Tuesday, 18 March 2014
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answer—
that I failed to receive, I guess—
given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Ludlam today relating to employment in Western Australia.
I put to him a question which I was not expecting him to find as provocative as he evidently did, but the government benches erupted—
Well, hilarity, if you like, Senator Cash. That is fine; I will take that. I put a question to Senator Cormann as to what plan the government has, if any, for employment opportunities in WA as the mining boom cools, and, specifically, I put this question to Senator Cormann three times in a row: whether government senators from WA would be permitted to accept a Greens call for a debate on the economy. Now, I suspect Senator Cash would probably welcome the opportunity. She is avoiding eye contact, but not to worry. I suspect Liberal senators from Western Australia would welcome the opportunity to do so, but Senator Cormann passed up three perfectly good opportunities. I believe that Prime Minister Abbott, on questioning by my colleague the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, passed up the opportunity as well.
If government senators are so proud of their record on managing the economy in the six disastrous months that they have been in office, then let us have the debate, let us have it in Western Australia and let us have it on the eve of a by-election—
I am fairly sure that is disorderly, Senator Kroger! The debate in parliament is happening on the other side of the country. It is a debate happening 3½ thousand kilometres from where people will shortly be voting. There is plenty of time for government, for opposition and for minor-party senators to debate jobs and the economy in Western Australia. It is interesting that all we get back from the government are slogans. It worked beautifully when you were in opposition, and I take my hat off to you: Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the master of the aggressive, carnivorous, three-word slogan that cuts through—actually very, very impressive! But it is really dangerous to try and run a government that way, and that is effectively what you are doing.
When I stood up a short time ago, I pointed out that in fact the government does not appear to have a plan for employment in non-mining sectors of the Western Australian economy. The iron ore price took a hit this week and it sent shudders through the Western Australian economy. As the construction phase of the mining boom tapers into an operations phase, unemployment is rising. And there is no plan evident. If there is one, let us have the debate—not here, 3,000 kilometres from WA; let us have the debate in WA, where people can actually test the parties' views.
We launched an employment plan for WA which focuses on a mature renewable energy sector, which we forecast could create about 26,000 jobs for employment in affordable housing and construction, particularly environmentally friendly, modular prefab housing; telecommunications; and agriculture and horticulture. There are a wide variety of fields that we think have a very big future in the Western Australian economy as we begin—or continue, I should say—the urgent transition to a zero-carbon economy.
Instead of the government taking up these issues, I was met with the most extraordinary uproar, a strange mix of hysteria, smugness and contempt from the government benches, for even proposing that such a debate occur in the context of a by-election. I will check with the member for Melbourne later but I am presuming that a similar smug uproar occurred from the government side of the chamber when he put his question in the other place.
All you have got are three-word slogans, and the tax that you propose to axe collects barely any revenue at all. That is why nobody is responding to Senator Cormann when he marches around the landscape saying that the mining tax is going to destroy the Western Australian economy: the mining tax that the Labor Party's Minister Ferguson wrote with the big three miners barely collects any revenue at all. It has had no wrecking effect on the Western Australian economy. We are very happy to come in here and amend that tax so that it actually works as it was intended.
Last year, Rio Tinto made a $9.5 billion profit and they paid no minerals resource rent tax. BHP Billiton, one of the largest diversified miners in the world, made $6½ billion in after-tax profit just from their operations in Western Australia in iron ore in six months. It is very unclear to us whether they paid any MRRT, any minerals tax, at all. That is the tax that Senator Cormann believes is wrecking the Western Australian economy—and you wonder why it is not cutting through! You wonder why people are not marching and rallying in the streets!
The fact is that the government does not appear to have a clue about what kind of employment base should support Western Australians as the mining boom cools. The Greens do have some ideas. We would welcome the chance to debate them in an open format in Western Australia in front of Western Australian voters. If coalition senators are prevented from doing that, that will be more telling than anything they could potentially even say to people should that debate occur.
Question agreed to.