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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3971

Senator COOK(12.24) —I move:

(4)   Schedule 1, page 8 (after line 12), after item 12, insert:

12A Subsection 164(7) (paragraph (b) of the definition of minerals

After "limestone", (second occurring), insert "or limestone mined for minerals".

This amendment will add the words `or limestone mined for minerals' after the words `for agricultural purposes', referring to limestone. I want to say a few things about this. This issue has been the subject of some hot contention between my colleague Senator Shayne Murphy and the minister at various times and yesterday we had another example of that as to whether or not Labor in government had in fact removed from the act the issue of limestone where it affects the cement industry.

One of the themes of our amendments will be to reinstitute within the act the eligibility of the cement industry for the rebate. We wish to reinstitute the eligibility of the cement industry for rebate because the cement industry mines limestone in order to get at the mineral calcinite, which is the principal ingredient in the manufacture of cement. I recognise that the government, in seeking to limit the cost of the rebate, has eliminated, by virtue of these amendments, the cement industry from eligibility.

The issue for us is that, by so doing, it imposes on the cement industry an input cost which translates to building and construction in Australia as a hidden tax, which means, as well, that our cement industry, in a more open, free trading environment, has a government imposed tax on it when foreign imports that contest the market with it do not have that tax imposed on them. As a consequence, our cement industry is put in some jeopardy.

The issue here is: what is the nature of their activity? Going back to the argument between Senator Murphy and the minister, and in an effort to try to set the record straight, what Labor in government did was to insert in this act that quarrying was not an eligible activity, and we stand by that. The process by which you get at calcinite may be held by some to be quarrying, in which case the same process by which you might get at iron ore or coal in an open-cut mining operation could also be held not to be classically mining but also quarrying.

However, in order to avoid that argument, what Labor in government did was to retain the words about extraction of minerals, and what is involved here is not limestone as the principal agent but the mineral calcinite as the principal mining objective.

Senator Parer —They don't extract it, Peter. It is calcite.

Senator COOK —Calcite; I am sorry. They take out what you might call mining or quarrying, leaving that argument aside.

Senator Parer —They don't extract the calcite.

Senator COOK —They use calcite for cement; that is the principal—

Senator Parer —Yes, but it is part of the calcium carbonate that they use for the limestone. They don't extract calcite.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Order! Do not just have a discussion across the chamber.

Senator COOK —We are having a technical discussion across the chamber.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —You might like to ask the minister a question and he can answer it.

Senator COOK —Let me just complete my remarks then and I am sure that the minister will respond if he wishes to argue that I am wrong on a technical point. If I am wrong on a technical point, obviously, I would have to reconsider my position, but I do not believe that I am wrong on this technical point. The whole point therefore is that we see this as extraction for minerals and that that ought to be able, therefore, to render the cement industry eligible for the rebate. The purpose of this amendment would be to make that explicit within the act.

I realise that the government has been through a process with the mining industry at the high-level negotiating group and negotiated a package. I am not aware that in that negotiation the cement industry were represented directly. At the end of the day an agreement was reached, but from what we know about the agreement—and there is controversy about the details of it even now, but leaving that aside—I think it is reasonable to say that a whole revolution was fought on the principle of no taxation without representation.

If the cement industry were not at the table and involved in the negotiation and their interests have been overlooked, in which case they are going to have to pay a tax when before they did not have to, I think they have a fair case to say that as they were not represented and their views were not properly considered in the negotiating process the government cannot therefore claim to have the endorsement of this industry or of all of the players in an agreement to extend the tax in the manner which they seem to be suggesting.

For those reasons—and because, by removal of the rebate, we would be imposing on this industry a tax which did not exist; because the government has not conducted, by its own admission, any study of the economic effect or the jobs and employment effect that that tax might have on this industry; because this industry is an essential industry to the national construction effort and a tax would be ergo a tax on housing or on buildings in construction; and because of the regional nature of this industry, which is a major employer certainly in Tasmania but also in other regional sectors around Australia, in my own state of Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia—I have moved this amendment and I trust that my colleagues in the minor parties and the Independents will support it even if the government will not embrace it.