House debates

Monday, 27 May 2013


Tax Laws Amendment (Disclosure of MRRT Information) Bill 2013; Second Reading

8:11 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

It was a very valiant effort from the member for Casey to go almost 10 minutes on what is a very, very narrow private member's bill. What he was not able to do was to mask exactly what this private member's bill is all about. It is not about disclosure. The member for Casey and the member for North Sydney know that this bill is highly unlikely to pass this House and, if it does, is certainly unlikely to have any effect between now and the issuing of the writs for the next election.

What this bill really is about is a continuation of the opposition's obsession with the MRRT—the minerals resource rent tax. It is really a funny thing because we have had a petroleum resource rent tax for many, many years—I think it is 20 years or more—and we have not had much fuss about that. But when the application is to the minerals sector, the attitude of the opposition seems somewhat different; however, I will leave it for those on the other side of the chamber to explain why.

The member for Casey's main complaint, and it follows the theme from the member for North Sydney when he introduced this private member's bill, is that the super profits tax—as I will call it—is not producing enough revenue for the government. That is what this debate has been all about. It is a funny thing because when we introduced the original version of this tax, and after each iteration, the opposition claimed it would destroy the mining industry. They said it was a terrible thing and the whole industry was going to close down because we were going to reap all this additional revenue from the industry. We said, 'No, that's not right because this is a tax designed only to add taxes when super profits are being made in the sector.'

Now, because it is not raising revenue, they are still complaining, saying the tax is a failure and therefore needs to be scrapped. There is no logic in that argument whatsoever. But it goes even deeper than that. When you really think about it, it is not about disclosure. It is not even about the revenue. It is about the principle. This is an ideological debate. The Labor Party believes that when a company is making abnormal profits out of a natural resource owned by the Australian taxpayer then they should make an additional contribution, again, in the same way the petroleum industry has been doing for many, many years. The shadow minister at the table knows this subject very well. We believe that should apply not only to petroleum but also to the mineral sector, including fossil fuels like coal.

But for them this does not seem to fit very well. No doubt, they made a commitment to the coalmining industry very early in the piece that they would 'get rid of this terrible tax'. Of course it is a terrible tax to the mining sector! If I were a coalmining company chief executive, a chairman or a member of the board I would not be arguing for an additional tax on superprofits when commodity prices are high either. I would be opposing it in the same way that the petroleum industry opposed it in the early 1980s. But, to the credit of all the parties at that point in time, there was not a big ideological debate about that concept. People understood the principles underpinning that superprofits tax. But, for some reason, when we applied it to the minerals industry and the coalmining industry it was a different proposition. Could it be because they felt that an election victory was nigh—so close they could smell it—and they decided to make a political point on the subject rather than take a sensible public policy approach? I think the answer to that question is yes, unequivocally.

This is not about disclosure. They understand the commercial-in-confidence issues and the privacy issues. Yes, the tax was bringing in a fairly low level of revenue—certainly much less than anticipated when people expected commodity prices to be in a different place—and when revenues are that low disclosures can lead to an identification of who is paying the tax. Yes, it is all right for Mr Costello to say it has never been used for that purpose, but it could be that it has never presented itself in those circumstances where the disclosure of the full revenue intake would identify individual taxpaying companies. That makes absolute sense to me. But, again, this is not about disclosure; this is about ideology and it is about trying to win an election.

Let me talk to the House about what the minerals resources rent tax means to me and my electorate. We have not had the rivers of gold we hoped would flow from the tax because, as I said, commodity prices have come off. In terms of my electorate in particular, both steaming and coking coal prices have fallen dramatically, to an extent that no-one could have imagined when the tax was first put in place. But it is raising revenue, and in the budget I got some $45 million for an overpass or, potentially, a bypass of a level railway crossing in the township of Scone in my electorate. How ridiculous is it that in the 21st century we have a main highway through a substantial town blocked off by coal wagons for up to eight minutes at a time? Think of all the implications that has for traffic flows and emergency services if there were to be an accident on one side or other of that railway line. So we are going to either put an overpass over that level railway crossing or go around that level railway crossing. The money was in the budget, and it might not have been if it were not for the MRRT. That is one example of what it means to my electorate.

The Hunter electorate and the Hunter Valley generally welcomes the coalmining industry. It has brought enormous wealth to the valley. It has given people incomes they could only have dreamt about if not for the mining industry. It has been good for our skills development; it has given hundreds of kids apprenticeships they would not have secured if the industry had not existed. We welcome it. I am happy to say that I love it. I am happy to stand here and say that. But it does bring problems: it brings road congestion; it brings air and water quality issues; it makes it harder to get a kid into the childcare centre; it makes it harder to find a house to live in—either to own or to rent; it brings all sorts of capacity constraints. And because of the policies of successive New South Wales governments—that is, of all stripes—we have not enjoyed the return of coal royalties to the region that we should have to deal with some of those capacity constraints. This is partly what the minerals resource rent tax is all about: making sure that more of the benefits of the coalmining industry are returned to the region from which they came and which suffers some of these adverse impacts as a result of being the source of that coal product.

Of course, it is not just about the infrastructure fund that flowed from the tax; it is also about increasing superannuation for 3.6 million low-paid Australians. This is something the opposition has confirmed it will get rid of—they did so in the opposition leader's response to the budget. It is also about tax concessions for small business, something I would have thought those sitting opposite would have supported. There are also larger immediate write-offs for the small business sector; a sector that is so important to our local and regional economies.

It is so transparent that this bill is not about more fulsome disclosures, or about who is paying the tax and when. What do they want? I am not sure I got it. They want us to report every month what has come in from the minerals resource rent tax, as if we run in here every month and report in such detail what has come from the fringe benefits tax or the capital gains tax, or even from the income tax or company tax, for that matter. It is a silly proposition. It has not happened in the past and it should not be happening now. They know it is not going to happen. They know this is a stunt. What this is really about is ideology, and making sure that the donations keep coming into the coffers. They are signing up to the mining companies: 'We'll fix it for you, fellas! Don't worry about that. And we'll keep it alive and well in the parliament between now and the next election with some silly private member's bill just to keep it bumping along in the newspapers.' They have been exposed. It is so transparent and it is so obvious.

I am happy to stand on this side. I am happy to be part of a show that has its eye on superprofits, particularly when they come from natural resources such as coal and minerals. I am proud to stand here against the mob on the other side who take an ideological approach and who are just playing politics with a very important subject.


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