Wednesday, 24 June 2015
Excise Tariff Amendment (Fuel Indexation) Bill 2015, Customs Tariff Amendment (Fuel Indexation) Bill 2015, Fuel Indexation (Road Funding) Special Account Bill 2015, Fuel Indexation (Road Funding) Bill 2015; Second Reading
I will thank you now, if you had something to do with that. People come up to me and explain how good Roads to Recovery is. I do not need to be told about Roads to Recovery. I was the minister for local government who, in this chamber, introduced the Roads to Recovery program. It is probably the best program for rural and regional Australia, particularly, although it does apply to capital cities as well. It is a program that enables local council to look after their roadworks with their rate base where they were not able to do it before.
As I used to say to John Howard: 'This has been the most popular program you have ever introduced in rural and regional Australia.' Roads to Recovery has done marvellous things, over time. There was some thought that under the Labor term they would cut back on that but, when pressured on it, they did not. That program was introduced into this chamber in 2001, I think it was, and I am delighted to see it has continued. It has done such a lot to help rural and regional people, particularly in getting decent roadworks out there.
The Greens would not understand this. I suspect Senator Lazarus—who always supports the Greens—would not understand this either. Rarely are they in rural and remote Australia. They do not understand the importance of Roads to Recovery funding for rural communities right across the nation. That is why the Howard government introduced it. I am delighted at Senator Cormann's indication that an additional $1.1 billion is going into the Roads to Recovery program.
Having been so praiseworthy of what will happen up with the money, why am I opposing it? I oppose it because any fuel increase—be it by way of government tax or by way of international oil-company profits—impacts more heavily on those who live in rural and regional Australia. I asked Mr Hockey, at the last budget, whether any modelling had been done by the federal government on the impact of an increase in excise on rural and regional Australia as opposed to our privileged fellow citizens who live in the suburbs of the major cities and towns of our nation. Mr Hockey did give me something.
With respect to Mr Hockey—and Treasury, who did it—it was not particularly persuasive. I do not have the figures; I do not have the resources to get the figures and this debate has come on a little earlier than I might have expected. From my own experiences, over 25 years, in trying to help people in Queensland, the state I represent, and particularly those who live distances from the capital cities, I know the impact of any increase in fuel on the cost of living for people in those areas.
People who live in areas remote from the capital cities already are disadvantaged. You do not have to be Einstein to work out that if you need to get goods from the capital city to where I live, in Ayr, you have a 1,000 kilometre road hike by the transport company to bring the goods. Of course, things have to cost more. We who live in the country accept that. There are advantages of living in the country, but the cost of living is always more.
If I want to see a specialist doctor I have to drive a hundred kilometres from my town. That is a hundred kilometres worth of fuel just to go and see a doctor. If you live in a capital city you can get on your suburban train and stop outside the doctor's door. It costs you—what's a suburban train ride these days? Ten dollars? I do not know. I rarely do it, I have to confess, but certainly it is a lot less than paying for the petrol. I am pretty privileged. I live in a small country community that it is only 100 kilometres away from Townsville, a major northern city with all services.
But if you happen to live in Croydon or Normanton or Julia Creek or Birdsville, just for the normal costs of living—education, getting you kids to school or getting to see any sort of doctor—it costs a lot more. Where does the cost come? It comes because you have to drive there, and to get there in your car you have to put fuel into the fuel tank. So every time the cost of fuel increases, be it by government excise or otherwise, the cost of living to people in rural and regional Australia increases.
I know of an instance up on the Gilbert River in the Gulf Country of Queensland where a mother drives her children 80 kilometres to school in the morning, comes back—that is 160 kilometres—to do her work on the entity they are involved with and then, in the afternoon, drives another 80 kilometres back to the town and 80 kilometres back home. That is 320 kilometres a day, just to get the kids to school. The cost to that person is enormous. But it is never thought of by the Greens. There is not, unfortunately, a tram running from George Town to the Upper Gilbert River to allow these kids to get to school.