Monday, 19 March 2012
Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011, Minerals Resource Rent Tax (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2011, Minerals Resource Rent Tax (Imposition — General) Bill 2011, Minerals Resource Rent Tax (Imposition — Customs) Bill 2011, Minerals Resource Rent Tax (Imposition — Excise) Bill 2011, Petroleum Resource Rent Tax Assessment Amendment Bill 2011, Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (Imposition — General) Bill 2011, Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (Imposition — Customs) Bill 2011, Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (Imposition — Excise) Bill 2011, Tax Laws Amendment (Stronger, Fairer, Simpler and Other Measures) Bill 2011, Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Amendment Bill 2011; Second Reading
I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011 and related bills. Usually in this place we look at most legislation and we pass a standard rule over it—is this going to strengthen and grow industry, create jobs, increase our reputation as a country with low sovereign risk and perhaps tax Australians equitably and then invest back in things that improve our nation's society or our economy? Those are the principal elements of motivation in these matters. Sadly, I have to say that I am not sure that is the case with this particular piece of legislation, so let us have a look at what has actually motivated this tax.
We have to look no further than the history of the government's handling of the economy. It inherited $40 billion and managed to convert that fairly swiftly into $130 billion in debt. This government managed to take a perfectly good economy and scrap it. It has had a pretty good turnaround—a $170 billion turnaround in the economy's fortunes.
In a heartbeat. The government has increased spending to record levels—that is one thing I must commend this government on. It has done a fantastic job of spending money hand over fist. In fact, it provides the money so swiftly it seems like some things are done in too much haste. Spending money is such an activity that we have forgotten the actual outcome we are trying to provide.
Senator Polley interjecting—
I know there was a little murmuring from the other side that perhaps that was just a little bit of spin from Nasty Nige, but I promise you it was not. I will just give you some examples of the waste and mismanagement in terms of blow-outs. For those on the other side of the chamber, a blow-out generally refers—and the budget is coming up soon, so we should all be very much aware of this—to what you say will be in the budget and what actually happens. There was a border protection blow-out of $1.75 million. For Building the Education Revolution there was a $1.7 billion blow-out, and $8 billion was wasted. I know that the education sector would have loved to have that $8 billion actually spent on their sector. There was $2.4 billion wasted on the pink batts, with $900 cheques going to dead people and people overseas. It was a complete charade. Laptops in schools had a $1.4 billion blow-out. They did not even deliver half the program. Solar homes had an $850 million blow-out. Just as well they cancelled the program. That was a big saving grace. At least we did not blow out any more money. Green Loans had $300 million wasted and broadband had $50 billion wasted. We are a bit worried about that. There is no business plan. I do not know where that is going to end up.
It is this Labor government's completely incompetent management of the economy that is their motive. They need to get back to spending again, so they have to fill up the coffers. So they say: 'I know what we'll do. We'll just go and get a new tax, because that will stick it in the bucket again and we can carry on spending.'
The question also has to be asked: will this measure work? Quite clearly they believe it will. I have to remind those on the other side that from none of my reading—and it is not extensive in history—can I recall a country that has actually taxed itself out of prosperity or taxed itself out of a black hole. There certainly have not been any countries that have particularly built their wealth by adding another tax. It is just another one of 19 new or increased taxes over their period of time. So to those people on the other side bleating about a touch-up: this is what happens when you blow it. You must be responsible for your own incompetence and your own mistakes.
Again there is the bleating from the other side: 'Exactly right.' This government thinks that this new tax will in fact be $11.1 billion. That is $11.1 billion of more Australian tax dollars to spend. Sadly for Australians, the spending associated with this tax is actually going to top $14 billion. You then take into account what these states and territories are going do. The agreement on the MRRT is that the raising of the royalties is an offset from the companies that are being taxed. That, again, is a major hit on the bottom line of this tax. So the tax is, in effect, going to create a $6.3 billion black hole. Even if your motivation is perverted, even if your motivation is sour, you would think that at least they would get that right. But instead of actually creating a fund of money to get us out of the perilous circumstances that this government has got us in, we are actually going to end up in a black hole. So the tax, in effect, is not going to assist the government's budget bottom line.
So what is this tax really going to achieve? I have been reading with some concern some of the reports internationally. The MRRT is clearly seen as an investment risk in Europe. Of course there is sovereign risk. We are very proud to be a country who is recognised internationally as safe. Safety is an important thing. There is security here. We are not at war. We do not have civil actions. It is a pretty good place to invest. Also, there is some consistency here. You would not expect Australia to suddenly run out and tax an industry. With regard to the live cattle trade, as a consequence of this government's abhorrent behaviour Indonesians now see Australia as a sovereign risk. Again, with the MRRT they see this nation as a sovereign risk. Again, with the carbon tax coming into play at the end of this financial year, those people who saw Australia as an investment opportunity of some credibility and security have been proved wrong.
This is a tax that is going to make it very hard for small miners to get their projects off the ground. Iron ore is something that we never associated with the Northern Territory, my own Territory. But it seems there are a number of prospects. We all love having a two-speed economy, particularly if you are in the first speed. You like the fast-speed economy. But it is often difficult to get entry into the economy. A number of young people are saying, 'I'd love to work in the mining industry. It's a terrific ask, but it's difficult to get in.' But the emerging sectors are much more likely to employ people in the exploration stages and the development stages than at any other time. Whilst not a lot of people might see the Northern Territory as a major resource for iron ore, we have out at Hodgson Downs 168.1 million tonnes at 44 per cent; 310 million tonnes at Roper Bar, with an aggregate of some 30 million tonnes at 58.3 per cent—incredible levels; Mount Peaks has 139 million tonnes. It is a place where people have invested and are looking to invest.
There has been some discussion like: 'Look, these are miners, Nige. You've got to understand. They make a lot of money. You've just got to be able to tax them.' The argument that happens around some of the pubs at the moment is, 'Well, aren't they already being taxed?' They say, 'No, no, they hardly pay any company tax, according to the government.' We know that is patently untrue. They pay royalties—they pay those to the states. They pay a company tax to the federal government and now they are going to pay a mining tax. In 2010-11 the mining sector paid $23.4 billion in company tax. They are now going to be asked to pay, with the carbon tax coming in after 1 July, an additional $4 billion. Of course, the MRRT at the end is hardly noticeable. It is an extra $3 billion burden—as if the first two were not a knife in the neck.
The notion the government put forward, that we are between 17 and 21 per cent tax and they can pay a lot more, has been completely swept aside by Deloitte Access Economics. When we look very carefully at the total tax—that is, royalties and company tax—the stable average between 2007 and 2010, so there are no spikes in there, is 41.5 per cent. It is not all the rubbish we hear about 21 per cent. It is 41.5 per cent tax. They say: 'No, no, that's obviously not enough. We're going to have to slug you a little bit more.'
Because people get a little confused around company tax, I will give you a couple of comparisons with some of the other sectors. In agriculture they pay $309 in company tax. In retail, a big sector, they pay $2 billion in company tax. The retail sector makes a huge contribution to all of us as taxpayers and we need to acknowledge that. The future of those in manufacturing is under a bit of a cloud now with this carbon tax coming in but currently they pay a $4.3 billion contribution. But the mining industry eclipses that. It pays $13.4 billion worth of company tax every year.
So there certainly seems to have been a fair bit of politics and spin and certainly we understand that the Labor Party is all about politics and spin and not about policy and delivery. We on this side cannot wait to get a crack at ensuring Australia is characterised by a government that delivers policy and outcomes, not politics and spin. Now that we understand the facts of the matter, the federal government claimed that the mining sector pays between 13 and 17 per cent corporate tax.
They have not only been contradicted by the information I have provided to you but also by official data from the Australian Taxation Office. Analysis of the Australian Taxation Office statistics 2007-08 shows that the average corporate tax rate by the mining sector is 27.81 per cent. When mining company royalty payments are added, the effective tax rate in the mining sector increases to 41.3 per cent. It has gone up slightly since then. The Labor Party has relied on a graduate research paper from South Carolina. Instead of relying on that because it suited the process at the time, you could have at least obtained—free-of-charge from your very own taxation office—accurate data.
The other thing that concerns many of us in the opposition and many Australians is: what is the real story, the modelling? We get, 'Look, some of the modelling's been done,' and 'Don't you trust Treasury?' and blah, blah. We want to know the real story. We are going to be voting on this later today. Just release the modelling. Release all the modelling. That has not been done.
When you have modelling you have to look at assumptions that the modellings are based on. Everybody understands that. It would have been very important to have a look at those assumptions—things like commodity price assumptions or production volume assumptions—but apparently it is all too hard for this government. They say, 'You can't expect us to come up with that.' Queensland and Western Australia publish those numbers every year and they are just a couple of gobbly little states. We are the Commonwealth. We are the power. We have all these resources of government.
I am quite sure that those perfectly good public servants who quite clearly have been instructed to say nothing would love to come out with the numbers, would love to come out with those assumptions and would love to come out with the complete modelling but, sadly, this government just simply has not allowed them to. It has not allowed the Australian public to benefit from those numbers and make its mind up for itself. Most of the people I speak to have said they are very distressed that they cannot have some more clarity around this. I hope they understand that it is simply because the government does not want to reveal the real story.
The other motive behind this is to pay it back. We have established that it is not going to make any money from our bottom line. It is going to cost more to create than it actually makes. But Australians need to remember that the total net revenue over three years is going to be borrowed by this government in three months. The notion that this is suddenly the great repairer—something that will stop this nasty budget, this embarrassing budgetary situation we have got ourselves into—is a complete furphy.
The story is that this will fund superannuation across the board. We stand up and say, 'We don't think this MRRT is a particularly good thing,' and those on the other side say, 'What about your employees? What about all those people who are going to get an increase in the super benefits? It's going to fund those things.' What a pack of garbage. This is about self-interest. This will only fund the Commonwealth's obligations to fund its public servants as part of a raise between nine and 12 per cent. How duplicitous does it have to get that you would try to persuade the Australian people that this is somehow trying to help out?
If that is not bad enough, they start bagging on about the fact that everyone is going to get a one per cent tax cut at a company rate and they are going to accelerate it for small business. As usual, with this mob, you have to read the fine print. The fine print is: 70 per cent of small businesses are not eligible. Terribly sorry. The fine print says you have to be incorporated. I am really not sure why they in government are not being fair dinkum, upfront and completely honest with us, because this is a significant change.
I do not know what the government are going to do next but this is an enormous tax. We are having two big taxes. The way they are going—the way they are spending—I cannot see the need for another tax any time soon; it is simply a notion over the horizon. It is tax time: we have had 19. There are bound to be more because they are not going to change their behaviour about how they spend, any time soon.
We wonder about the motivation of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011. It is certainly not motivated by our national interest. Probably that is not entirely correct; they are probably motivated by saying, 'We now need to save Australia from the Labor Party, so we now need to find more money to save Australia from the Labor Party.' Of course, it is the same affliction. It is like the leaders: 'I know! This is a disaster; we'll change leaders.' Look, mate, you are still driving a Volvo. You have fundamental problems with the motor vehicle. Changing leaders and mucking about with the edges is not going to change a thing. The only time that this country has to look forward to is the time when you are removed from the treasury bench. The refilling of Labor's coffers, of course, will not work because the planned $11.1 billion income is turning into a $6.3 billion black hole.
The fact is that this stabs at the heart of our sovereign integrity. Who would know what damage that would do, because it has never really been done before? Everybody trusts Australia. It is a secure place. It is a good place to do business, with fair dinkum, honest people. Now, suddenly, we will not know what the damage is because it is only recently that we have thrust a dagger in the heart of our own integrity with issues like the live cattle trade and indeed the two monster taxes that are coming up.
It places a risk on small prospectors, those who need the most help, those who are most vulnerable. They are putting out prospectuses and they say, 'In this prospectus, this is what's happening; it's all exciting,' and all those things. People say, 'I'd love to invest in that company.' And people do not invest for philanthropic reasons; people invest because they want to make money. They say, 'Yes, but perhaps I can invest somewhere else where it's safer and we're not going to have this enormous tax.'
This is a dreadful tax that is motivated by all the wrong reasons. It is not going to provide the bucket of funds that they believe it will provide. It is going to destroy our sovereign risk assessment. It is going to put at risk small prospectors. It is going to put at risk people who have made a huge investment. And it will do very little else. So this dreadful tax, on any assessment, fails the national interest test and should not be supported, not by this side. But there is a chance for those on the other side not to support it either. In just a few short moments: I know the Greens are bringing amendments to this place that say, 'This extremely bad industry-damaging tax is not hurting enough industries and it's not creating enough funds.' I understand—without verballing you, Senator Brown—that they are not hypothecated funds, so they will still be subject to the idiocy of those opposite. I will not be supporting this legislation and I commend all others to ignore it as I will.
There goes Senator Scullion with his proportion of the $70 billion black hole which the opposition has created and which would translate into a stripping of funding for dental health care, health in general, education and a whole range of public interests if the coalition were to assume government in the future. The Greens' position on the mining tax, far from that which has just been traduced by the previous speaker, is consistent with that of the Henry tax review and the Treasury advice over some years—that is, the recommended superprofits tax on mining ought to have been adopted by the government. It should certainly, when the government faltered, have been adopted by the Abbott opposition. But, in the failure of both the old parties to get a reasoned, Treasury backed return on the mineral wealth of this country, which flows so rapidly to overseas pockets, it has been left to the Greens in the form of the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, in the House and the nine Greens senators here in this chamber to take up the cause of the public interest.
The notable people for failing to act here are the mining party, the National Party, which tugs its forelock all the time to the mining corporations against the interests of rural and regional Australia and is doing so here again tonight. But let me briefly outline—
Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I ask that you ask Senator Brown to withdraw the previous statement. It was clearly a falsification and the senator was referring to circumstances that are indeed untrue.
Yes, absolutely no point of order; you are absolutely right. Senator Nash's memory is so short that she cannot remember the confession by her leader, Senator Joyce, in here that he had been nobbled overnight by Mitch Hooke, the doyen of the Minerals Council of Australia. He changed his mind on a previous matter to do with rural interests and the investigation of coal seam gas or coal mining in the Namoi Valley overnight, at the Minerals Council's request, and defeated a motion by the Greens in here to go to the aid of those very people. Right under the thumb of the minerals industry council are the National Party, once the representatives of the rural interests in this country, who are now so ably represented by the Greens instead. The Greens would restore the mining tax to very close to that recommended in the Henry report. But we believe that, at an absolute minimum, goldminers, who are garnering windfall profits from an unanticipated near-record price for gold, and uranium miners should be brought under the MRRT along with the coal and iron ore miners. That would bring, over the coming decades, hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, from these largely foreign owned corporations digging up the once-only resources of gold and uranium—and you can add rare earths to that—in this country so that Australians can have proper funding of their needs in the future. That is undeniably what countries such as Norway and Saudi Arabia are doing. But it is not the case here, simply because the Labor Party and, to a greater degree, the coalition are suborned—they are totally influenced, against the public interest—by the power of the big mining corporations.
We do not believe the federal government can provide a blank cheque whereby, when state governments raise royalties, the federal government refunds the companies. We have an amendment on this, and the coalition, which includes the 'National Mining Party', ought to be supporting this. Where royalties are raised by the states, that is a matter for the state; the Commonwealth ought not to intervene in any way. But the proposal in this legislation—and I think we will find that the Liberal and National parties will support it—is that the Australian taxpayer, rather than have their money go to the $5 billion a year that the Gonski report found needs to go into education, will effectively have that money taken from them by the big parties voting later tonight in this place. Instead that money will be given back to Xstrata, BHP, Rio Tinto and the other big mining corporations as a reward for the increase in royalties by the states. And then, in some fashion which is yet to be properly delineated, the Treasurer, Mr Swan; the Prime Minister, Ms Gillard; and cabinet believe they can get that money back from the states.
We have the National Party and the Liberal Party saying they are going to endorse a Labor mechanism in this place to have this money taken out of revenue which would otherwise flow from the Commonwealth to the states. Isn't that extraordinary! The so-called defenders of states' rights in this issue are not in the National Party, they are not in the Liberal Party and they are certainly not in the Labor Party; they are here on the crossbench in the form of the Greens. The Greens do not believe that the states' taxation arrangements should effectively be overwritten in this fashion by this legislation.
The nervous giggle from the coalition members opposite shows exactly how they feel about the failure of their time honoured support of the states in what they are doing here tonight. And it is not a small matter. The Greens are proposing that future increases in mining royalties by the states are a matter for them and that there should be no reimbursement to the mining corporations. There is no sanity or logic in what the National Party and the Liberals are doing in supporting the Labor Party in that arrangement. It will ultimately see a stoush with the states, and one could predict that it may very well end up in the High Court. And what happens if the states prevail? It will mean a further cut in the manner of the Labor Party cuts—supported by the National Party and Liberal Party—to the provision of services to the people of Australia as the states raise their taxes and at the same time the Commonwealth reimburses those taxes to the big corporations. Who wins in this arrangement no matter which way you go? It is the big mining corporations, which have got these old parties will within their keep.
The Greens do not believe the big banks and the mining companies need their tax cut from 30c in the dollar to 29c and instead propose that more benefits be considered for small businesses. We are not going to be dealing with this tax reduction now. But we know it is part of the package, because the Greens got that out of the government last week, and it will be dealt with in the budget session. Let me tell the chamber, as I have said outside this place, that the Greens party room has determined that we will not support a further win for the big mining corporations and a big windfall for the big banks, with their record profits and their massive payouts to the CEOs, at the expense of the Australian taxpayer. That is what it is. However, when it comes to small business—which is being hit hard by the mining boom, the high Australian dollar and high interest rates—we do see the need for some relief.
I note that there has been a lot of howling about this matter—that is, having a two-tiered tax system—not just on the opposition benches but even from the government. In its own proposals before the chamber tonight, the government has a two-tiered system in play for the coming year. When the matter is dealt with in May, the tax deduction will apply as of 1 July for small business, but for big business it will not apply until a year later. Many other countries, such as France, have a two-tiered system. Indeed, in the United States the corporate tax rate is somewhere close to 40c in the dollar, but for small business it is more like 20c in the dollar. We hear that sort of nonsense coming from opinion leader in today's Sydney Morning Herald. Phillip Coorey never spoke to me about this matter—but then why would he? He would not write a column that is fair to the Greens if his life depended on it. Early in his piece he said:
About a year ago, Bob Brown gave up the Greens' bargaining position by declaring that although the renegotiated mining tax was a stinker, it was better than what the Coalition would do—nothing—and therefore should be passed.
Readers of the Sydney Morning Herald may be interested to know that no, I did not do that a year ago. I made it clear in the run-up to the last election. I made it very clear to the Australian people when I was interviewed by Fran Kelly on ABC radio and, in a subsequent interview, in the run-up to that election that that would be our position. But apparently this dill from the Sydney Morning Herald was not listening to that particular part of the election campaign or, if he was, his memory has failed because he has a blackout when it comes to properly reporting on the Greens. A little bit further and he says:
Fair enough, but by imposing a cut-off of $2 million or $5 million—
the Greens are proposing that the government look at lifting the definition of 'small business' to an annual take of $5 million—
… they will create an unworkable, two-tiered corporate tax system open to rorting.
Mr Coorey should have a look at what goes on in the rest of the world. Why does he not comment on the fact that Labor is, through these proposals, bringing in a two-tiered system over the next year? If it is not unworkable and open to rorting under Labor then why is it unworkable for the Greens? I believe this opinion piece is simply a matter of what in good old-fashioned parlance is called 'biased political reporting'. At the end of his piece Phillip Coorey says:
This constant complaining about the mining tax while being in a position of power to exert influence has hung a lantern over where the Greens sit at the moment. They have chosen protest instead of action.
As I said, this partisan reporter nowhere says how he would engineer what he predicts would be the outcome of the Greens taking a different position—and that would be the failure of Labor's mining tax to the great advantage of the Abbott opposition. What I suggest to Phillip Coorey is that, first, he has a look at the journalist code of ethics which says that you should give a balanced view—it is not news, I know; it is an opinion piece, but he is a news writer—and, second, maybe speak to the people involved rather than making quite incorrect opinion pieces like that.
The Greens believe much of the windfall gains from the mining boom should be available after the resources are exhausted, as a means of sharing the benefits with future generations. Recently, I saw a piece by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, who well understands the term 'intergenerational equity', a term that goes back decades. But his coalition is not going to support this Greens move for a substantial proportion of the proceeds of this tax to go into a sovereign wealth fund; nor will the Labor Party support it. One of the reasons is that this tax is so wanting. I might add, in reference to funding and the $70 billion black hole, that rather than fund the $5 billion recommended injection into our education system which is going to help of the whole of the economy in the future, the proposal by the honourable Leader of the Opposition and the people opposite is to rip $2.8 billion out of education. That is part of the $70 billion black hole.
I am indebted, tonight, for the assistance given to me by Mr John Hawkins, an economist giving good advice to the Greens. When it comes to trying to understand why we should not have a sovereign wealth fund in this country you hear complete silence from both sides. Mr Hawkins effectively came up with the figure for the coalition's black hole as $70 billion last year. I said: 'John, that can't be true. Please have a look because I can't go out to the public and say that.' The very same week the shadow Treasurer, Mr Hockey, had to agree that from the coalition's own papers they did have a $70 billion black hole. I had to, effectively, apologise to our very easygoing but superbly skilled economic adviser and say, 'You were right all the time.'
The Greens believe the increase in the compulsory superannuation guarantee from nine per cent to 12 per cent should be accompanied by reform of the superannuation tax concessions to make them more equitable, such as by replacing the flat 15 per cent tax on superannuation contributions with their being taxed at the individual's marginal rate less a fixed amount such as 15 percentage points. We are keen to see that the superannuation system is made more equitable in the country of a fair go, so that it does not continue to be weighted in favour of the superwealthy against the interests of the rest of the community.
I have put forward a proposal for an amendment, both in the form of a request to the House and as a direct amendment to go before the Senate, on the matter of extending the tax to gold and to uranium. I note that the Clerk has issued a statement to the chamber saying that that is not in order. Let me point the chamber to Odgers' Australian Senate Practice, page 283, which says:
If a bill does not impose taxation, the Senate may amend it, and if a bill does impose taxation the Senate may seek amendments by way of requests.
We are dealing with two bills here. One is the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill and the other is the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (Imposition—General) Bill 2011. It is our position that if the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill imposes taxation then we can amend it by way of a request as per the Clerk's statement. Alternatively if the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill is not a bill imposing taxation, as argued by Clerk, then we can argue that the amendments can be moved as amendments. The MRRT Bill identifies the minerals the tax applies to but is not a bill imposing taxation. The tax is imposed by the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (Imposition—General) Bill 2011 and two other imposition bills, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (Imposition—Excise) bill and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (Imposition—Customs) bills. Therefore identifying three other minerals for the tax to apply to cannot be an imposition of a tax if the original naming of iron ore and coal is not an imposition of a tax. Moreover, the imposition bills do not mention iron ore and coal.
What I want to say here is that the Clerk is there to give us—Senator Ludlam in this case—fair and accurate advice and an alternative when the intent is clear. She has not done that. Instead she, in a Clerk strike in this Senate, refused to allow the promulgation of the wish of senators to have these motions adequately serviced before this Senate, and I object. That is not the proper servicing of senators in this place. When we make a request, sure, that comes with advice, but if there are alternatives then that advice should be fairly given to the senators involved. I might add that she ought to have a look at Senate procedures page 6465 in 1999 where the chairman said this: 'There are three government requests to a bill—GST. The first appears to impose a tax where it was not imposed before and so falls within the first paragraph of section 53 of the Constitution.' That one will be treated as a request. We sought for it to be treated as a request in this exact same case and were told that it could not be done. I seek better advice in the future.
What a remarkable 20 minutes. I find it quite extraordinary—and Senator Brown will slink out of here now—that a leader of a political party can come into this place and actually—
I am sure if there was a rock about you would find some way of slipping under it. I have heard some remarkable contributions. You come in here, Senator Brown—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President—and accuse the Clerk of being biased. Did you ring the Clerk before you came in and say, 'I'm going to accuse you of being biased tonight'? Did you have the intestinal fortitude to do that, Senator Brown? No, you did not. You are a gutless piece of work. You are attacking the person that we have put in here to protect ourselves and you have not even—
Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: the standing orders require that remarks be made through the chair and that there are not reflections of the kind that Senator Ronaldson is making on other senators. I would ask that you draw to Senator Ronaldson's attention a requirement to speak through the chair and not to adversely reflect on other senators.
I think I had referred my remarks through you but I will continue to do so and perhaps repeat what I said through you, Madam Acting Deputy President. What a despicable performance we have seen from Senator Brown tonight who has called the Clerk of the Senate biased. That is what Senator Brown has done tonight. I would have thought—
Senator Bushby interjecting—
It should be referred to the President; you are right, Senator Bushby. In fact, I will ask you to refer that to the President, Madam Acting Deputy President. But I will go on. It is remarkable to me that Senator Brown did not even have the guts to give the Clerk notice that he would be making these outrageous comments tonight. I think the comments themselves are despicable. Now he has slinked out. The fact that he has not even given the Clerk the opportunity to be here and hear those comments, I think, is lower than low. He has gone and he will not return, and I cannot believe that the deputy leader of the Greens, Senator Milne, is prepared to accept that what her boss has just done is appropriate. She has got her head buried down as she would because she is embarrassed. Senator Ludlam is embarrassed, and every one of the Greens on that side is absolutely embarrassed about their behaviour.
Thank you very much. Civility!—after the 20 minutes we have just had. I wonder if Phil Coorey is listening. I wonder whether Mr Coorey is listening to what was said about him. I am sure that was a reflection on him, Senator Milne. I bet Mr Coorey did not get a phone call to say, 'I'm going to make some comments about you in the chamber tonight.' We have had an attack on Mr Coorey and then we had an attack on the Clerk. There was a show on TV I remember when I was a kid called Precious Pupp, and here we have the leader of the Greens as the 'Precious Pupp' of Australian politics. He is the walking glass jaw. When everything else fails, he will attack someone else. What a gutless wonder he is. I hope Mr President, when he has a look at this, will see this as totally—
Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: I refer you to standing order 203, infringement of order, when a senator is persistently guilty of disorderly conduct, uses objectionable words and refuses to withdraw such words. I would ask him to withdraw his words relating to Senator Brown. They are unparliamentary, and I seek that he withdraw them.
I will take that admonishment, Madam Acting Deputy President. I want to refer to some of Senator Brown's other comments tonight. You could never have heard a better case for Senator Brown to vote against this legislation than the speech he just gave. The reason he has put up his amendments is the reason he should vote against this bill if the amendments do not get up. We know the amendments are unconstitutional, we know the referral is unconstitutional, so his amendments will not get up. If Senator Brown was serious about this, if that 20 minutes was not just a rave and a rant that was quite meaningless, he would vote against this bill on the basis of his royalty comments alone. If the uncertainty that Senator Brown is talking about and the impacts of that certainty are left—using his words—to continue, then he will vote against the bill, surely, on the back of that. I do not know who this economics expert is that Senator Brown was referring to. The gentleman may well be—
Okay. I would be very surprised whether anyone who knew anything about economics in this country would be likely to sign up to double taxation. Effectively, that is what will happen to the corporate sector if Senator Brown gets his way—there will be double taxation. There will be royalties and there will not be any offsetting of that as part of this agreement, so there will be double taxation in relation to what is happening to these companies.
Of course they want double taxation. It is a word that has not been used a lot in the last two or three years but tonight's speech was a classic case of why the Australian Greens are called 'watermelons': because they are green on the outside and pink on the inside. It was a most remarkable speech that we heard tonight. I will not take up the invitation of my very good friend on the other side to take that matter further.
Before I go back to the debate on this matter, I just want to remind Senator Brown, who referred to costings and economic responsibility, of what has happened under the Australian Labor Party. The last four budgets have delivered deficits of $167 billion. In one financial year the presumed deficit, on my understanding, went from $12 billion to $23 billion and then was revised out to $37 billion, all in one year—and Senator Brown had the gall to talk about the coalition's economic credentials. I am pleased that my colleague Senator Wong was in the chamber tonight because the document that was referred to by Senator Brown was a document prepared by the Australian Labor Party. If you have a look at the little red book, the new little red book, you will see that there is not one reference to Treasury having looked at these figures—not one reference at all. This is the Labor Party's little red book where they have allegedly made up deficit figures on behalf of the coalition. We just do not fall for that at all. We also know, and Senator Brown should be aware, that if indeed there is a surplus in May, and you cannot imagine there will not be a surplus announced, it will be a complete and utter manufactured surplus. I heard the other day from a university, not in my home state, that money that has been allocated has been brought forward into this year when sods have not been turned and it is doubtful whether there have even been contracts signed. We know it is going to be shonky, we know it will be a trick surplus and we know that in 2013-14 it will be back to business as usual for the Australian Labor Party.
I want to look at some of this money shuffling and spending forward or back out of 2012-13. In fact, Labor is boasting about spending, to the tune of $100 billion, that is either unfunded or hidden off budget. It is a real $100 billion black hole. Leading examples include the hiding of the bulk of the NBN Co. spending from ditches to cable by treating $27 billion as equity injections to the NBN Co. Equity injections! This is just a manufactured surplus. Labor's Clean Energy Finance Corporation costing $2 billion over five years has been taken off budget. Labor is spending $1 billion each year for its Energy Security Fund, except in 2012-13 when spending will be less than $1 million. Since 2009 the Labor Party has been promising more than $30 billion for purchasing submarines, but not one cent has yet been put into the forward estimates. And we know that if the current European carbon price persists we could face a huge revenue loss of between $3 billion and $5 billion a year. So we do not need a lecture from Senator Brown about our economic credentials. He should be directing that to the Australian Labor Party. They are indeed the ones who have failed abysmally in appropriate economic management of this country.
Deary me! I love Senator Brown to death, I do. But clearly, Senator Brown, someone on your side cannot count either because how can you go from a deficit of $12 billion to $23 billion to $37 billion in one year alone? I hope you do not take that little red book of yours down to Tasmania and wave that around.
Senator Carol Brown interjecting—
Senator Polley interjecting—
I want some of what Senator Brown had! Clearly my barbecue lunch was not sufficient to get me as fired up as that, so I'll go back and have another sausage at the whips' barbecue when we leave here. I do want to talk about this ridiculous mining tax. Fundamentally, I think that what was wrong with this legislation from day one was the lack of consultation. Only three companies in Australia have been consulted in relation to this matter—BHP, Rio and Xstrata. They of course are the big beneficiaries of this tax. But what about those smaller miners and those start-ups and those prospectors? Ultimately, they are going to be the ones who will pay a higher effective tax rate as a result of this. Rio, BHP and Xstrata—and I am sure that my super fund will have shares in those companies—are good Australian companies, but this country was not built on the back of two or three big miners. This country was built on the back of people going out and having a go in the middle of nowhere, digging and digging, and you see those remarkable success stories throughout this country's history. It was not done by the big miners. This country has always encouraged small miners, and all we are doing with this bill is discouraging them by making them have a higher effective tax rate than we are the large players.
I cannot believe that not only has there not been any consultation with everyone else bar those three companies, but there has actually also been no consultation with the states or territories all the way through with this matter. There has been no consultation at all. This fundamentally changes the way we tax a sector in this country that has never been taxed like this before. No other sector has been taxed like this and I think that it is highly unlikely that any other sector in the future we will ever get taxed like this. The states are an absolute pivotal partner in mining in this country, as everyone in this chamber knows, and they have not been involved in discussions whatsoever. My understanding is that the Henry recommendations had been for a national resource rent tax to replace state and territory royalties, and some of my colleagues will let me know whether indeed that was what Henry first started out with. But that is certainly nowhere near where it finished. There has still been no consultation at all.
Out of interest, I thought I would read these figures to the chamber. When you look at state and territory governments and the implications of the mining tax for them, the resource royalties represent: 20 per cent of Western Australian state government revenue, nine per cent of Queensland's state government revenue, and six per cent of New South Wales state government revenue. They are quite remarkable revenue figures, and here we have a piece of legislation which will potentially dramatically impact on them—and there has been no consultation. It absolutely beggars belief.
It reminds me a bit of the carbon tax. What was the consultation in relation to the carbon tax? There was, I will acknowledge, significant consultation with the Australian people, and that consultation was, 'There will not be a carbon tax under the government I lead.' So there was consultation in relation to the carbon tax, but the consultation was built on sand. It was a broken promise in relation to something that the Prime Minister went to the election with three days before the last election. It was a solemn, hand-on-heart vow to the Australian people, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.'
The Henry tax review—and I am referring to someone else's words here—was meant to be the root-and-branch reform to deliver a simpler, fairer tax system. But what we have ended up with is a dog's breakfast, something that went from about 161 pages when the government released the first draft, to 287 pages with this legislation. As I said before, there is an unfair competitive advantage given to the big three companies that were actually allowed to design the tax, and a significant unfair and higher tax burden for the smaller mining ventures and start-ups.
I just want to talk about the international competitiveness issue, which my colleague Senator Scullion so eloquently talked about during his address. What we are doing with this mining tax is sending out a very, very, very clear message to the rest of the world that we are not serious about our own prosperity, that we are not serious about having rules in place which will enable people to invest in this country without the rules changing. We have got the carbon tax rules changing because of a lie that was told before the last election. We have got the rules changed in relation to mining tax, and you just wonder what will be next. We run the very grave risk of being the only generation to pass on to our children a lower standard of living than the one we were given by our own parents, and to me that is a horrifying thought.
The other issue is that the revenue from the MRRT is highly volatile and is downward trending. Indeed, if you look from the first year since the mining tax was announced, revenue estimates have jumped around from $12 billion under the RSPT, to $24 billion for the RSPT with revised commodity price assumptions, to $10.5 billion post the Gillard government mining tax deal and commodity prices assumptions, down to $7.4 billion post exchange rates to about $7.7 billion with post further exchange rate changes. Treasury has had a look at these revenue forecasts and they have done them up to 2020. Under FOI it clearly shows that Treasury expects revenue to reduce over time. This is quite a remarkable figure: the cost of the proposed increase in compulsory super to 12 per cent alone is expected to rise to $3.6 billion in 2019-20, which is when it will be fully implemented, and that same year Treasury projections for MRRT revenue is $3 billion. So, on that one measure alone, in 2020 this nation will be $6.6 billion behind without taking into account anything else in this package, any increase at all in the cost of the matters included in this. The government stand utterly condemned for what they have done in this regard.
I want to talk briefly about the constitutional validity of the MRRT. Senator Brown thinks it is appropriate to come in here and accuse the Clerk of being biased. We know his amendment. The Clerk has said that is unconstitutional. Senator Brown, that paragon of virtue, is quite happy to attack someone in the gallery without letting them know and quite happy to attack the Clerk of the Senate without letting the Clerk know. As the Clerk has walked in, I will not make any further comment about that except to say that I repeat my request to the President to look at the comments made by Senator Brown tonight.
I want to finish on this note. Ken Henry confirmed that the government did not at any stage seek advice as to the constitutionality of the MRRT. I find it quite extraordinary that, with a piece of legislation which could well end up in the High Court, there was apparently no endeavour at all— (Time expired)
Tonight I rise to speak on the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011. This is a copybook example of how not to implement a policy. The government did not talk to the states who own the resources before it announced its policy. It did not consult with the mining companies which have the right to mine the resources. It did not consult with the Australian people before it announced its original mining tax.
The tax has so many flaws it directly led to the removal of the sitting Prime Minister as an unprecedented event in our political history, an event from which the Labor Party has yet to recover, since it was that event that led them to the arms of the Greens where they are now terminally wedged, Labor wanting to do the right thing by the workers and the wealth creators of this nation and the Greens wanting to progressively shut down our economy, particularly those parts which rely on exploiting our abundant national resources. Most of those resources are in regional Australia and, therefore, it is no surprise that the vote of the Greens is much lower outside the capital cities.
While the mining tax might be the greatest example of how the Labor Party can stuff up a mining industry, it is not the only example. The Labor government in Queensland has acted with similar haste with coal seam gas. Coal seam gas could be a historic economic opportunity for Queensland, particularly western Queensland, but it must be managed properly and a fair share of the benefits must flow to the regions from which the resources come. The Labor government in Queensland has fundamentally failed to strike this balance. It has sold off mining leases.
Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. That is a good decision. I want to talk about the mining tax and the coal seam gas tax. The Labor government sold off mining leases throughout the state in a desperate attempt to improve the parlous state of their finances. Licences have been sold and projects approved without proper protection for families that have owned and farmed land for generations. At the last minute the Labor government have made concessions and changes. They have extended the time for agreement to be reached and required mining companies to give landholders more support during the negotiation processes. However, it still remains the case in Queensland that the negotiating table is unbalanced in favour of the mining companies. After 50 business days of negotiation, mining companies can enter land, even without an agreement. It is then up to the courts to decide one.
Vast tracts of Queensland's best agricultural land remain under threat of further mining and coal seam gas development. Some areas should be off limits. Some parts of Queensland are so important for our future security that we should not rush into allowing them to be scarred by mining. That is why the National-Liberal opposition has promised the Scenic Rim will be off limits to all mining, including coal seam gas. A Queensland LNP government will also fast-track the planning process to ensure that areas in the Darling Downs and the Golden Triangle are protected as soon as possible.
One of the areas the LNP will protect from all mining is around the state seat of Beaudesert, covering much of the Scenic Rim. The Australian Party state leader, Aidan McLindon, is running in the seat. He and his national leader, the member for Kennedy, have made much of their apparent policy to protect landholders' rights against those of the mining parties. It is important to place on record here that the Australian Party stance on this issue—and Mr Katter's particular stance—is one of distortion and hypocrisy. The Australian Party website, under their coal seam gas policy, states that the party will promote and support property rights legislation that restores negotiating power to landholders. What is left unsaid is that, if they are to do this, they will be seeking to amend the legislation which gave the mining companies more rights—legislation that Mr Katter introduced and argued for in the Queensland parliament. This fact was uncovered last week in the Courier-Mail and the front pages of Queensland Country Life. The first paragraph of the story by Cameron Thomson in Queensland Country Life stated it best, saying:
Bob Katter—the man so bitterly opposed to mining and gas development on private land across Queensland—is the author of the very law he rails against.
I have here a copy of the second reading speech that Mr Katter gave on the minerals resources bill on the 5 October, 1989. I think it is in the public interest that I table this speech because, mysteriously, this speech is not located on the member for Kennedy's website. In that speech the member for Kennedy explained how he had negotiated with the mining industry to allow access to someone's land after simply a phone call. The provisions of the bill relating to prospecting permits had been reworded to allow the mining registrar to advise the land owner by telephone or similar method immediately he issues a prospecting permit and further to clarify that the holder must give notice to the land owner prior to entry.
Now many aspects of this bill were good. It was introduced by the then Russell Cooper government and, in many instances, strengthened the rights of landholders. For example, the bill ensured that landholders received a minimum 10 per cent premium, on top of the amount owed to them as compensation, to reflect the compulsory nature of the acquisition. Those provisions should be commended and, indeed, recommended for introduction in other mining laws. The member for Kennedy certainly commended the bill to the Queensland parliament when he introduced it. It is therefore hypocritical for the member for Kennedy to now violently fulminate against the laws that he introduced. His anger and passion can hardly be believed. The Australian Party's stance on these matters looks more like a political mask of convenience than a genuine, well-thought-through policy position.
The Queensland people should be wary of Mr Katter and the Australian Party taking them for a ride. They have more concern for their votes than they do for their interests. In my political career I have never seen the member for Kennedy solve any problem. He whinges about problems but I have never seen him find a solution. Mr Katter is good at finding problems but he does not provide the solutions.
The member for Kennedy is good at taking down straw men. He constantly talks of imported bananas as if the boats from the Philippines are just off the coast. But there has never been one banana, except for perhaps two or three that came in once on an Air New Zealand flight and they were immediately incinerated. It was not Bob Katter who stopped bananas, it was the Nationals in the Senate.
While other members are fighting tooth and nail for practical road and rail projects and improvements in their electorates, the member for Kennedy spends his time blustering about projects which grab many headlines but never seem to get built, just like the $1 billion CopperString project. His party will be the same. Their members will not be in the party room, they will not be able to fight for their electorates with the Treasurer direct. They will be shouting from the grandstands trying to look relevant to the media. You cannot score a try from the grandstand; you cannot kick a goal from the benches. You have to get involved to make a difference. Those in the Katter party do not want to fight these battles. The Katter party is led, here in Canberra, by someone who introduced the very laws that protect miner's rights and it is led in Queensland by someone who has never shown an interest in mining law until the focus groups told him that he should.
A search of the Queensland Hansard record reveals that the state leader of the Katter party, Mr Aidan McLindon, did not make one mention of coal seam gas in the Queensland parliament before he left the Liberal-National Party to form his own party. His passion on coal seam gas is feigned. It is a suit of political opportunity worn to try and harness enough votes to get him across the line at this election. We should not be surprised by this pattern. Mr McLindon has already left the Liberal Party for the Nationals, then the Nationals for the Liberal-National Party, then the Liberal-National Party for the Queensland Party and then the Queensland Party for the Australian Party. He has been a member of more political parties than he has had years being in the parliament. Perhaps his next venture will be to the Labor Party. Then he will truly be able to join the Billy Hughes club.
The Katter party's position is not genuine and cannot be believed. Today, Bob Katter put out a media release challenging 'Cameron Newman' to a debate on coal seam gas. Just for the Hansard record, I have not mis-spoken. The media release did state 'Cameron Newman' in the title and in the text of the media release. Notwithstanding this embarrassing mistake, this might be the first time in Australia's political history that the leader of a party who is not actually running in an election challenges the leader of a party who is running in that election.
Campbell Newman is running for the seat of Ashgrove. He is asking Queenslanders to vote for him. Bob Katter, the member for Kennedy, is not. He is not running for any seat. No Queenslanders can vote for him on Saturday. Bob should be here this week. The member for Kennedy should be in the other place representing the interests of Kennedy. Instead he is running around Queensland in an attempt to remain relevant. If he wants to serve in the Queensland parliament he should get on the ballot paper.
So instead of being in Canberra today, the member for Kennedy has been making false claims about the LNP's policy on coal seam gas in Queensland. Mr Katter claims that the LNP will not protect the Scenic Rim, and that is simply not true. The LNP and Campbell Newman have clearly stated that they will not allow any mining in the Scenic Rim. The LNP will not allow coal seam gas to be extracted in the Scenic Rim. The member for Kennedy has today also falsely claimed that the LNP will not protect prime agricultural land. Again, not true; the LNP will fast track planning arrangements to ensure that prime agricultural land is protected.
The rights of landholders will only be properly protected through the election of an LNP government in Queensland. The member for Kennedy can continue to promise Queenslanders the electoral equivalent of golf courses on the moon because he knows he cannot deliver.
The Labor Party can never get the balance right. It is always too focused on the wasteful spending that it thinks the mining industry can provide. That is why the Labor Party has fatally over reached with this mining tax. It was predicting rivers of gold and it will now be lucky to get a trickle. The mining tax will go down in history as one of the great policy debacles. The Greens know that it is a debacle as well. They are only agreeing to vote for it to keep the government alive. Time will prove that this tax is a dud. The policy is suited to Labor but it is not in the best interests of Australia's future.
I would like to talk about the mining tax in the 17 seconds I have left. Getting something through this parliament with a Green-Labor-Independent alliance is hardly splitting the atom. It is going to be very interesting to see exactly how much financial trouble this crowd gets us into, considering that this mining tax is actually going to cost us money. It is actually going to send us out the back door.
I would probably want slightly more to show you the deficiencies in the mining tax, but let us go with 15 seconds. Mr Wayne Swan says that the royalties belong to everybody. Well, they do not. Under section—(Time expired)
Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:
That so much of standing order 142 be suspended as would prevent further consideration of the bill without limitation of time.
The mining tax is a bad tax. It is bad for the economy, it is bad for jobs and it is bad for investment in the mining industry. It will hamper Australia's competitive advantage when it comes to attracting investment into Australia and, of course, above all, this is a tax package which is bad for the budget. Only the Labor Party could come up with a multibillion-dollar new tax which actually leaves the budget worse off. This of course brings us to what the whole purpose of this tax is, and that is to try and fill a Labor Party budget black hole.
We have on the other side of the chamber a Minister for Finance and Deregulation who, in the first 12 months that she was in the job, presided over a $25 billion blow-out in the budget deficit. This is a Labor government which spends too much, is full of wasteful spending and is always casting around for yet another tax grab. Before this Labor government has even collected one cent of mining tax revenue it has already committed more in spending than what the tax is going to collect.
Mr President, the Senate needs more time to debate this flawed tax. This is a bad tax which was negotiated in a deeply flawed process. This is a tax that was negotiated quite inappropriately by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer behind closed doors, exclusively and in secret, with the managing directors of the three biggest mining companies. This is not tax reform; this was a political fix after a significant stuff-up by the worst Treasurer that the Commonwealth has ever seen in the history of Federation.
This is a bad tax that needs further scrutiny by the Senate. It is a tax which will not raise the revenue that the government says it will. That is why this government continues to keep the mining tax revenue assumptions secret. This is a tax in which the government has already spent way more on related promises than the tax will raise. That is, of course, why this government is not prepared to give the Senate full information and full details about the cost of all of the related measures.
This is a tax, we have to remember, which started with the Henry tax review process. The Henry tax review process was one that was supposed to deliver, as the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said at the time, a root and branch reform of our tax system to make it simpler and fairer. Instead what we got was something that manifestly makes it more complex and less fair. This was a tax that was supposed to help the smaller and new mining projects—to make the tax system less distorting to make sure that they had a better chance of success, a better chance to grow and a better chance to make a contribution to our economic growth into the future. But, of course, it does the exact opposite.
This is a tax which is not only more complex and less fair; it is a tax that is more distorting than the status quo and which will make it harder for the smaller and newer mining projects to become the success stories of tomorrow. Something that this government does not understand in its high-taxing pursuit is that less government spending and lower taxes actually help us grow the economy more strongly, which will lead to more government revenue without the need to charge more taxes.
This government has gone from stuff-up to stuff-up with this mining tax. The whole mining tax has become a dog's breakfast because the Treasurer, Mr Swan, did not do his homework to start off with. The Treasury secretary Ken Henry said to him: 'You make sure you negotiate with the states; you make sure you've got the states on side. Talk through and negotiate the federal-state financial relations implications of this.' He did none of that. This stuff-up, the dog's breakfast that is the mining tax, is Mr Swan's personal responsibility.
Of course, it was Mr Rudd who lost his job. It was Mr Rudd who got the boot and Mr Swan, who was actually personally to blame for this dog's breakfast that is now in front of us, got a promotion. That is the way things work in the Labor Party these days: the worse you are, the faster you get promoted. The more incompetent you are, the faster you get promoted.
This mining tax package needs and deserves more scrutiny by the Senate. The fact that the gag is about to be moved by this Labor-Greens alliance is an absolute disgrace. The way this dog's breakfast of a mining tax was negotiated by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, without any involvement of officials, directly with the managing directors of the three biggest mining companies, is a national disgrace and should not be allowed to stand as a precedent for the way a tax is designed in Australia. Serious tax reform requires a more professional, more considered and more open, transparent and inclusive process.
Mr President, just for the clarification of the Senate, while the bells are ringing I ask you to let the Senate know whether amendments that have been circulated will be voted on or whether there is some procedure needed. It is my understanding that motions that have not been moved but are circulated will be dealt with.
That has been circulated, Senator Brown. I believe there is no need at this stage to read that matter out.
The question now is that the second reading amendment circulated by Senator Xenophon on sheet 7213 be agreed to. Those of that opinion say aye; to the contrary no.
Mr President, on the point of order, I refer you to standing order 195. It says that a senator may require the question to be read by the Clerk at any time during a debate. You have ruled that that does not apply if the question has been circulated.
In respect of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011 the question is that amendments numbers (1) and (2) on revised sheet 7209 circulated by the Australian Greens be agreed to.
The amendment to the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011 circulated by the leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Bob Brown, is not in order. It broadens the tax base to include gold and other minerals and therefore imposes taxation within the meaning of section 53 of the Constitution. Section 53 provides:
Proposed laws … imposing taxation, shall not originate in the Senate.
The Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011 does not itself impose tax, but, by proposing to tax substances that are not currently subject to the tax, the request for further amendment transforms the bill into a bill imposing taxation. According to a ruling of President Calvert in 2003, in similar circumstances, such an amendment may not be moved in the Senate, even as a request, because it is contrary to the Constitution. The amendment is out of order and the question therefore will not be put on it.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! Senator Bob Brown is entitled to be heard in silence.
Mr President, your ruling is truncating the rights of this Senate under the Constitution to make requests to the House. I can do no other than object to you making this ruling, which goes against the interests of this great Senate vis-a-vis the House of Representatives. I know the numbers to support your ruling are with the old parties, and there is not much I can do about it except object.
Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:
That so much of standing order 142 be suspended as would prevent the Senate debating the issues that were just raised by Senator Bob Brown in relation to the constitutional aspects of his amendment and the constitutional aspects of the mining tax.
This mining tax, which the Senate is asked to vote on, is very clearly unconstitutional. This mining tax is a tax on state property, as prohibited by the Constitution. This mining tax discriminates between states.
There are, of course, serious issues of constitutionality that are to be debated by the Senate tonight, and I encourage Senator Bob Brown and the Greens to join with the coalition to scrutinise and apply pressure on the government and force them to explain themselves here in the Senate. I urge Senator Bob Brown and the Greens to support the suspension of standing orders moved by the coalition, so that we can properly flesh out all of the constitutional problems that arise with this mining tax.
We of course know that the Greens are even worse than the Labor Party when it comes to their high-taxing record. We have a high-spending, high-taxing government that, rather than wanting to support those parts of the economy that need help, wants to slow down the fast lane. We have a mining tax in front of us which is bad for the economy, which is bad for jobs, which is bad for investment in the mining industry and which actually happens to be unconstitutional. I have absolutely no doubt that this mining tax will ultimately be thrown out by the High Court, the same way as Labor's dodgy Malaysia people-swap deal was thrown out by the High Court. These are serious issues that need to be considered by the Senate, and I am very, very pleased that the Greens have finally seen the light—that this is a government that wants us to vote on something that is clearly unconstitutional. Given that the Greens have now got concerns about the constitutional aspects of what the Senate is asked to vote on, I urge Senator Brown to vote with the coalition to ensure that all of us are given a proper opportunity to properly flesh out and debate these issues.
The Greens are quite hypocritical in this debate, because the Greens have conspired with this very dodgy government in gagging the debate on this proposed legislation. This is a bad tax. This is a tax that was negotiated through a process that was highly dodgy. It was an absolute national disgrace the way the Prime Minister and the Treasurer sat down with the managing directors of the biggest mining companies in Australia, excluding their competitors from the process and excluding every single state and territory government from the process. The Greens have made themselves complicit to a dodgy tax which was developed through a dodgy, unconstitutional process, and here they are now today, at the last minute, querying the constitutional issues that arise out of the dodgy amendments that they moved here today.
But we welcome this debate. We think that we need to have a proper debate about it. A lot of my colleagues on this side of the chamber have a lot to say about the unconstitutional aspects of this dodgy mining tax. No doubt, given the issues that Senator Brown has just raised, he will join with the coalition in making sure that we have a proper debate about it, in the same way as Senator Brown joined with Senator Xenophon and the coalition in calling on the government to release the advice they have that says that somehow this mining tax is constitutional. We all know that it is not. In the past, Senator Bob Brown has been quite outspoken about it being time for the Senate to flex its muscle. If we want to be serious about the Senate flexing its muscle, we should insist on not further debating this mining tax legislation until such time as the government have complied with our request to table the constitutional advice about the mining tax.
In fact, I would go further. In the past, Senator Brown has been quite outspoken in criticising the government about their abject lack of transparency when it came to mining tax revenue estimates. They are still keeping the mining tax revenue assumptions secret. He has been quite critical of the government's lack of transparency in relation to the cost of all their related promises, but, when it came down to actually flexing the Senate's muscle and forcing a secretive government to be a bit open and transparent, what did Senator Brown do? He just got into bed with the government and voted with them to guillotine this debate, something which in the past he said was the most evil thing that anyone could possibly do. Remember the days when the Greens said: 'The guillotine is such an evil thing to do; you should never, ever do it'? Of course, we are now on to guillotine 20 or 25—who knows?
This is an opportunity for Senator Brown to right all of the past wrongs and to join with the coalition in ensuring that the Senate has a proper opportunity to properly debate the many flaws in the legislation before us, not least of which is the serious flaw that this is a completely unconstitutional piece of legislation.