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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1673


Mr BEDDALL —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. In view of the need to increase Australian exports, can the Minister inform the House of the effects of transportation costs on Australian exports, and on the Australian economy in particular?


Mr DAWKINS —It is a fact that the cost within Australia of transporting our exports is a vitally important matter. As many honourable members know, the Minister for Transport and Minister for Aviation, along with the Government, is seriously addressing these questions. We have already announced policy changes in relation to air freight, we are looking continually at the question of shore based shipping costs and seaborne shipping costs, and of course we have the inquiry into the handling cost of wheat. I particularly want to take this opportunity to refer to some of the attitudes and practices of the State governments, particularly Queensland, where there is an increasingly alarming situation as far as transportation costs are concerned.

We have seen the Premier of Queensland presenting himself as a candidate for national office, apparently, despite the best efforts of the Leader of the National Party of Australia to stop him. We have observed, I suppose with a certain curiosity, some of his remarks on taxation. I think that in order to examine carefully his record and his credibility on the question of taxation it is worth while looking at what he does in his own State in this area of vital interest to the whole nation. I suppose what any individual Premier does in relation to taxation is something about which he or she should be responsible to or held accountable by the electorate, but this particular area, where we have disguised taxation in relation to the cost of transporting coal to ports, is of great importance to the whole of Australia.

Coal continues to be one of our most important exports and Queensland in that context makes a very important contribution. At a time when we have seen prices received by coal miners slashed it is all the more important for us to look at the cost structure confronting that industry. A hidden tax of some $394m a year is collected by the Queensland State Government in the form of revenue collected by the railways. It is important to recognise that the coal mining companies have to provide the finance-the cost of providing those rail services. Yet, in addition, they have to pay a freight which involves a surcharge-a profit for the railways. This has two consequences. Not only does it represent a preparedness on the part of the Queensland Government to disguise tax raising activities, but also it undermines quite directly one of our most important export industries.

We hear many claims about the Queensland Government's taxation record, about whether it is a low or a high tax government. Yet, we cannot make that comparison without accounting for this surcharge, this profiteering, that it has in relation to its railway system. If we were to add that $390m-odd, which is collected quite clearly, quite unambiguously, as a taxation on transportation services, and if we were to spread that across the Queensland population, we would find that the per capita taxation in Queensland was significantly higher than that in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. So much for the claims of Queensland being a low tax government. When we look at the consequences on a particular company, we find that, in the six months to November 1986, the largest coal mining company in Queensland paid $136m in freight charges to the Queensland Government of which $91m was estimated as pure profit for the Queensland Government.


Mr Ian Cameron —What is wrong with that?


Mr DAWKINS —The honourable member asks: `What is wrong with that?'. We are trying to ensure the competitiveness of this great industry. We are trying to ensure that the industry has the capacity to play its part in circumstances which are very harsh internationally. There is enormous competition for the coal markets of the world. If members of the National Party had a real interest in the security of that industry and its future, they would want to see a greater profitability for that industry so that it could continue to invest in its efficiency and future competitiveness. This is a matter of great importance to the nation. We do not want to see our important export industries milked in this way in order to support the expenditure policies of the Queensland Government.