The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

29 May 2008

Interview with
Karl Stefanovic

Today Show
Channel Nine

29 May 2008

SUBJECT: FuelWatch

STEFANOVIC:

Good morning to you, Treasurer.

TREASURER:

Good morning, Karl. Good to be with you.

STEFANOVIC:

Thank you for being with us. So, you ignored warnings about higher prices from your own departments.  Is that because you went with the opinion you wanted to hear?

TREASURER:

No, we went with the opinion of the ACCC, the consumer watchdog.  It’s the expert in the area.  Its advice was very clear, that FuelWatch will deliver the best deal to motorists. I mean, your viewers out there this morning know what it's like at the moment.  All the power is in the hands of the oil companies and none is in the hands of the motorists.  What FuelWatch will do will be to give that information to the motorists and those who want to get the best deal will be able to drive there and get it under this scheme. That's why we introduced it.

STEFANOVIC:

What are you saying about your own departments then?  All four departments, how could they get something in relation to this that is so important so wrong?

TREASURER:

Because we took the advice of the ACCC, which is the principal adviser in this area. But it's not unusual for there to be conflicting advice from departments.  Indeed, it's not unusual that ministers will hold different views.  We went through a rigorous analysis of the pros and cons of this scheme, and other alternatives.  For 11 or 12 years, the previous government sat on its hands and did nothing.  We are determined to put in place a scheme which will deliver a better deal to motorists – and FuelWatch has a very good track record – and it passed all the analysis of the ACCC.

STEFANOVIC:

All four departments - you mentioned a difference of opinion – all four departments are of the same opinion, weren't they, that this would not be good?

TREASURER:

Well, they have varying opinions, but there were more opinions in the room than just the opinions of the departments.  There are the opinions of ministers, and it is our job to take decisions in the national interest.  We were quite impressed with the evidence presented by Mr Samuel from the ACCC.  He is the expert in the area.  But we are also impressed by what we've seen happen in Western Australia over a period of time, and there are plenty of consumers in that State who swear by FuelWatch.  So, we think it's worth a go.  The analysis indicates that it will produce a far better deal for motorists and we are determined to proceed with it because we did give a commitment to the Australian people during the election campaign that we would do our best to get a better deal at the petrol bowser.

STEFANOVIC:

You say that these departments had varying opinions.  I'm struggling to see it.  Resources and Energy Department says, according to that leaked document, it will reduce competition, increase costs and there is more potential for higher prices.  The Finance Department says there’ll be higher prices because of a de facto price floor.  The Industry Department says there is a capacity to increase price coordination among retailers.  How is that varied opinion?  All four seem to be of the same opinion?

TREASURER:

Because they don't stack up against the report from the ACCC, which is the expert in the area. But we have these debates all the time in the Cabinet.  It is not unusual for there to be what are called coordination comments.  But the substantive piece of work in this area was not done by all of those departments, it was done by the ACCC.

STEFANOVIC:

Alright.  

TREASURER:

The expert in the area.

STEFANOVIC:

The ACCC, as you say, is the expert in the field, but the ACCC has not created an environment where we are looking at less petrol prices or reduced petrol prices.  It has done nothing to reduce the price of goods in our supermarkets.  It’s a toothless tiger. You’re taking its word over your own departments.

TREASURER:

I don't think that's true at all.  The ACCC's job is to ensure that the environment is competitive in all of those markets, and at the moment it is having a good, hard look at the grocery market.  But it's had a good, hard look at the petrol market.  In a report which was commissioned actually by the previous government, but they did nothing with it. There is a very substantive report and the outcome of that report is FuelWatch, which we are determined to introduce in the interests of motorists, and apparently it will now be opposed by the Federal Opposition.  So the country can now have a debate about this very, very important issue.

STEFANOVIC:

Okay.  A guarantee from you, if you don't mind this morning, FuelWatch will categorically lead to lower fuel prices?

TREASURER:

I can't give that guarantee.  That's a silly a silly guarantee.  The guarantee I can give is that we will do our utmost through FuelWatch to get the best deal for motorists and to make sure they're not ripped off.

STEFANOVIC:

Alright.  Cabinet appears to be leaking like a sieve at the moment, Treasurer.  The Prime Minister, has he lost control of the Cabinet?

TREASURER:

Not at all. These things happen in government from time to time.

STEFANOVIC:

This is embarrassing, though?

TREASURER:

It certainly is, but these things happen from time to time.  The Cabinet process is important. When leaks like this happen, they should be investigated.  The law has been broken and it will be investigated.

STEFANOVIC:

Alright.  One final question for you.  The PM has also admitted that FuelWatch is no silver bullet.  Do you rule out today cutting the tax on fuel?

TREASURER:

We're not contemplating any action in that area.  The policy put forward by the Coalition is completely unfunded.  We've brought down a Budget which will give substantial relief to families and to seniors and that is the best way to ease the financial pressure on families at the moment.

STEFANOVIC:

So, you are ruling it out then this morning?

TREASURER:

What we have done it bring down a Budget which will give substantial financial relief to motorists and to families and to seniors.  That's the best way, Karl, to deliver that relief in this environment.

STEFANOVIC:

Can I just get a yes or no?  Are you ruling it out?

TREASURER:

I'm not ruling anything in or out, Karl.  What we’ve done is bring down a Budget and that Budget provides very substantial relief to families out there and to seniors with the cost of living which is also impacted upon by petrol prices.

STEFANOVIC:

Treasurer, good to talk to you again.  Thanks for your time, as always.

TREASURER:

Good to talk to you.