The Hon. CHRISTINE ROBERTSON: My question is directed to the Minister for Rural Affairs. Will the Minister update the House on the Iemma Government's support for the emerging ethanol industry in Australia?
The Hon. TONY KELLY: While the Federal Government sits on its hands, the Iemma Government is leading the way in Australia when it comes to driving growth in the ethanol and biofuel industries. We all know that, for a whole host of reasons, the use of biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel makes sense for New South Wales and the nation. It makes sense for the environment and our efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions; it makes sense for rural and regional jobs; and it makes sense for diversifying our energy supply and taking pressure off our spiralling fuel trade deficit, which has gone from $488 million to $10 billion in a decade. It makes sense to use biofuels in the future in attempting to reduce petrol prices.
Because it makes sense, New South Wales is leading a concerted push by the states to promote the fledgling domestic biofuel industry. However, what does not make sense is the weakness that the Federal Government is displaying when it comes to ethanol. The Federal Government talks tough when it comes to ethanol, but simply goes missing when it comes to concrete action. Instead, the Federal Government punishes the use of biodiesel; even the programs it touts as helping biofuel are riddled with sneaky cop-out clauses. For instance, last year the Federal Government announced the ethanol distribution program, which, on the surface, was a seemingly sensible move designed to help meet the costs of converting service station tanks to enable them to hold ethanol-blended fuel. What the Federal Government cleverly hid in the fine print was that the program would run for only 12 months, concluding on 1 October this year. That was never going to be long enough for the many thousands of New South Wales retailers to evaluate and organise their upgrades.
With the leadership of the states, products such as E10 are really gaining traction, with retailers and consumers alike beginning to realise the benefits offered by ethanol-blended fuels. However, with limited manpower to carry out the upgrades many operators face missing out on that crucial subsidy when the unrealistic time limit expires. We are left with a typical Federal Government ploy: a nice sound bite and media release but with a clever sunset clause that ensures that the Federal Government does not have to make any real financial commitment to the ethanol industry. It is The Nationals who should really hang their heads in shame over the ethanol issue. The Nationals, the former Country Party—but which is now a long way from the country—should pull out all stops when it comes to the biofuel industry. A developing biofuel industry means jobs and investment for rural and regional Australia. Despite that and despite the drought, The Nationals sit still—saying nothing, doing nothing and helping no-one. They are as powerless in government in Canberra as they are impotent in Opposition in New South Wales.
If any Coalition members in this House had even a shred of interest in creating jobs for the people they represent, they would be banging on John Howard's door demanding that he extend this rebate, demanding he set an ethanol mandate, and demanding this important industry receive the support and direction it needs and deserves as it establishes itself across the country. The Iemma Government is getting on with the job of supporting the biofuel industry.
Shortly the Government will introduce legislation requiring that 2 per cent of all petrol sold in New South Wales be ethanol. We have established the E10 Task Force to chart a course for the development of that industry and to look at an extension of the mandate to a possible 10 per cent level by 2011. The Iemma Government has led by example by requiring its own fleet to use biofuel—that is, all the government fleet where available and practical. That is concrete action by the New South Wales Government against wishy-washy weasel words that will never work. [ Time expired.]