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Thursday, 3 November 2011
Page: 12727


Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (12:31): Listening to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who never misses a chance to talk Australia and our economic performance down, you would think things were pretty grim. But in my state of South Australia we have just announced progress on a new mine opening with $1.2 billion set aside to expand Olympic Dam into the biggest copper and uranium mine in the world. I am a bit perplexed by some of her rhetoric on how grim it is, given that mining is expanding at a rate of knots in my state—not just exploration and the development of Olympic Dam but many other mineral developments in that area.

This is self-serving rhetoric which covers the fact that the Liberal Party and the coalition have always opposed taxation measures on resources. They opposed the petroleum resource rent tax when it came through in the 1980s. They said that would bring an end to investment and the sky was going to fall. They made the same speeches on the PRRT then as they are doing now—it was going to be the end of the world and it would end economic growth. Instead, we know the PRRT provided valuable revenue which the Howard government later relied on to fund its great budget surpluses.

Labor in government have always been concerned with both the growth of the economy and the distribution of wealth. We have always endeavoured to marry those two things in a manner that is consistent with ongoing prosperity and fairness in the economy. It is important that when we have economic growth not only a small group of people gain the benefits of that growth. It is important to spread that growth throughout the middle-class and working families all over this country. The economic reforms of the 1980s—the floating of the dollar and the reduction in tariffs—were underpinned by social reforms. These included reforms in Medicare, superannuation and family payments which were all about supporting families and making sure middle-class and working-class families had a good standard of living and that health care, retirement incomes and family payments were not left to the market. These payments are needed when kids are growing up.

The Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill and related legislation represent a continuation of that tradition. We are endeavouring to marry great growth in our resources sector—which is ever present and ongoing despite the claims of the opposition—with the need to properly share that wealth with the majority of Australians. Most importantly, it will be shared not just with this generation but with future generations. For that to happen, we need to have something left when all of this is done.

I heard the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Curtin, talking about how the Howard government had put money away in the Future Fund, and indeed they did. But I remember reading in Peter Hartcher's book that the Howard government in the 2004-07 budget cycle received some $320-odd billion in extra revenue during that period. A portion of that was put away in the Future Fund, but a great amount of it was spent—and we all know spending in the later years of the Howard government galloped out of control.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: We left you a surplus—something you'll never do!

Mr CHAMPION: You might have run a surplus, but spending was also growing. Any mug can run a surplus in a growing economy.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: Really! Why don't you?

Mr CHAMPION: That's not true, we ran the first budget surplus in 1988. The Liberal Party never ran one when John Howard was Treasurer. But history is history and we will let the economic historians argue over it. The point is that what we want from this extra resource revenue and what we want from this tax is to be able to hand future generations something of the national providence that we have today. Mining profits over the last decade have skyrocketed by 262 per cent. Normal Australians marvel at the profits of BHP and Rio Tinto, and they marvel at the extraordinary individual wealth that is being generated by some of the mining magnates, who like to offer their opinion from time to time about matters such as this tax. There is no doubt this is a gilded age for some. Some people give rather generous gifts away—good luck to them—but they have vast profits, vast executive remuneration and vast personal wealth, and that is what is being generated. Profits are being repatriated out of this country.

We know that mining workforces and ancillary industries also are deriving gain from mining. Some of the previous speakers talked about the young workers up in the Pilbara region and the great wealth that is derived from mining jobs and from the jobs associated with mining. But it is all derived from the Australian nation. The nation owns the minerals and so it is all derived from the providence we have been bequeathed by having this continent to ourselves.

These mining companies and individuals are allowed to extract these minerals by agreement with the states and by agreement, ultimately, with the nation. The nation has a legitimate right and expectation in the public interest to derive revenue from these minerals that does not just come in the form of royalties but also in the form of a profits based tax. Much has been said about what the mining industry has said about this, but the more sensible voices accept that a profits based tax is a sensible way to go. Although we hear talk about sovereign risk and all the rest of it, much of it is self-serving talk by the minerals industry because it wants to prevent profit taxes in other jurisdictions. It wants to prevent the spread of good ideas, so it is running a scare campaign. It wants to maintain the current arrangement. But, as I said, many Australians have looked upon this gilded age and wondered what it means for them.

Too many communities and too many individuals have been locked out of this great wealth, this wealth that is produced, ultimately, by the nation. Too many people have been adversely affected and we see that as the currency has risen dramatically. We see the impact of that on other sectors, other jobs and the like. We see the rising costs of labour, the rising costs of living in remote mining communities and the effects of booming regional economies. We know that for everybody who is doing well there is a business that is struggling to find a worker or a tradesman. We know that pensioners and people on fixed incomes are struggling with the cost of living. We know from this experience that it is a problem and it has to be dealt with. We know from international experience there are threats to nations' economies that are excessively dependent on resource extraction. We all know about Dutch disease. It has being talked about many times, about how success in resources lifts the currency and that has a correspondingly negative effect on the rest of the economy. We know that excessive disparities in wealth also can occur and that is not desirable. Australia has had a fine tradition of equality and of sharing our wealth. I think that is important to a country.

This bill overcomes these threats. It overcomes those challenges to the country and it ensures the growth in mining profits benefits the whole of the community and ensures that it benefits business. It ensures it adds to national savings and it ensures that regional infrastructure is not left behind. We hear a lot of rhetoric from the coalition on business, but one of the aims of this bill is to share some of the proceeds of this wealth to make sure we have a company tax cut to 29 per cent on 1 July 2013. That is to make sure that companies can compete.

Mr Van Manen interjecting

Mr CHAMPION: I hear my friend opposite interjecting and talking about one per cent. If it was such a small increase, why were you trying to match it during the last election? That is the question.

This bill will provide a new tax break for 2.7 million small businesses. Up to 13,000 businesses in my electorate will benefit from the small business $6,500 instant asset right off. It is important to support business during this time because they are the engine room of employment. It is important also that national savings are lifted. National savings have made a significant contribution to protecting this economy from some of the international ups and downs during the global financial crisis. Our national savings are a huge benefit to this country.

Where would we be without superannuation? This bill increases superannuation contributions from nine per cent to 12 per cent, a very important increase. It also expands the superannuation concessions for 3.5 million low-income earners, so it is not just the top end of town that gets a tax benefit from superannuation. It is a very important equity measure and very important for our national savings and our confidence in the long-term benefits of superannuation. We know that 8.4 million working Australians will benefit and we know it will increase national savings by $500 billion by 2035. This measure will simplify personal tax arrangements. It will allow a $500 standard deduction from 2012 and $1,000 standard deduction from 2013 and will also reward personal savings for five million Australians. The whole gist of this is to put money away for a rainy day—into national savings, into individual accounts. People talk about sovereign wealth funds; but there is no greater sovereign wealth fund in this country than superannuation, and it has been operating since Bob Hawke set it up and Paul Keating expanded it. The tragedy, of course, is that while the coalition fight like blazes before these things get in and say 'the sky is going to fall', once they have been brought in they are happy to benefit from them and happy to have them in place but never, ever to expand them. That is the great tragedy of the opposition's approach.

We know that infrastructure, which has been a great problem area, will benefit. The Howard government only built one piece of infrastructure: the Alice to Darwin rail link. It is a good bit of infrastructure and the nation had waited a long time for it, but it is not much to hang your hat on. We would hope to do better than that and build infrastructure in the regions, particularly to expand resource projects and our capacity for economic development, so that mining communities can expand and those regions can prosper. So there is quite a bit in this for regions and quite a bit for building the national project and for building the north of Australia—these great aims and projects.

This bill is in the national interest. It would be a great act of vandalism to block it or repeal it. That is why, when it is implemented, the coalition will not repeal it. That is just talk—beating their chests and acting like they are going to repeal something when they will not. They will adopt the same approach as they always do: fight it right up to the point that it is successful and then take the benefits this bill will yield for the Australian people and leave it in place. To remove it would be a great act of national vandalism and, I think, a great folly.