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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2069


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (10:47): I have been really looking forward to making my contribution to this debate on the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011. May I just say from the outset that, regardless of what some people who are listening may think, I do have the greatest respect for my colleague Senator Fiona Nash.

Senator Nash: Stop there! Stop!

Senator STERLE: Sorry, she put me off; she made me laugh. I will not stop there. I am going to keep going. I have no doubt about Senator Nash's commitment to regional Australia but, sadly, unfortunately, we have witnessed in this country in the last 18 months or so—while we have been having this debate about some form of tax concession or tax collection from the mining industry—a plethora of mistruths, lies and misleading figures. Anyone who wants to make some commentary on it who has no background on it has their little bit and their moment in the sun. But I would like to actually clear up a few things.

I suppose I am not allowed, but I would love to ask a question to those out there who may be listening or those in the gallery. The whole idea of this tax on our non-renewable resources is that it concerns only iron ore and coal. It does not affect any other commodity. I would like to get a feeling from the gallery. When you look at the massive amounts of iron ore and coal being dug up in this country that cannot be replaced, do you think it is unfair—through you, Mr Deputy President—that once a company hits $75 million in profit they will pay a tax? If they make $74,999,999.95, they will not pay the tax. I do not think for one minute that any decent, hardworking Australian would think that the Gillard government is being at all harsh on companies because they are taking our nonrenewable commodities. What they do with them range from fantastic things to who knows what else around the world. It is a $75 million profit tax.

So if you listened to Mr Abbott, Mr Hockey and Mr Robb—that is if they are on the same page on the same day, and that has not happened for months and months, and Senator Sinodinos must be cringing—you would think that we, as a government, are going out there to crucify employment. You would think that we are going out there, in their terminology which I have read in the paper over a number of months, to kill the golden goose. This is an absolute lie. Mr Acting Deputy President, the whole basis of the Liberals and the Nationals—

Senator Williams: He's the Deputy President; he's not acting.

Senator STERLE: Did I promote you? Sorry, Mr Deputy President.

Senator Williams: No, you demoted him.

Senator STERLE: I would vote for you if the time ever came. You would think that if they were speaking the truth we were going to kill investment. If I may, there are a lot of good things to say about the minerals resource mining tax, and I will flow on because Senator Nash has given me the opportunity to talk about the Gateway WA project. That is what the airport upgrades are called. I have in front of me—and I am not tabling it, but I am speaking to it—a newsletter put out by Senator Eggleston with the member for Swan. It is Senator Eggleston's contribution to the negativity around the mining tax. I just want to quote some of Senator Eggleston's words. This lovely, glossy thing was floating around Western Australia the week before last, I believe. Senator Eggleston says:

Western Australia's fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers—

they are the miners that live everywhere else but fly into these remote mine sites—

will be hit hard, with job cuts expected to offset the tax.

How in the heck did Senator Eggleston come to the conclusion that if the employer makes $75 million in profit it will cost jobs? I do not know how that works. Senator Eggleston also goes on to say:

With global economic uncertainty at its peak this has already been seen, with BHP announcing 155 job cuts in January.

Well, dash! The mining tax is not even in yet and BHP are putting people off. What the heck does that have to do with the mining tax? And if it does come in it will not be until next year. So where did that come from? This is the sort of mistruth being spread around. Senator Eggleston, who will have the chance to defend himself, also goes on to say:

If passed, Australia's international competitiveness will be in turmoil, leaving less money in Australia for investment and our current investments will move overseas.

The iron ore is here. The coal is here. Am I to assume, through Senator Eggleston's wording, that somehow we are going to pull the iron ore and coal from Australia out of some other country, that we are going offshore? This is just ridiculous. I would also like to add that Australia is gifted. We are so lucky to be gifted with natural resources. I was a former truck driver who made my living, for 16 years, running into mining towns. I was the furniture removalist for miners and associated services moving in and out. With all the global turmoil we have seen, as soon as the price of aluminium or bauxite comes down mining companies will close their mines.

Let us have a look at the nickel project out of Ravensthorpe. A couple of years ago BHP, 'the great Australian'—that was tongue in cheek, Mr Deputy President—fired up a mine down in Ravensthorpe. Fifteen hundred people were employed. Fantastic. Local people in Ravensthorpe thought that they could make a decent living and a good business out of promoting the town of Ravensthorpe. As soon as that price of nickel went south, what did BHP do? What did the great Australian do? Shut it down. Fifteen hundred jobs gone. Did the opposition come out and go, 'Oh, dash, BHP; how dare you'? Of course, they did. That is the trouble when you are beholden to big miners. Fortunately we are not beholden to big miners.

I want to talk about one of the absolute positives about the mining tax, and there are a number of them. Prime Minister Gillard has committed to Western Australia no less than $480 million of mining tax into the Gateway WA project. The Gateway WA project is a complete upgrade of the roads surrounding the Perth Airport. With all fairness, Westralia Airports Corporation under the leadership of their CEO Bradley Geatches has contributed about $1 billion over 10 years for upgrades on the airport's land. The federal government and the state government will be contributing money to roads surrounding Perth Airport.

For those who do not know the Perth Airport, it is situated about six kilometres from the CBD. We are lucky in WA because we do not have a curfew. We are very lucky in WA because of successive governments, state and federal. Not only is WA the engine room of the economy but also our airport is absolutely paramount to the resources boom and to the work that is going on in regional WA. Our airport operates 24 hours a day. Fortunately, although some have suggested on that side that we should talk about curfew, that nonsense was put to bed very clearly.

Our airport handles some 2,000-plus flights a week. The majority of our flights out of Perth Airport are heading to regional centres—not for tourism, unfortunately, not for fishing expeditions, not for sporting events, but for servicing the mining industry. We have a number of commodities. We have just about every commodity you could imagine in WA and we have regular flights in and out. We have three terminals at Perth Airport. We have the domestic terminal, which Qantas operates out of. We have our FIFO terminal, which Virgin, Skywest and the regional airlines operate out of. You walk into that FIFO airport and it is just as busy as the Qantas domestic terminal. I have not met one Western Australian who has said to me, 'Will you pass a message on to the Prime Minister about how dare she spend mining-tax money on upgrading roads in and around our airport? Around Perth Airport we have our major trucking hub. This is all in the one area. We also have our major retail hub, where Woolies and Coles have their distribution centres. We also have a major railhead. In Western Australia we rely very heavily on eastern states freight movement not only by road but also by rail.

We have a perfect storm, if you may, of activity around the airport. This is not to mention traffic in and out of the airport or travellers on and off that road network or B-doubles and pocket road trains around that area. If you have the misfortune of being on the Tonkin Highway trying to get through the set of traffic lights to get to the outer suburbs you will understand that the sooner the mining tax contributes to the building of the Gateway project, Senator Nash, it will be a wonderful event for WA. Even the Western Australian government cannot wait for that to happen. But they are not capable of funding that project on their own.

If you are going to start condemning projects that the mining tax will fund through the regional infrastructure fund, senators on the opposition side, at least do yourselves a favour: do your homework—through you, Mr Deputy President. Make your considerations based on fact, not just on the latest message from the 'no' campaign running out of your leader's office.

I also want to talk a bit more about the benefits of the mining tax for Western Australia. Mining is a significant contributor to our economy. There is absolutely no doubt about that. Senators on this side of the chamber recognise that, particularly senators who come from Western Australia and I have no doubt also senators from Queensland and those from other states. But it is rather infuriating when we are somehow bedevilled, belittled or abused because we dare to take on and upset these major miners. How bad it is for Rio Tinto, BHP and Xstrata and for the majority of employers in the mining industry, and we are going to put all these people out of work—if you listen to those on the other side of the chamber.

Mining contributes 1½ per cent of employment to our great nation. That is not to belittle the industry. It has been a fantastic industry, there is no doubt about that. We have 1½ per cent of Australian workers engaged in mining and yet we can have the likes of Ms Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest—and I must admit Andrew Forrest has been a bit quiet lately—coming out and calling us everything under the sun. They say we are going to kill off investment.

I have an interesting piece of information that should be shared with everyone here. Probably around early- or mid-year 2010 there was a full-page ad taken out in the West Australian newspaper. I do not know if it got to other newspapers because I was in the west that day. It was a message from Ms Gina Rinehart. Now, good luck to Ms Gina Rinehart. She has inherited some family fortune and she has gone off and run a business. That is all great, and let do her own thing. But she was calling on the federal government to introduce economic-free zones—this was the heading, 'economic-free zones'. And when I read a little bit further it went along—and I cannot give you word-for-word, Mr Deputy President, but I think you will get the gist—'Ms Rinehart was alluding to the fact that if we do not have economic-free zones in the wild West we will not be able to afford to build mines and we would not be able to afford to get these projects off the ground.'

Ms Rinehart can challenge me on any occasion; I will step 30 paces to the left and say the same thing out there. I am not hiding behind parliamentary privilege. Ms Rinehart had a massive concern about why she and other miners should have to pay—wait for it—Australian wages and conditions to get these mines off the ground. How unfair it was on her and her fellow miners to be dared to have to pay Australian wages and conditions! So she was calling for an economic-free zone so that these projects could be ring fenced and she could bring in foreign workers—and good luck to foreign workers, whose skills we need—at the expense of Australian workers. At the expense of Australian wages and Australian conditions!

I will stand to my last breath and I will never, ever, ever—while I am in this building or outside it—support a billionaire who wants to lower Australian wages and conditions or to exploit foreign workers, for that matter, so she can get her major project built. Do you know the insulting thing about this, Mr Deputy President? There was a follow-up article, and I cannot for the life of me remember how much further down the track it was. It may have been two weeks, I do not know. But she ran it again, and this time she had 30 of her mates—senior CEOs of companies—saying, 'We support Gina.'

Let us get back to the mining tax. Let us get back to the tax you may have to pay if you make $75 million profit. Every single one on that side of the chamber sings in unison in support of the rich miners. But what are they going to do? I will tell you what they are going to do. They are going to tax us to support the miners. They cannot wait, and you will see them. I will name them: Senator Cormann, the first one to pop up, running the Mr Forrest line, running the Ms Rinehart line and running the Mr Palmer line. They cannot wait. Do you know what, ladies and gentlemen? Here is the itch; here is the little sticky bit—this is the bit that they cannot smother over. A major donor—or the major donor—to the National Party is no other than one Clive Palmer. Mineralogy: poor Mr Palmer: 'I am going to go broke. This is killing off jobs, because if I get the $75 million profit I have to pay a tax.'

There they all are. You will hear them. You will hear them in question time. If you are unfortunate enough to still be here in question time, watch it pop up. Watch them pop up and talk about the jobs. They are running the Clive Palmer line. I am going to make this statement, and I will stand corrected. I reckon it is getting to the stage where he will be writing your questions for you! That is what he will be doing because you all parrot it. You parrot the same thing all the time, and about poor Ms Rinehart!

There is another crack—have a listen to this one, Madam Acting Deputy President. Last week we knew there was an unfortunate situation. There is nothing worse when families get into a buddle. Trust me, I am half Italian! There is nothing worse, but we are good at it. All of a sudden, there is a very high profile—

Senator Boyce: You're just manipulated anyway!

Senator STERLE: You are from Queensland, Senator Boyce, so is Mr Palmer writing your speeches too?

All of a sudden we see that we have Senator—none other than—Barnaby Joyce, coming to the defence of Ms Rinehart, writing letters to her daughter—I do not know if he has ever met her—telling her virtually that it is a bit unfair and to back off. I do not know; Senator Joyce should table the letter and defend himself. What the hell is a Senator from Queensland doing interfering in a family dispute?

Then they all started. Then there was a Mr Shultz, I believe, so Ms Rinehart is calling in her favours. But that is what happens when you take donations from mining companies. You are beholden to them, and you are too scared to stand up and go, 'Hang on, it's a $75 million profit before you get taxed,' so I did start feeling sorry for you. But now I do not, because the old saying is that you reap what you sow. You lot are now saying, 'That's it,' and you are reaping it.

Going back to the mining tax, I challenge anyone on that side to get up and show us—show us, do not make stupid, glib statements through Mr Abbott and his office—and when you are on song as a team, which I do not think has happened since about 2007, tell us where these jobs are going to go. Tell us! Come here and tell me—challenge me out there, and challenge me in any Western Australian mining community about where these jobs are going to go and why they are going to go.

This comes from the party of 'profit is good'. And I support profit—let me tell you: I love profit. Do you know why I love profit, Madam Acting Deputy President? Because when companies make profit they employ people, and when people are employed they spend money, and they spend money with small businesses, they spend money in hospitality, they spend money in tourism and it is a wonderful thing. I wish they would spend more in the great state of Western Australia. I really do. But, come on, here is the challenge: drag me out there, get the media and pull me up. Bring a miner in here, challenge me, bash me and around the ears and tell me one mine that is going to put off workers because all of a sudden they have cracked a $75 million profit and they are paying a little bit of tax. Rio Tinto, BHP and Xstrata are the major employers in the mining industry—and I am not for one minute even alluding to belittling or downgrading the importance of the small miners—but, with the greatest of respect, what the heck is a small miner?

This is the trickiness of the Liberal Party. They use this terminology, 'the small miner'. They try to incorporate the small miner along the same lines as a small business person or a small family operation. Let me tell you, about small family operations. Coming from the trucking industry, no-one knows the pain that small businesses suffer more than me, because I was a small businessman too at one stage. But, do you know what?

Senator Boyce interjecting

Senator STERLE: I worked it out for you, Senator Boyce, and for you Madam Acting Deputy President. Do you know how to make a small fortune out of transport? You start with a large one. Let me tell you, I know that very well.

So just check the terminology. Stop standing up for the billionaires club and start standing up for Australian families, for Australian workers and for Australian small businesses. Start standing up for the real communities. I have to tell you, through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, to get off your backsides and get out into some of those north-west towns and have a look at the lack of infrastructure. The miners are very good at one thing: they are very good at taking up and digging out nonrenewable resources. There is no argument about that. But the days when the miner built the hall, the swimming pool, the football club and the netball club—guess what on that side—are long gone. They do not have to do it anymore. Talk to the shire councillors and see how they are suffering because they do not get the money coming in through ratepayers for the land. Thank you.