Senate debates

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2013; Second Reading

6:20 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Removing this tax will restore confidence in our mining sector. It will allow our resources companies to get on with their business instead of having to spend time complying with paperwork requirements for a tax that does not raise revenue.

The mining sector is very, very important to the Western Australian economy and to the national economy as a whole. Almost 250,000 people were directly employed in the minerals industry in 2013, an increase of 40 per cent in the previous three years alone. Of these workers, 95 per cent are full-time employees. The average full-time salary for workers in the mining sector is close to $130,000 a year. If you extrapolate that out, that is approximately $10 billion in personal income tax that the mining companies generated through the wages of their employees. Yet the former Labor government thought it was a good idea to depress employment growth in the sector by hitting it with another new tax. It does beggar belief.

The sector contributes to the Australian society in broader ways. In 2011-12, as an example, mining companies in Australia spent $33 billion on community infrastructure and the employment of local contractors in regional areas as well as supporting Indigenous communities in regional areas. Yet, if you listen to the rhetoric of the Labor Party, it always portrays miners as greedy, selfish and unwilling to contribute to society more broadly. It is a cheap and inaccurate caricature, one that I would have hoped we had left behind long ago. Sadly, under former Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard, faux class war was all the rage. I had thought that perhaps with the defeat of the former government and the election of its new leader Labor may have left this sort of rhetoric behind. Alas, many of the comments from Labor members and senators over the last six months have shown this hope to be forlorn.

Of course there is another aspect to this tax, one that is having implications much wider than for just the mining sector. As I outlined earlier, this tax has raised barely one-tenth of the revenue it was projected to bring in. It has brought in around $400 million in total. Yet, seemingly undeterred by reality, the former Labor government locked in $16.7 billion in expenditure, all supposed to be funded through its flawed mining tax. There were no shortage of self-serving and cynical actions undertaken by the former Labor government, but this one has to rank near the top of a long list. Who is hurt by this craven and cynical approach to public policymaking? It is those local communities, many of them smaller regional communities, who were promised the earth by the former Labor government and who now find that the money they were promised for the completion of local infrastructure projects or other activities does not exist. It never existed.

Labor ministers—and many of them remain in this parliament and on the opposition frontbench—ran around Australia before the election making a raft of promises in marginal seats, all to be funded by revenue raised by a mining tax they knew was flawed and was not bringing in anything like the revenue that had originally been forecast. That level of cynicism is still breathtaking to many of us. I can think of several instances in my own state of Western Australia where local communities in the Great Southern region were told by the then Labor government that key local projects would be funded through the Regional Development Australia Fund and the Regional Infrastructure Fund. The ministers knew there was no money in the funds; it was all supposed to be funded by a mining tax that was not raising revenue. Yet they kept making promises and misleading regional communities in an attempt to buy votes. It just goes to show how little respect the Labor Party has for regional communities around Australia, but particularly in my home state of Western Australia, that they would mislead people in this way.

Worse still, now that the coalition is in government and has to try to sort out Labor's mess, the very same Labor Party is trying to prevent it by opposing these bills and continuing to support a mining tax that everyone agrees does not work. We are hearing from the Labor Party the same tired class rhetoric about big miners and millionaires.

I think one of the more eloquent criticisms, even if it was merely an implicit one, of Labor resorting to class warfare during the Rudd and Gillard era came from within the Labor Party itself. The former Minister for Resources and Energy and now former member for Batman, Mr Martin Ferguson, was forced to resign from the ministry last year during one of Labor's regular leadership stoushes. Subsequent to that, Mr Ferguson announced on 29 May last year that he would be leaving the parliament. During his final speech in the House of Representatives on that day, he said this:

When I look back on my career, firstly at the Miscellaneous Workers Union, then as ACTU president and finally as a member of parliament, my main motivation has been to get Australians into decent, well-paying jobs. This is what the Labor Party means to me: helping those less fortunate in life by providing new jobs and opportunities to achieve a better quality of life. Creating opportunities by working with business is not the same thing as pointless class rhetoric. In essence, we need to grow the pie to share it.

That is valuable advice that Labor should heed.

By refusing to support this legislation and continuing to support the mining tax, the Labor Party is essentially thumbing its nose at the people of Australia, who with their votes on 7 September expressed their strong support for the coalition's clear and longstanding commitment to scrapping the mining tax.

Last week, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, was in my home state of Western Australia. He was there to try and win support for the upcoming Senate election. During his visit, he gave an interview to Sky News's David Speers. It was one of the most excruciating public performances many of us would have ever seen. It is worth watching again. It is important to watch again for what he does not actually say.

The leader of the Labor Party, Mr Shorten, was recently in Western Australia. Five times, David Speers asked the Leader of the Opposition whether he and his party still support the mining tax. Five times Mr Shorten replied with waffling, equivocation and stonewalling. He refused to admit what we all know is true: Labor still want this mining tax, but are desperate to avoid saying so before 5 April.

However, in my last remaining minutes I do have to applaud one federal Labor MP from Western Australia. Her candour—wrong-headed as it might be on this policy issue—at least provides a welcome contrast with the tricky, dishonest approach of Labor's current leader. I am speaking of the newly-minted shadow parliamentary secretary for Western Australia, the member for Perth, Alannah MacTiernan.

When she was appointed to her new position with great fanfare by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten said that Ms MacTiernan's appointment would:

… make WA's voice inside Labor even stronger.

Sadly for the people of Western Australia, it was clear within 24 hours that this strong new voice was singing from a very old hymn sheet. Far from heeding the lessons of last September or using her new responsibilities to actually stand up for the people of WA, Ms MacTiernan immediately declared her strong support for Labor's flawed mining tax. She said that it was sound and that there were strong arguments in favour of keeping this failed tax. I am not sure where Ms MacTiernan and the Labor Party have been hearing these strong arguments that support their tax—perhaps it was from their allies in the Australian Greens movement—but I sincerely doubt that they have emanated from my home state of Western Australia.

This legislation to abolish Labor's disastrous mining tax is a core element of the coalition's plan to restore confidence not just in the mining sector but also across the Australian economy more broadly. It shows that Australia, again, has a government that values the contribution that the mining and resources sector makes to the strength and growth of our national economy. It understands that the best thing that government can do is to get out of their way and allow them to get on with the job. This legislation will help to close the book on the long, drawn-out saga of the Rudd-Gillard leadership wrangle; the incompetence that underpinned the six years of the Labor government; and the anti WA policy agenda that Labor and their Greens allies have long pursued.


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