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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

17 December 2002

States Must Label for Ethanol Content in Petrol

The Cabinet considered the matter of ethanol blends in petrol. Ethanol may be added to petrol as an octane enhancer, and has some air quality benefits.

Cabinet reviewed the evidence of the impact of blends of 20 per cent ethanol in petrol on the operability, emissions and durability of engines and reaffirmed its view that the evidence for the impact of blends between ten and twenty per cent is presently inconclusive.

"The Government is currently conducting vehicle testing to clarify these impacts, prior to the development of a soundly-based National Fuel Standard," the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, said today. "The Commonwealth last year took on the responsibility for developing such a standard but it is my obligation as Minister to ensure it is based on good science and not merely opinion. The Literature Review of the existing knowledge base on this subject concludes that the information so far is "vague" and "conflicting", "leaving the only valid conclusion that testing is required to obtain data to form a view".

The Government is making available the full information it has obtained so far on the effects of ethanol blends on engines so that the facts are on the public record. A full copy of the Literature Review is available at

Blends containing 20 per cent ethanol have been available in the Sydney market since 1994. A sampling programme by Environment Australia beginning in April 2002 has taken 586 samples from petrol stations around the country. Of these 55 (9.38%) have contained ethanol and over 85% of these have been reported in New South Wales. This data was obtained from petrol stations on a confidential basis and cannot be released station by station.

"The Government believes consumers have the right to know whether the petrol they are buying contains ethanol and the nature of the blend.

"The power to require this labelling presently rests with the States," Dr. Kemp said.

"At present higher ethanol blends appear to be predominately an issue in New South Wales - a fact I drew to the attention of New South Wales Minister, Bob Debus, at the Environment and Heritage Council Meeting two months ago, and urged New South Wales to act.

"It has failed to do so.

"So I will be writing to the States requesting them to institute proper labelling regimes as soon as possible so that consumers can make informed decisions as to whether the petrol they are buying is suitable for the purposes for which it is bought.

While no one presently claims that 10 per cent ethanol blends have adverse impacts on operability and durability in motor vehicles, preliminary testing with one type of marine two-stroke engine by the Commonwealth Government has revealed that stalling may occur when the throttle is opened from low speed, even with a ten percent blend, creating a possible safety hazard.

"If the States refuse to institute proper labelling, the Commonwealth will legislate to give itself the power to require labelling when Parliament resumes," Dr Kemp said.

Media contact:
Catherine Job (02) 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400

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Commonwealth of Australia