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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6154


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (17:27): I rise to follow the member for Dunkley and shadow minister for small business and his outstanding remarks. It is such a pity that he was restricted to 15 minutes, because I am sure we would have been entertained for a lot longer on his intimate knowledge of his sector. I appreciate his contribution and I support his remarks when it comes to the challenges that small businesses face. My seat of Mayo is a seat, as the member well knows, that is largely a small business focussed seat. Whether it be Mount Barker, Nairn, Strathalbyn, Victor Harbor, Goolwa, Kingscote or Yankalilla, there are thousands of small businesses in my electorate who are doing it tough at the moment. They were eagerly anticipating a budget and a session of parliament where they would see some real commitment to budgetary reform to ensure that their tax burden would be reduced so that they could have money freed up to allow them to get on with their business, employ more Australians and to see the rigid changes made through the Fair Work Australia system—and aren't they proud of that system now—change so that they could employ more Australians and give more Australians a chance at work. But, of course, they were left utterly despondent by what the Treasurer delivered on budget night.

It is perfectly understandable why they were so despondent. We saw a budget which was a budget of cooked books and very ambitious forecasts—where this government who, over the last four budgets, have delivered massive record deficits are now expecting the Australian people to somehow believe that in this financial year they will be able to turn that around and deliver a massive four per cent reduction in federal government expenditure. No-one accepts that to be true. A budget that has gone from $270 billion expenditure when the current government came to power to some $370 billion or around that mark shows that this government is a government that is spending more money than it takes. It is living beyond its means, which will cause us a problem in the future. You often hear the government say that our debt compared to other countries is nowhere near as bad, that we are in this fortuitous position with low debt in comparison. Households know that you do not compare your own debt situation with your next-door neighbour, you consider what you have to do to make those repayments. What the debt means is that there are large interest payments necessary with that debt, now up to $8 billion a year, which takes away from services and means that Australians pay more tax than necessary to make those repayments and pay back this legacy of Labor debt that we will deal with when we are able to take government.

This budget was a massive disappointment. It showed that Labor has no coherent economic strategy to deliver stronger economic growth and a stronger and more productive economy. We have seen in my local area disappointments as well. Genuine needs like the Bald Hills freeway interchange, the additional freeway interchange because of the growth the state Labor government has foisted upon my local area. That was a commitment I made at the last election and I was hoping that in this budget the Treasurer might have appreciated that Mount Barker needs that additional freeway off-ramp. I have been heartened by the commitment from the opposition shadow transport spokesman, who has given me a very positive indication that as part of our commitments leading to the next election it will be, as a member of the ERC, well and truly be costed, as it was in the last election.

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: I can assure that to the member for Moreton . I know that the shadow transport minister will be right on my side in that respect. On the south coast an overwhelming concern in that community is the pool, in the hope that the government and regional development minister Crean would have seen it fit to fund that in this budget. He has not done so. What the Labor Party in government has done, in conjunction with the Greens as their coalition partner, is foist on my community the world's biggest carbon tax which will begin in a month's time.

More worryingly for my state of South Australia and for our country is the impact of federal Labor policies on the mining industry. We hear regularly from the Treasurer that there is some $500 billion of investment in the pipeline for Australian mining projects, and that is true. There are plans to invest heavily in Australia. However, what you do not hear from the government is the more recent announcements from very senior companies in large mining companies talking about putting off a large amount of that investment because of the increased costs that federal Labor policies are putting on these mining companies. The very reason the civil war has broken out in the Labor Party over the last five days in relation to the EMA—

Mr Perrett: It has been much more civil than war.

Mr BRIGGS: It has been a civil war, member for Moreton. It may not be the blood on the walls of the leadership challenge in February, where character assessments were granted very regularly but it has been quite a split between the Prime Minister and the relevant ministers, the minister for immigration and the minister for resources. Those ministers are to be congratulated because the policy they have pursued is a good policy. It is the right policy because it will encourage this growth. It is necessary and it is a time, and we do have Labor challenges. We saw in question time those members who claim that somehow you can just uplift all unemployed people and chuck them into mines, showing no understanding of how the mining industry works at all. These necessary skills will ensure these developments go ahead and that there is need for these sorts of arrangements. But what is really important to note is that one of the major reasons more of these arrangements are being sought is the increasing cost for companies to employ in Australia. Because of industrial disputation and because of the empowerment of the unions—and we are seeing that day after day now—we are seeing coalmines in Queensland being shut down. There was a massive industrial disputation last week as the CFMEU used every tactic in the book to take on BHP. Tom Albanese, from Rio Tinto, said last week that when he has been at international conferences he has been approached by investors saying, 'Are you worried that you are now too Australia-exposed?' Mr Albanese made the point that that is embarrassing, and he is right. This record opportunity, this amazing opportunity that Australia has—which is probably a 10-year opportunity, with the growth in our region—is being put at risk because of these government policies. Whether it be the workplace relations policies or the inconsistent taxation policies, they are making it harder for Australian businesses and Australian mining companies to compete.

More worrying is Olympic Dam in South Australia. For many years, the state Labor government has told us how this investment and expansion will be the great saviour and the great opportunity for our economy, and I actually agree with them. I think this is a huge opportunity for the South Australian economy. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the South Australian economy. The Olympic Dam find and the exploration that BHP has embarked upon are of unbelievable proportions. It is one of the biggest mines in the world. When fully dug, the open-cut mine will cover an area the size of the 'square mile' of Adelaide. The six-year burden to get the dirt off before they even get to the ore gives you an understanding of just how big this project is.

The South Australian Labor government and the South Australian Liberal opposition last year worked in conjunction in the parliament to pass the indenture to ensure that the government regulations and the environmental regulations were passed. Of course, the Greens opposed it, which will not shock anybody. Necessarily, they did the work in a bipartisan way to ensure that this project would go ahead for South Australia. Now it is being put at risk by what federal Labor is doing to our economy. It is not just me saying this; it is none other than Jac Nasser, the Chairman of BHP.—I will not say he is a good old-fashioned Labor man, but certainly he has not been someone you could describe as having been, as the Leader of the House would say, a 'Tory' all his life. In a speech Mr Nasser said that there are four reasons why BHP is now giving reconsideration to possible investment in Australia.

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: And three of those are directly related to policies that your government, Member for Moreton, is implementing. The first is that development activity has driven higher operational and investment costs. We are increasingly one of the higher cost countries in the world, and I understand that in the next little while there will be some more information from the mining industry in that respect. The second reason is the experience of a much more difficult industrial relations environment, and I quote him directly:

It has not only affected productivity but has resulted in management being unable to operate its business in a fair and consistent way for all stakeholders.

He goes on to describe the industrial disputation that is damaging BHP's coalmines. The third is the changes to taxation arrangements in this country. There is the debate we have had about the mining tax and the ever-changing impact of the mining tax, and, as I mentioned before, the world's biggest carbon tax is just about to start. The fourth reason is, of course, global instability.

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: Of course, we cannot pin that one on the member for Moreton and his government, but the other three we certainly can.

These are issues which can be fixed. The Labor Party likes to pretend that the mining industry in Australia is somehow separate from the rest of the world and that, unlike other industries, it does not have to compete, that it has this one-off advantage. That is simply not true. The way they are treating the mining industry is like putting Fat Albert on Black Caviar to race at Royal Ascot and expecting it to win. That would be holding it back from its potential, just as this Labor government is holding back our mining industry from its potential internationally. It is a competitive market for global mining capital. It is difficult to compete. Our costs in Australia are much higher than they were just five years ago, and that is making it much harder for big companies like BHP, who expend a lot of money in the first place to get the ore out of the ground, to make those decisions.

Yes, there may be a lot in the pipeline, but there is a big blockage in the pipeline. That blockage is the federal Labor government. The sooner we can get rid of that blockage and put into place laws which encourage productivity in workplaces and restrict the rights of unions to take industrial action over any matter they are concerned by, and the sooner we have a consistent taxation policy and treat this industry in a fairer way, the more we will encourage investment in this necessary industry. That cannot come too soon, because I fear the impact of federal Labor policies will mean we will see BHP make an announcement later in the year seeking an extension on the indenture for the BHP expansion. That will be a great shame for my state because it will mean that the great opportunities that will come, the trickle-down effects of that investment in that place—3,000 direct jobs and the impact of the flow-through to the economy, the expected eight per cent increase in GST—will not flow through, because of decisions that this government is making.

The most insidious part of this budget is that there is no coherent economic plan. It is a budget in which the government is trying to pay off people to increase its primary vote and keep this Prime Minister in office. It is a budget that talks tough about its war on aspiration, yet at the same time there is a little deal with Gina Rinehart on the side, which completely destroys—

Mr Perrett: Which you support.

Mr BRIGGS: Absolutely, but I did not declare class war on Gina Rinehart either, by the way. It is a good arrangement. It was a real shame to see several Labor members and several senior union officials in what was, by one in particular, quite a hysterical performance last Friday, trying to play very low-grade politics with foreign workers. That will only do damage to our economic reputation internationally. It will reduce the amount of investment that can possibly come into our country and it will damage the prospects for future prosperity for all the Australians we seek to represent.

This is a bad budget. It has barely one redeeming feature. This is a bad government. The government should go and give us a go to get Australia back on track.