 153.5c. At the BP service station on the corner of Moggill Road and Stamford Road, Indooroopilly, petrol prices were 155.99c. They are quite substantial prices, of course. Let us not get away from the fact that here in Canberra there is a federal Labor government and prices have gone up. The people of Ryan are going to be paying $1.53 if they go to the Matilda station on Waterworks Road and 155.99c if they happen to fill up at the BP bowser on the corner of Moggill Road and Stamford Road, Indooroopilly.
This bill, as I said, imposes a national Fuelwatch scheme on Australian motorists. The scheme requires specified petrol retailers to notify the ACCC of their next day’s fuel prices by 2 pm each day. Petrol retailers must sell at their notified prices from 6 am the next day and maintain these prices for a 24-hour period. Failure to notify or maintain the notified prices by the petrol retailers will constitute a civil penalty. What this means is that, if a service station owner wants to reduce his prices, he is going to be fined. This is just absolutely absurd! In our country and in our system we believe in competition and in the market. We believe that, if a service station wants to reduce their prices, they should be able to do it. To penalise them for reducing their prices is just completely absurd. It is a slap in the face to enterprise. It is a slap in the face to small business owners and operators. I think that the people of Ryan will find this laughable—and that is to put it generously.
The Prime Minister has constantly told the Australian people that he has relied on the ACCC. In fact he has relied on them exclusively. This is, of course, from a Prime Minister who wants to put his Treasury front and centre in the policy debate. This is from a Prime Minister who preaches to the public of Australia and to the people of Ryan that he thinks the Public Service should be giving fearless and frank advice and that he will take that on board. Of course, we know in this case that they certainly gave him fearless and frank advice but he completely ignored them and he only relied on the ACCC to give him the best course of action.
Let me inform the people of Ryan, whom I proudly represent here, of some interesting observations of Mr Samuel of the ACCC. I want to put this on the record before I end my remarks, because it is important for the people of Ryan. On 3 August 2006, Mr Samuel, the ACCC chairman, said to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee here in the parliament:
Transparency is always a welcome issue, but there is another element of the FuelWatch arrangement in Western Australia that has a potential for having some negative impacts on competition—that is, the 24-hour notification. There was—this is anecdotal, of course—an individual retailer in WA that just a little while ago objected to the 24-hour notification and, as I recall, posted on the site that he intended to charge $100,000 a litre the next day for petrol because he frankly was going to work on the basis of discounting over a more regular period than 24-hour notification. The sorts of movements that we were talking about earlier today in discounting have tended, particularly where there is vigorous discounting in the price cycle occurring, to occur on a half-hourly or hourly basis. Of course, that cannot occur in Western Australia, where 24-hour notification is required before the price can be posted. To that extent, we have concern that that 24-hour notification can have a negative impact on competition. I think we expressed a view on this back in 2002.
Mr Samuel, the chairman of the ACCC, on whom this Labor government relies for its policy on the run, is saying that the Fuelwatch legislation is in fact going to be anticompetitive. It has consequences for competition. Let me quote a colleague of Mr Samuels on the ACCC. In that same series of comments to the economics committee, Mr Cassidy said:
As the chair has indicated, we did have some concern that the 24-hour notification may well have acted to impede the ability of the independent chains to decide to discount, which they often do at fairly short notice, depending on where the market is, because they are required to actually give the 24 hours’ notice before they change their price. Indeed, we have had some of the independents in Western Australia basically indicate the same thing to us.
There you have it: Mr Samuels and Mr Cassidy, who are members of the ACCC, expressing their observations and their anxiety that FuelWatch is effectively anticompetitive. We are about competition.
I want to take the opportunity in the parliament of Australia as the member for Ryan to make it very clear to the parliament and certainly to advise the people of Ryan that this is really policy on the run. The Fuelwatch scheme is not going to work; it is very disappointing that this is the only thing that Mr Rudd can come up with after six months in office. I certainly commend the federal opposition’s position of reducing the petrol excise by 5c, because that is going to make a meaningful difference to the working families of Ryan, who I have the great honour to represent here in the parliament of Australia.