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Transcript
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

ABC Illawarra - Morning Show
Monday, 3 November 2003, 9:14 am

Subject: Ethanol Labelling


Compere (Tony Arthur):
Last Friday we spoke to the New South Wales Minister for Fair Trading, Reba Maher. She was claiming that New South Wales motorists had been let down by the Commonwealth Government in its failure to meet its own deadline for national labelling laws at the petrol pump when it comes to ethanol blends in our petrol.

Federal Government has decided a 10% cap is appropriate but they also want to have labelling at the pumps so the motorists know what they're about to put in their petrol tank.

The Federal Environment Minister, Dr David Kemp, joins us now to talk about this plan. Dr Kemp, good morning.

Dr Kemp:
Good morning, Tony.

Compere:
When will the labelling come in?

Dr Kemp:
Well the labelling will come in as soon as the legislation is passed by the Senate. Unfortunately the Labor Party in the Senate has been playing games with the legislation. It was introduced into the Senate in September, on 16th September. The Labor Party referred it to a Senate Committee. That Committee reported down on 28th October.

So the legislation hasn't even been debated in the Senate at the moment. And I deplore this. I think it's very poor that the Labor Party continues to say that it supports labelling while at the same time delaying the legislation's coming in to effect.

Compere:
What concerns do they say they have?

Dr Kemp:
Well there were no concerns. The Committee reported out on the 28th October and said that it would support the Bill without amendment so we've lost essentially a month and a half on the bill because of Senate procedures.

The other thing I would like to say that of course the Commonwealth is only legislating in this regard because the New South Wales Government has failed to legislate. The New South Wales Government has had power to act to both impose a limit on the amount of ethanol in petrol and also to label since ethanol was first used in blends in New South Wales in 1994. And the only reason the Commonwealth is now coming in to this field is because the States have failed to act to protect consumers.

Compere:
So you think Reba Maher should be writing to her federal counterparts, not you?

Dr Kemp:
Well exactly, she should be urging her federal counterparts to get on with it and to pass the legislation so that I'm in a position to put the labels on the pumps.

Compere:
Are you able to then put any timetable now on when you hope the legislation will be debated and passed and the labelling will appear?

Dr Kemp:
Well far be it for me to predict the behaviour of the Senate because, as we know, the Senate is its own master in these matters and it's unpredictable. But I'm hopeful that the legislation will be through the Senate before Christmas and that will give me the opportunity then to put the labels up.

Compere:
Can we be confident even without labelling that the 10% cap is already being adhered to?

Dr Kemp:
My Department organises a sampling regime which is pretty thorough. The good news that we have found is that fuel overwhelmingly meets the national fuel standard now. But I understand that there have been at least one case where fuel was detected to be above the 10% and in those cases our first action is to go to the supplier and make sure that they do have the correct technology and procedures in place so that they can meet the law.

But of course if there are breaches of the law, then they're referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Compere:
And how much trouble are they in if they are breaching it?

Dr Kemp:
Well, they can be subject to very severe penalties. The Director of Public Prosecutions has some cases under consideration, I understand, but hasn't at the moment launched any prosecutions. And we certainly want to work with suppliers to make sure that, where there is an inadvertent mistake, that their technology is appropriate so that that mistake doesn't recur.

Compere:
It's 18 past 9, Federal Environment Minister, Dr David Kemp, is with us on the Morning Show. Dr Kemp, there were many calling particularly from the ethanol industry for the Federal Government to announce a cap, and it did eventually do that at 10% because they said that it would go a long way to boosting consumer confidence in ethanol and taking away some of the concerns that motorists had. Is there any way at all to gauge whether the 10% cap has had that effect?

Dr Kemp:
Oh yes, I think there is. There's no doubt that consumer confidence was damaged by a number of stories about ethanol and its impact in cars late last year. Some of those stories proved to be quite inaccurate and I think it's very regrettable that public confidence in ethanol blends did decline.

But there is now a sign that that confidence is reviving again. Caltex, for example, has been running a trial in Cairns and it's found a growing public interest in accepting these 10% ethanol blends. And if that continues of course and it expands the trial, then we will see these 10% blends more widely used.

Compere:
It's interesting to note that we were just talking about that in answer to my question, and one of our listeners has phoned in to get me to ask you why - and this is in their words - why they feel there's been an increase in the price of petrol lately at the same time when there's probably been a drop in quality. That's the listener's words, inferring that the ethanol blend reduces the quality of the petrol. Your comment?

Dr Kemp:
Well, the ethanol blend doesn't in any way reduce the quality of the fuel. Ethanol blended petrol does have a slightly lower energy content because that's the nature of ethanol. At the same time ethanol has an oxygen in it and that can be of assistance.

Compere:
Is it fair though to expect that, if ethanol is blended into the petrol, it should be cheaper?

Dr Kemp:
Ah yes, and that's been the reason for the ethanol blending up until now. So that the independents can sell petrol at a slightly lower rate that reflects the slightly lower energy content of ethanol blended petrol.

There are also of course some small environmental advantages from ethanol blended petrol. So there is a real reason, I think, why consumers might want to choose the ethanol blend. And we would certainly want there to be accurate information out there so that consumers can make an appropriate choice.

Compere:
All right, well we'll leave it all with you and thank you for bringing us up to date on the latest developments with the legislation. Thank you.

Dr Kemp:
Not at all, Tony.

Compere:

Dr David Kemp, Federal Environment Minister responding to Reba Maher's appearance on the program on Friday. She has in fact written to Dr Kemp seeking the latest timetable for the introduction of a national labelling regime. It sounds like Dr Kemp will refer her on to her federal counterparts. It's 21 past 9.

**ENDS**

Commonwealth of Australia