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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4233


Mr NEVILLE (5:45 PM) —Let me take this MPI debate to areas I have represented or currently represent. Let me assure the previous speaker, the honourable member for Corio, I always speak out for small business. I represented Gladstone when it was part of the electorate of Hinkler and I know how important services are to the mining industry in the fields of maintenance, engineering, componentry and electrical services. A lot of mining services are supplied by small businesses, not necessarily just in mining towns but scattered throughout regional Australia. When we reach the position where mining companies are refusing to guarantee projects or have already shelved projects you have to ask yourself whether this stream of enterprise will continue or at the very least continue in a meaningful way.

This mining tax also affects the building industry. We have already seen the state government place more and more charges on the backs of homeowners—some of which are avoidable and some of which are unavoidable. For example, the Queensland government has withdrawn its 40 per cent subsidy for sewerage and water projects, forcing councils to pass on those costs to developers and ultimately to homeowners.

But it does not stop there. Let us consider what will happen to building suppliers in the wake of the mining tax. The limestone mining operation at Bracewell, west of Gladstone, is an integral part of Cement Australia’s operations. Ultimately this tax will flow through to the companies that purchase its products, which include concrete, concrete products, pavers, besser blocks et cetera. Similarly, people providing bricks and clay products used in the building industry—and we have a brickworks in Bundaberg—will have to pass on their extra costs and this will lead to higher building costs for homes, industrial developments and commercial properties. When the big operators pass on the costs, it is ultimately the small operators and the end consumers who pay. A similar scenario applies to rock quarries, gravel and road-making screening processes. The downstream costs in this sector will impact notably on main road departments, councils, private road makers, consumers et cetera.

Hervey Bay is a perfect example of a community which rides on the back of small business. There are 2,800 businesses in Hervey Bay and 97 per cent of those are small businesses—that is higher than the Queensland average of 95.5 per cent. At a conservative guess, there would be 10,000 locals employed in small business. Any flow-on effect from this tax could decimate job prospects on the Fraser Coast. Any business which involves building and building supplies will invariably be hit hard, and this is bad news for the area, particularly when you consider its high population growth comes down to its attractiveness to lifestyle changers and the developers who follow them.

Hervey Bay and Bundaberg also have a significant population of fly-in fly-out workers—people who live in the cities but work in the mines of Queensland or Western Australia. These people are amongst the town’s biggest spenders. Whether it be a new vehicle, discretionary spending or simple day-to-day costs associated with family life, these workers make a considerable contribution to the local economy and any impact on their employment would undoubtedly affect the region.

At a local level, businesses on the Fraser Coast are considering a prospective mining operation north of Maryborough, which proposes to create local jobs and prosperity in an area crying out for an economic injection. That may not go ahead in the light of the mining tax.

The Bundaberg region has around 6,600 small businesses. By far the largest sector would be retail. This sector is a big employer of people with non-academic skills and is very sensitive to any price rises. There are a lot of vacant shops in Bundaberg and many businesses are doing it tough. It is an absolute credit to the tenacity and hard work of these businesses that they have kept their doors open. The downstream effect of this mining tax would be the last thing they would want.

I mentioned in a speech last night that Bundaberg has amongst the highest rates of unemployment and people living on government benefits. Small business is often the stepping stone for these people to get back into employment. Any downturn in small business activity will cut off that lifeline for thousands of Australians. (Time expired)