Thursday, 5 June 2008
National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) Bill 2008; National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008
In speaking to the National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) Bill 2008 I told the troops back home that we spent last week in the parliament arguing over whether we should watch the fuel bowser prices or whether we should not. They regarded it as a joke; they thought it was extremely funny. I had meant it as a joke, but in actual fact it is exactly what we have been doing. Someone leaked something; someone didn’t leak something. The average person is really worried about fuel prices.
Sunrise did a program three days ago where David Koch said, ‘Can the politicians do anything about it?’ and Mr ‘Cleverness’—one of these blokes they drag out of Sydney, one of the slithering Sydney suits; that might be unfair to him but they know everything about everything—said, ‘Basically they can’t.’ I sent an email to the program saying: ‘Yes, they can. You just said the Americans are on $1.09 and Australians are on $1.55, so it would be a good idea to see what the Americans are doing.’ Of course, what they have is ethanol. The President, in the last State of the Union message he gave, said that 75 per cent of imported oil would be replaced by electric cars, hydrogen and, of course, biofuels—ethanol. He specifically mentioned ethanol.
For those of us who know something about what we are talking about here, hydrogen is a long way off. You can only get it two ways. You can do it chemically. You have to take it from CH3 or CH4—I forget which it is. You do that by burning it, which puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For every molecule of hydrogen you get, you put one or two molecules of CO2 into the atmosphere. So I don’t think we will be going down that road. If you want to do it by electrolysis it is enormously expensive. So while everyone would like to think about hydrogen, I would like somebody to tell me how it could be done. He mentioned electricity. Electricity is terrific in the inner-city and it should be done now, but once you get to the outer suburbs, no way Jose—it is an entirely different ball game.
Brazilians are filling up their cars for 74c a litre. I must simply have lost all my communication skills, because I come into this place constantly and say this. I said to my son, ‘You only get bashed up once, because you figure out how he did it to you and you do it back to him.’ It is similar here: if somebody else has got a huge margin on you, simply find out what they are doing. What they are doing in America, of course, is ethanol, unlike our governments. Governments over the last 20 years, including this government, have preached to us about free trade and free markets. What have free markets delivered to us? When the Fraser government fell, there were only 420 sites controlled by the oil companies. There are probably only about 420 of the 20,000 sites in Australia that are controlled by the independents now. Woolworths and Coles and their partners, Caltex and Shell, are claiming already that they have 75 per cent of the market, and I think that they do. That is not including the other two oil companies.
There are no bowsers which we can get our ethanol into. We know we can produce it for the same price as the Brazilians, at around 66c a litre—a bit more than the Brazilians, but really the same as the Brazilians. They will claim 46c but I think 60c is apples with apples. But why do we keep coming into this place, saying, ‘We’re gonna watch fuel.’ We have spent two weeks in this place talking about watching bowser prices. For what it is worth, it is probably a good idea. The member for New England and I will probably vote for it. We see some merit in it and it might make a difference of one or two cents, but most people cannot afford the petrol to drive across the city to fill up at the bowser that is 2c a litre cheaper. That is why this is not going to make any difference to anything. If the Brazilians were filling up for 74c a litre, and the Americans—this is apples with apples—were filling up for 81c a litre and at the same time Australians were filling up for a $1.15 a litre, you have got to say, ‘Let’s just find out what they’re doing.’ It is very simple: they produce ethanol. The arguments about food I would put in exactly the same category.
The parliament debated—and I think we actually passed some legislation—whether ethanol is going to break your motor and break your car. All the cars are breaking down in Brazil, are they? I went to Sao Paulo the first time I went overseas in my life; I went there on the ethanol thing. I did not notice any cars in Brazil breaking down at all. In Los Angeles I did not notice any cars breaking down. We went through there on our way to Brazil. I did not notice any breaking down in Minnesota, where they have been on 10 per cent for 20 years. I did not notice any cars breaking down. But we took seriously the absolutely ludicrous proposition being put forward by the oil companies, of course! We were told we could not have it because it would not mix. Mr Truss told us it would not mix. That was laughed to ridicule. The next one was that it was going to cause cancer. Larry Johnson happened to be here at the time. He said, ‘Pour petrol in the river and fish die; pour ethanol in the river and fish smile.’ It is pure alcohol. That was laughed to ridicule. The next one was that it was going to make your cars break down. There were a few people in Australia who thought, ‘The cars are not breaking down in Brazil or California or New York or in any of the mid-west states,’ which have all been on 10 per cent for ages now. How ridiculous.
The latest proposition is that the world is going to starve. The price of food in the United States as a result of ethanol has gone down very significantly. Instead of using grain, which is now around $300 a tonne, they use distillers grain, which is only $170 a tonne. All the moo-cows and little chicks and chooks that are running around are congealed grain. All your dairy products are congealed grain. The grain is $174 a tonne versus $300 a tonne.