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Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Page: 13235


Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (11:26): This Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill is an important bill because the economy is in transition. How well we manage the transition is going to determine our future, and this bill is important in helping us make that transition. The more that I visit regional Australia, which is the patches in the patchwork economy, the more I am convinced that we are on the cusp of a new era of sustained long-term growth. The world and the region are not just demanding our resources, they are demanding our skills. They have always sought our comparative advantage; now they look to our competitive advantage, our capabilities. That means ensuring the current resources boom is redistributed to secure the longer-term opportunities in so many of these other spaces. That is why the bill is important.

The minerals resource rent tax is not a tax for general revenue purposes. It is specifically designed to take a slice of the excess profits of the nation's natural resources enjoying incredibly high prices and reinvesting that. It is a tax on the profits of an extraordinary resource boom. These are resources owned by the nation, and it is only appropriate that the benefits of the boom should be spread accordingly back into the nation. None of the proceeds of this tax goes to government coffers; all of it, and more, is going to lower the company tax rate, increase the superannuation guarantee and invest in much-needed infrastructure around the nation. The MRRT will be the community dividend from the resources boom, assisting our many and diverse regions to better diversify their economic base to secure the basis upon which they can better themselves and secure their future.

Under this tax we will redistribute in a way that cuts the company tax rate and in addition gives 2.7 million small businesses additional tax breaks. The superannuation guarantee will be lifted from nine to 12 per cent. This is continuing the great Labor legacy of compulsory superannuation in this country, one which has been fought every inch of the way by those who sit opposite. As a consequence it will see retirement income boosted, with 8.4 million members benefiting. It will see national savings boosted. Already the funds under management equal $1.3 trillion.

This is bigger than our national GDP. With the increase in the super guarantee, this will increase by one-third by the end of the decade. It also will grow our financial services sector, already a growth export, and it will encourage greater investment both here and overseas.

In addition, the nation's infrastructure is going to be boosted—$6 billion will go toward road, rail, ports and social infrastructure, particularly in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales, the companies in which states are going to be paying the bulk of those taxes. But this investment in infrastructure is important because it will avoid the capacity constraints that held us back earlier this decade. Almost $600 million will go to regional infrastructure through our Regional Development Australia Fund. But this will only happen when this bill passes and the threat of repeal dissipates.

The only threat to these benefits that I have outlined is the opposition. Tony Abbott is the most negative Leader of the Opposition this country has ever seen. He stands for nothing and he opposes everything. If he were to win the election, company taxes would go back up, tax breaks for small businesses would be taken away and vital infrastructure for regional Australia would be stopped in its tracks. On his recent promise to keep the increase in the superannuation guarantee, the big question that has to be asked is: how is he going to pay for it? If he repeals the tax, how will he fund the superannuation? This is a credibility gap the opposition already suffers from because it has already run up a $70 billion black hole in unfunded election promises. In Tony Abbott and his cohorts saying no to this tax, they are saying no to company tax cuts, no to superannuation, no to tax cuts benefits to small business and no to infrastructure.

Let's look at some of the regional infrastructure at direct risk from Tony Abbott. I mentioned the additional $600 million in the Regional Development Australia Fund. Already this fund has allocated $150 million in the first round, recently announced. The second round, which we have increased to $200 million, is now out for consideration. Some of the proposals that were funded under the first round were: airport upgrades at Ballina, Griffith and Port Lincoln; leisure and recreation facilities at Hamilton, Rockhampton, Karratha, Streaky Bay and the Barossa; arts and culture institutions in Newcastle, Bendigo, Geelong, Clunes, Glenorchy, Rockingham and the APY Lands; and community centre resources in North Gosford, Armidale in New South Wales, the Gold Coast, Esk, Wide Bay and Port Pirie. I can go on. There are the sheep saleyards at Katanning, the Kimberley Land Council improvements at Broome and the solar installations at the Flinders Ranges. All those are just in the first round. As I said, the second round will be $200 million, and there is the potential for three additional rounds, all around that amount, in the next couple of years—but only if this legislation passes and the threat of its repeal is taken away.

I am surprised at how many members come to my office, not just from those on our side of the parliament but from those who sit opposite.

Mr Chester: They're good local members.

Mr CREAN: People who live in the regions come advocating their causes. I welcome this, because this is what these funds should be about. As the member at the table says, those opposition members who come to my office are good local members—that is true. But, I tell you what, they could be better local members by telling their opposition leader to stop his blind opposition to this tax, because it is denying this vital investment in regional infrastructure, denying the opportunities for regions to grasp the opportunity in a two-speed economy, in a patchwork economy, to strengthen their economic and social base.

It is important, because the two common themes that all the regional bodies around the country talk about is the need to diversify their economic base. They looked at the regions that have done it and they understand those regions are the ones that have better employment prospects. They also know that their communities have to be more liveable. If they are going to attract people to their communities they have to provide the services and the facilities. That is what this Regional Development Australia Fund is about, and that is what investing in infrastructure is about. All those bids that the members come to me about are contingent on this tax passing. The risk to regional infrastructure in the regions is in the blind opposition from those that sit opposite.

It is also the case that the MRRT is a better designed tax for the mining sector than the royalties proposed by the states, because this is a tax that is only paid when a profit level is reached—unlike royalties, which are levied at the point of extraction, before any profit is made. I must say I find it strange that those in the mining sector, who continue to run the campaign against our tax, have said nothing about the royalties tax being increased in New South Wales and in Western Australia.

I say it is duplicitous. I also call it hypocritical, particularly when there are some who admit to having paid no tax in the mining sector for a significant number of years and think they should be paying less! What sort of a situation do they think they are in? This is the nonsense that they peddle.

The MRRT is not only important for regional Australia and for diversifying our economic base, but also is a fairer tax. It is a tax that redistributes the nation's wealth to secure the nation's future. It is about nation building and the creative transitioning of the nation. Just as we transitioned this economy for long-term sustainable growth in the eighties and nineties, Labor is using this as part of the exercise to look to the future and secure it.

These are bold reforms. Yes; they can be unpopular. Any vested interest group will complain if they think it is going to impact upon them. Unpopular it might be, but just as the floating of the dollar, the cutting of tariffs, the opening of the Australian economy, the introduction of superannuation and the introduction of Medicare were also unpopular, and opposed, these were decisions that Labor governments of the past persisted with.

And we are doing the same with this—not because we want to impose burdens, but because we want to spread the benefits to secure the future for the great opportunities that are ahead. Just think of the challenges that are in our region—the challenges of food security, water security, energy and resource security and skills development. These are all spaces that Australia not only plays well in but excels in.

If we want to continue to encourage diversification of the economy, investment in infrastructure and development of skills, energy and creativity, then we have to pursue these types of reforms. That is why our budgets—all of them—have invested so heavily in the drivers of economic growth: skills, innovation and infrastructure. The biggest infrastructure of the lot has been the National Broadband Network to connect the nation better, not just with itself but with the rest of the world.

This bill enables that investment to be built upon. That is why it needs to be seen as an important cog in the wheel. In the history of this country Labor governments have always been the dynamic leaders and provided the momentum for regional development, ultimately leading to significant national development. That is what this tax is about and that is why I join with all of those on our side of the parliament in urging this House to pass it.