MOTOR VEHICLE HYDROCARBONS
Mr IEMMA: I address my question without notice to the Minister for Fair Trading. What progress has been made by the National Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs to deal with the dangers of hydrocarbons in motor vehicles?
Mrs LO PO’: The honourable member for Hurstville has taken a great deal of interest in this matter and will continue to do so. Almost two years ago the Government acted to ban the use of highly flammable hydrocarbon gas refrigerants in motor vehicles in New South Wales because it was confronted with a mountain of evidence that the gas is potentially lethal if it is ignited in a car. A demonstration undertaken by officers of the Motor Vehicle Industry Repair Council, assisted by the New South Wales Fire Brigades and WorkCover Authority graphically illustrated the dangers. They released 300 grams of hydrocarbon gas into a car, added a spark, and the car was blown to smithereens. A vigorous debate ensued as to the likelihood of this happening in everyday circumstances. I took the view that the risk of families being blown up in their cars outweighed all other considerations. I said the onus of proof was on the industry to prove the gas was safe.
One view put by a lobbyist of the hydrocarbon industry - a view that was parroted by the Opposition - was that the chance of a car exploding was two in one million. My response was to ask them to name the two families they were willing to see incinerated to protect the commercial interests of the hydrocarbon companies. The industry was invited to return with proof of its arguments that the gas is safe in cars. The industry did not do so. All the evidence points in another direction. In the United States of America no-one will touch car refrigerant. Many States have banned it and the United States Environmental Protection Agency says it is too dangerous to risk using it in cars. All the major car manufacturers, motoring organisations, fire authorities and insurance companies agree. Until recently the only dissenters appeared to be the makers of the hydrocarbons, in particular a company called Esanty Pty Ltd, one lonely academic who admitted that he received research assistance, and members of the Opposition.
Since New South Wales led the way with the ban to protect motorists and their families, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Tasmania have followed suit with regulations that effectively prevent the use of hydrocarbons in cars. South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory will introduce similar measures this year. It may surprise honourable members to learn that the Victorian Government, under the leadership of Jeff Kennett, has held out against this weight of evidence, this national and international body of opinion. Earlier this year a letter was circulated with papers for the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs by the Victorian Government. It was a scandalous libel which accused me and New South Wales public officials of being captive of an industry lobby and party to a hoax. Mr Peter Bradford, Chairman of the Motor Vehicle Repair Industry Council, has described the paper as scurrilous, offensive and damaging. The paper was subsequently withdrawn. When I challenged the Victorian Minister, Jan Wade, about it at the meeting of the ministerial council in August, she apologised profusely and said that the paper had been prepared without her knowledge and withdrawn the moment she saw it. I accept her word on this, but I have to wonder who was responsible if she was not.
Imagine my further intrigue when she told the meeting that the Victorian Premier’s Department had shown a keen interest in this matter. My intrigue deepened further when I learned that the person appointed by the Victorian Government to the Australian Standards Committee, which has oversight of this matter, was none other than Mr Colin Spencer. Until recently, when Mr Spencer was not lending his expertise to a committee charged with protecting the safety of Australian consumers, he busied himself as the managing director of Esanty. He has moved on to bigger things. He now heads Boral Energy. Mr Spencer’s career move followed Boral’s acquisition of Esanty this year. I
am left with these questions: why did people in the Victorian Government circulate a scurrilous libel about me and New South Wales public officials?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Leader of the National Party to order.
Mr Kerr: Why don’t you move a motion of urgency?
Mrs LO PO’: Why don’t you gag me?
Mr Phillips: On a point of order. It is the responsibility of members to ask questions of the Minister and for the Minister to provide answers, not to pose questions. She should provide the answers to the questions she is asking.
Mrs LO PO’: No-one can provide answers to Jeff Kennett. Why did people in the Victorian Government circulate a scurrilous libel about me and New South Wales public officials? Why did this happen without the knowledge of the relevant Minister, Jan Wade? Why did the same Government appoint a man with the most flagrant conflict of interest to an Australian standards committee which is supposed to put safety first in all things? Why is that Government clearly doing the bidding of a big energy company, Boral Ltd, in trying to overturn regulations designed to protect Australian families?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order for the second time.
Mrs LO PO’: Why is the Federal coalition now doing Boral’s bidding via the member for Deakin, Mr Phil Barresi, who went in to bat for exploding cars only last week in Federal Parliament? Who owns Boral anyway? The answer is that many people own Boral.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Members who continue to interject will be placed on three calls to order.
Mrs LO PO’: Many people own Boral; it is a publicly listed company with many shareholders. However, it is interesting that six of those shareholders are members of the Liberal Party and the National Party and members of Parliament in the once great State of Victoria.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am sure that members of the Probis Club of Adamstown would be disgusted at the behaviour of many members.
Mrs LO PO’: Is Mr Barresi also a shareholder or is it just that the former Esanty has its headquarters in his electorate? Victoria is fast acquiring a reputation as the "conflict of interest State". Instead of "You’ll love every piece of Victoria", perhaps its tourism motto should be "You can buy every piece of Victoria".