Aug 15, 2006

Petroleum Retail Legislation Repeal Bill 2006

Petroleum Retail Legislation Repeal Bill 2006

Second Reading

15 August 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (5.32 p.m.)—I am very pleased to follow the member for New England, and I indicate to him that the Australian Labor Party is certainly taking renewable energy and renewable fuels seriously. I want to speak on the Petroleum Retail Legislation Repeal Bill 2006 and the amendment moved by the member for Batman, which points out exactly what Labor’s plans have been. In the statement made by the Prime Minister yesterday it was as if, as he indicated to the parliament last Thursday, he had read Kim Beazley’s Aussie fuels blueprint. He decided to adopt bits of it, but he should have adopted the lot. We have had a half-baked response to the crisis being faced by Australian families who are battling to pay their bills.

That blueprint outlined a number of programs. It outlined the fact that a Labor government will re-examine the depreciation regime for gas production infrastructure; allow the selective use of flow-through share schemes for smaller operators; allow the selective use of flow-through share schemes in the gas, oil and mineral exploration industry; make alternative fuel vehicles tariff free, cutting up to $2,000 from the price of current hybrid cars; work with state and local government to give city traffic and parking advantages for these vehicles; examine the granting of tax rebates for converting petrol cars to LPG; conduct a feasibility study into a gas to liquids fuels plant in Australia; offer petroleum resources rent tax incentives for developers of gas fields which provide resources for gas to liquid fuels projects; examine a new infrastructure investment allowance for investment in Australian gas to liquids infrastructure; develop a targeted funding scheme for research and development in this area; work with industry to improve engine design and fuel quality standards; ease regulation of biodiesel production on farms; and encourage a sustainable ethanol industry. It is a very comprehensive plan to address these issues.

But the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, went one step further. I was very pleased to be with him on 7 March when he launched Labor’s blueprint No. 6, ‘Protecting Australia from the threat of climate change’. That blueprint contained Labor’s green car challenge to industry. It started from the fact that 18 per cent of new cars in Australia are bought by federal, state or local government. It stated very clearly that, if the Australian car industry could build a competitive, value-for-money green car, a federal Labor government would put it in the Commonwealth fleet. As Kim Beazley put it: ‘You build it; we’ll drive it.’ It was a very simple proposition using industry policy and the procurement policy that is available to the Commonwealth to make sure that we restructure the Australian car industry in a way that not only ensures good outcomes for the environment and lower fuel bills for Australian families but also ensures good outcomes for the Australian economy and Australian jobs.

It is a fact that Australia has, by and large, produced six-cylinder cars that are powered by petrol. The world has moved on. The world is very much diversifying its motor vehicle production and use. That is why Labor’s green car challenge is so important. It is a great example of Labor leading the way in innovation. It has the support of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, which covers the workforce in the motor vehicle industry. They know that, if you stand still while the rest of the world is moving forward, you get left behind. Yet here we have a failure by the Commonwealth government to do anything about this issue.

Having an Australian-made car that is cheaper to run and cheaper to buy simply makes sense. Have a look at the figures on the waiting lists to buy hybrid cars in this country, and at what has occurred in the United States car market. The biggest increase in sales there last year was for the Toyota Prius, a hybrid car. Even in the United States, known as the gas-guzzling capital of the world, they are turning towards these forms of vehicles.

We need to encourage that innovation, and Labor’s green car challenge would certainly do that. As Kim indicated in that speech, we also would work with the states and private fleets to guarantee that there was a market for those Australian cars that could meet cutting-edge environmental standards. So, on the one hand, you have Labor putting forward a comprehensive plan on fuels and a plan for a green car challenge. What do you have on the other hand?

My colleague, the member for Throsby, the shadow parliamentary secretary for the environment, wrote to the Special Minister of State about her own car: could her car, when it was renewed, be one which was converted to LPG fuel? And just one month ago the member for Throsby, Jennie George, got a very disappointing response indeed from the minister. The minister said in that letter dated 13 July 2006:

Further, cost benefits are only achieved in most cases where vehicle travel is in excess of 50,000km, and this is outside the standard usage pattern of the Commonwealth’s fleet.

In addition, mandating the use of LPG fuel for all Australian Government vehicles would be inconsistent with the Australian Government’s recent support of the use of ethanol-blended fuels and be contrary to existing industry development initiatives, due to the limited number of vehicle manufacturers offering LPG powered vehicles.

That was the response of the minister to the member for Throsby’s suggestion that the Commonwealth use its position in procuring vehicles—using industry policy, essentially—to make sure that the Commonwealth fleet was powered by LPG fuel. That was the practical suggestion put forward by the member for Throsby and rejected by the Special Minister of State.

That stands in stark contrast to the Prime Minister’s statement of yesterday. Yesterday, he spoke about LPG and how important LPG was for the future of the Australian economy and of Australian fuels. And that contradiction, I think, led to a very sorry performance in question time today, where the minister, inexplicably, continued to dig a hole further and further into the ground. He should have just said, ‘I made a mistake; we’ve changed our policy,’ and sat down. But we did not have that at all.

Mr Burke—He was digging for oil.

Mr Dutton interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE—The Assistant Treasurer has worked out a strategy; he just does not turn up for question time when we are going to ask him the first question—a very sensible strategy by the Assistant Treasurer indeed, and one he has stuck to since, because on these issues Labor is leading the way. We simply cannot allow a situation where we continue to have Australia being reliant upon Middle East oil. We have Labor leading the way because we need good industry policy, not just for the economy but for the environment. And when it comes to the use of biofuels, I want to indicate, as the shadow environment minister, that I am very supportive of an increase in biofuel use in Australia, in particular an increase in ethanol production.

There has been enormous loss of opportunity when it comes to the energy debate. We have a government that is obsessed with making small measures, taking some of Labor’s policy; a government that is obsessed with its nuclear fantasy for Australia. Yet, at the same time, it is ignoring the opportunities for Australia to be the Silicon Valley of the solar industry.

I conclude by calling on the government to revisit its decision to shut down the Photovoltaic Rebate Program which ends on 1 July next year, a program which has been well received. It allows a rebate of up to $4,000 for a solar energy system to be placed on a rooftop. Solar PV has grown by 40 per cent globally over the past five years but by only 16 per cent in Australia. When it comes to energy policy, we need support for the renewable energy industry. I commend the amendment to the House.