Thursday, 5 June 2008
National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) Bill 2008; National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008
I rise today to speak on the National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) Bill 2008 and the National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 bills. I will make my comments brief as I recognise that the House is time constrained. I want to raise the issues that I am sure many of my rural colleagues in this House would have liked to have raised had we had more time for debate on the issue of Fuelwatch. I know that the member for Calare, John Cobb, and the member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, and others would have sincerely liked to have put the issues of their constituents on the record. They would also have like to put the issues of country people and discuss the way in which the cost of fuel and all of these decisions, particularly the decision to implement Fuelwatch, will impact adversely upon them.
I come from the Riverina centre of Wagga Wagga, where I have a Fuelwatch committee that have been working for many years to try to understand the cost and pricing of petrol. They have spent a lot of time and effort trying to bring the oil companies to account for the differential that we have experienced over many years between city and country prices, particularly Wagga Wagga, Griffith, Leeton, Narrandera and those areas.
I was speaking just two evenings ago to one of the members of the Fuelwatch committee, Dr Edwin Brookes. He stated that he was perplexed about the role of the new Petrol Commissioner, which he had great hopes for. He said he had read some articles recently that had made him confused about how the Petrol Commissioner would act. He also raised with me some of the issues that were in the Daily Advertiser, a Wagga Wagga paper, on 2 June. Minister Tanner was quoted as saying that there were hundreds of pages in the ACCC report and recommendations on Fuelwatch. In fact, there were not hundreds of pages on Fuelwatch; there were just a few short pages that raised more questions than they answered, particularly for rural and regional Australians. This was under a topic dealing with country and regional Australia.
The ACCC provided no recommendations for Fuelwatch. In fact, there was a very low level of analysis within the ACCC report. Comments on the final page and the two last sentences concluded that the purpose of the analysis had been to satisfy the ACCC that Fuelwatch would not cause increases in the price of petrol. But we were not talking about increases in the price of petrol at the last election. We were clearly talking about the lowering of petrol prices and the fact that there was a view that the last government did nothing to lower those prices. I know that the Labor candidate who opposed me in the last election will be very disappointed because he is a decent man who has the interests of the people at heart. It was clear that he believed that the election of a Labor government would bring petrol prices down because the Howard government was inactive in this area. I know that he would be terribly disappointed with the outcomes since the election.
I made a personal submission to the ACCC inquiry because I have been fighting on the issue of fuel costs and the lack of transparency of pricing of fuel for so long in my electorate, which has been hindered and literally held to ransom by the high cost of fuel. Out of all the other country areas, it has experienced a higher cost for fuel. There was always a view that there may have been cartel behaviour behind this.
When the ACCC visited Wagga Wagga, I appeared before the ACCC and provided a submission and additional information. At the time there was an absolute lack of understanding of the difference between the TGP—the terminal gate pricing—the Singapore mogas price and other prices at the bowser. At the time, we had major oil companies that were selling at 3c a litre less than my independent could purchase for at the terminal gate price. We had a price war happening with Coles in Albury. They had a very low price in the Albury-Wodonga area to subsidise against independent competition. The independent had chosen to drop his prices down. But up the road in the Riverina the petrol price was sky high in order to aggregate and spread the risk of Coles putting fuel prices down to defeat the independents in and around the Albury area. We were left to suffer higher prices. This is exactly what will take place with the fixing by Fuelwatch of prices in country areas. The Fuelwatch scheme will actually support this activity. You will have our major oil companies going out there setting the prices high in some areas, low in other areas, aggregating their losses and costs over a number of outlets, and forcing independents out of their livelihoods. This is a major problem.
We have limited time here today. I had five minutes—I have taken six—but I did want to raise with the House that it is a major issue that we are not able to come to the House and debate this with the clarity and intensity that it requires. I for one am absolutely distressed that we will have it imposed upon us—or upon local government now, I am told. Local governments have now been identified as the operators of this process, if we take notice of what the Prime Minister is saying in the media—that it will be up to local governments to decide whether they will implement it. This is not an issue for local governments to implement; this is a leadership issue and something that has been ill thought out. I appeal to the Prime Minister to reconsider and rethink this because of the impact it will have on all country seats and obviously outer metropolitan seats as well. I am certainly in opposition to this process of price fixing by the new Labor government.