Mark Coultan, 23 March 2016

NSW Liberal upper house MP Peter Phelps has resigned as government whip over legislation designed to increase the sale of ethanol, which he says would criminalise service station owners for the decisions of their customers. Dr Phelps crossed the floor to vote against the bill, the first time a government MP has done so in the term of the Coalition government.

The decision costs him his job as government whip, worth an extra $20,000 a year.

He told parliament that people said ethanol producer Manildra chairman Dick Honan was not happy about the current situation, where ethanol sales make up less than 2.4 per cent of the market des­pite a government mandate to reach 6 per cent.

“Since when did Dick Honan’s happiness become the key metric for the Liberal Party of Australia’s NSW division? When did his happiness mean more than a bag of spit?”

In the first public backbench revolt of the Baird government, two other Liberal upper house MPs, including the former minister for fair trading Matthew Mason-Cox, spoke in support of Dr Phelps over their concerns that the legislation was against the core small-business principals of the Liberal Party.

It came after a group of MPs saw the Premier and received assurances that their concerns would be addressed.

When details of that meeting were leaked, the Premier’s office decided to ram the bill through the house.

Dr Phelps said he believed this had been done because the Premier was angry that the contents of the meeting had leaked, “when it hadn’t, as far as I know”.

The bill, which seeks to tighten existing exemptions for small service stations, was passed because the Labor Party supported it.

Dr Phelps read out Liberal Party principles about helping small business and limited government. “It not merely mandates that ethanol must be made available but the component of ethanol sold as a percentage must be met.

“If that is not met, at first ­instance, the individual service station owner will be liable to a $55,000 fine.

“At second and subsequent instances, it can be a $550,000 fine.”

He said that every quarter, if they failed to make the quota, they could write to the minister seeking an exemption.

“Under this bill, you are guilty, until the minister declares you to be innocent.”

Even worse, the minister could impose conditions on that exemption. “The minister could say, I demand that you have half of your browsers selling nothing but E10,” Dr Phelps said.

He said that theoretically the minister could demand that E10 be sold at 5c or 10c less than regular unleaded, even if it were not ­economical.

Dr Phelps said ethanol producer Manildra, one of Australia’s largest political donors, had an ­effective monopoly.

Manildra had federal and state legislated concessions of $138m per annum, even at the current low sales of ethanol, or $436,000 per job at the ethanol plant.

Dr Phelps said the government could buy the plant, shut it down and pay each worker $100,000 a year, and still be better off.

Extracted in full from The Australian.