Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.17 pm)-Cost of living pressures-fuel, groceries, utilities, rent-are always a challenge, particularly for pensioners. It is the more vulnerable, those on low incomes, who feel not only large movements in price but smaller movements in price as well. The government took advantage of these people at the last election, and they rode into office on the back of rhetoric deliberately designed to mislead and to leave the impression that they would do something about price pressures, about cost of living pressures.
I must be fair; Labor do have a plan; they have a series of plans in relation to the cost of living. They have a plan for grocery prices, and that plan is-surprise, surprise!-an inquiry. They have a plan for fuel, which is to watch it. Mr Deputy President Hogg, I am not sure if you are a fan of Peter Sellers’s movies or a fan of the Peter Sellers character Chauncey Gardiner in the movie Being There. Labor really are taking the Chauncey Gardiner approach. Chauncey liked to watch, and that is what Labor like to do too.
The plan for utilities that Labor have is to make them more expensive by introducing an emissions trading system. None of the elements of Labor’s plan will do a thing to lower the price of goods. It is in the area of fuel that Labor’s approach is absolute and pure folly. Firstly, Labor cannot decide if they want fuel prices to go up or if they want fuel prices to go down. Labor say that they want cheaper fuel but they cannot decide if they want fuel included in an emissions trading scheme or not.
When the member for Flinders in the other place asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts the question, ‘Does the minister want petrol prices in Australia to go up or go down?’ Mr Garrett responded:
“… in relation to the matters that any government would want to bring forward to deal with the question of petrol prices, this government has delivered.”
So, in the view of Mr Garrett, this is as good as it will get. Secondly, Labor’s Fuelwatch scheme is not even supported by Minister Ferguson, who wrote to Minister Bowen saying:
“Your assertion that Fuel Watch will be pro-competitive is unsubstantiated and ignored the very substantial evidence that it is anti-competitive.
He went on to say:
“I note that … the biggest beneficiaries would be the least price-sensitive motorists and the smallest beneficiaries would be the most price-sensitive-working families in places like western Sydney.”
So, the Fuelwatch scheme is actually going to do harm to the very people it is designed to protect, and it is not supported by Minister Ferguson. But also the scheme is not supported by the four senior economic departments with responsibility for providing policy advice in this area. We have seen the cabinet coordination comments, courtesy of Mr Oakes, that those four departments do not support the Fuelwatch scheme. Mr Swan dismissed those four departments as being a bit academic.
As for the bureaucratic advice which Labor, in opposition, said that they wanted to receive-they said that they wanted bureaucratic advice given to them without fear or favour-when it comes in against what they are proposing they dismiss it as being a bit academic. The Prime Minister cannot even deliver on his own rhetoric. We know that the Prime Minister said that he was going to apply the blowtorch to the OPEC organisation. The Prime Minister was essentially saying that the government was going to do a bit of a Gordon Ramsay in relation to OPEC-that OPEC would be left in absolutely no doubt what this government’s view was of their limiting supply. But what do we have? Nothing; not a single word.
On ABC Radio this morning, Ben Knight asked Mr Ferguson, ‘How damaging was that blowtorch comment when you don’t even ask for an increase in oil production?’ I will not bother reading out what Mr Ferguson said because it is incomprehensible. I will not torment you by reading his comments because that would just not be fair. In contrast,the opposition have a clear plan: a cut of 5c a litre. It is a plan which this government should adopt. We have a clear plan-5c a litre-that would deliver real and immediate benefit for Australian motorists and is more than rhetoric.