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Thursday, 3 November 2011
Page: 12740


Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (13:27): I rise to speak on a series of bills which implement the mineral resources rent tax and extend the petroleum resource rent tax. I would like to acknowledge the assistance in preparing this speech of Chelsea Pietsch, who is participating in a Lachlan Macquarie Internship and spending her week with me here in parliament. I think it is very apt that it is Lachlan Macquarie that is figuring here in this consideration and that Chelsea is from that internship group, because Lachlan Macquarie was a man who had a vision for this country, and we see his vision for the country still evident today in many of the buildings along Macquarie Street in Sydney—and there is no doubt that this is nation-building legislation that is before us today.

Labor is and always has been committed to achieving fairness within the Australian community. As our national platform and constitution state, fairness is one of our key priorities in government. It is our commitment to fairness that shapes our policies and what sets them apart from policies formulated by the opposition. The bills we are debating here today are yet another example of Labor's commitment to achieving fair outcomes for all Australians. And I will repeat that phrase many times throughout this speech, because Labor is for all Australians, not just for some.

Australia has been blessed with incredible natural resources and minerals, which fuel the heart of the Australian economy through the mining industry. Labor fully appreciates the central role of the mining industry in our Australian economy. However, we are also conscious that these natural, wealth-producing resources are finite. We can only dig up our resources once. For this reason, the Gillard government is committed to ensuring that we spread the benefits of the mining boom so that all Australians receive a fair return from the use of our valuable mineral and petroleum resources on the one occasion on which they can be extracted to the benefit of the entire nation. We believe it is not just the very profitable mining companies who should benefit from these natural resources but also the Australian community at large.

More than just achieving fairness with our country's non-renewable resources, however, these bills support growth across the entire economy. This is particularly important to me for the seat of Robertson and the Central Coast region that I represent here in this parliament. I represent an area that has grown at an astronomical rate in the last 30 years. We have many small businesses that are great employers there. We also have incredible pressure on infrastructure. We need to have our economy growing, and the type of legislation that we have before this parliament and the outcomes for Australians are exactly the recipe for success for people from the Central Coast who want to work hard and build this great nation. I can assure the people of the Central Coast that we, the Labor government, will keep delivering for them.

Our government's priority is to lay down the foundations for the long-term prosperity of this nation by ensuring a strong and broad economy. How, you may ask, can we bring about a more equitable share in the profits of natural resources and, at the same time, strengthen the Australian economy? We can achieve these objectives through two critical tools: firstly, by providing an efficient, internationally competitive and sustainable taxation framework on Australia's most significant bulk commodities; and, secondly, by using these taxes to fund important personal and company tax and superannuation reforms that benefit small business and individuals within our Australian community. This is precisely what these bills do.

The Minerals Resources Rent Tax Bill 2011 provides for the taxation of the above-normal profits from mining iron ore and coal. This is a tax on Australia's most significant bulk commodities: iron ore, coal, oil and gas, commodities that very few Australians have access to in their backyard—but they do have them in our nation. We share in them as a nation. They are commodities that make a significant profit—profits that can help create a fairer Australia. The Petroleum Resource Rent Tax Assessment Amendment Bill 2011 seeks to extend an already existing tax on gas and coal projects to onshore and offshore projects. Applying the tax to both onshore and offshore contexts will not only provide certainty to the industry but also ensure broadly equitable tax treatment between competing projects.

Because Labor believes in a fair Australia, the revenue derived from both of these taxes will be used for the benefit of the entire community. Because Labor believes in a fair Australia, we will use the revenue to implement significant tax and superannuation reforms for all Australians, including a cut in the company tax rate to 29 per cent; a new tax break for up to 2.4 million small businesses; reinvestment in Australia's regions through a $6 billion Regional Infrastructure Fund; a boost to superannuation and expanded superannuation concessions for low-income earners; simplification of the personal tax system; and personal tax discounts. That has to be a good recipe for Australia in anyone's book, at least on this side of the chamber. These much-needed reforms represent this government's attempt to make sure all Australians in our patchwork economy get our fair share of the mining boom. We know that many households and small businesses are doing it tough, and we believe that these tax reforms will provide them with the assistance they need to keep managing these challenges as we move together to a better economic and social future—again, for all Australians.

I would like to draw your attention, Mr Deputy Speaker, to a recent study published by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, entitled Australian small business key statistics. As the Minister for Small Business, Senator Nick Sherry, revealed during the launch of the study, small businesses accounted for nearly half of total Australian industry employment and a third of industry value-added in 2009-10. In fact, at June 2009, small businesses accounted for nearly 98 per cent of all businesses in the agriculture sector, about 96 per cent in the services sector, about 91 per cent in the mining sector and just over 88 per cent in the manufacturing sector. What these figures indicate is that small business is indeed the backbone of the Australian economy. By implementing the mineral and petroleum resource rent tax bills, the Gillard government is keen to ensure that these critical small businesses receive the support they need to continue providing the essential economic activity they provide to this nation. Labor understands the pressures on small business, and this is why, as of 1 July 2012, the government is offering up to 2.4 million small businesses a new tax break.

As I have already indicated, it is not just small business that will benefit from this new tax. The proceeds of the MRRT will also flow through to regional parts of Australia by means of a Regional Infrastructure Fund. This fund will help communities with much-needed infrastructure support. I have seen this need in my own electorate, the electorate of Robertson. As I said, the growth of our electorate in the last 30 years has been really significant. It has led to ever-growing pressure on our infrastructure. Most evident is the pressure on our roads, our rail, our schools and our health services. Parts of many electorates around the country are bursting at the seams. The tax reforms will help relieve some of this real pressure and, through that relief, stimulate business and further enhance the economic outcomes for our nation.

I now wish to clarify some important points about our tax reform proposals. Firstly, the Minerals Resources Rent Tax Bill is not a tax on production; rather, it is a tax on profit. This is absolutely in line with the recommendations made by the Australia's Future Tax System review. These are recommendations our government takes very seriously. They are recommendations from experts, ignored by those opposite, who always seem to know better than everybody else in every situation—or so they would have us believe. The recommendations we follow are taken very seriously, and we seek to implement viable tax systems for Australia—that is, tax systems that do not destroy, but rather build, the Australian economy. This profits-based tax is a much more efficient way of taxing than state royalties, and it will certainly ensure a much better return for Australia. The opposition will tell you that the introduction of the minerals resource rent tax will derail the mining boom and probably break every worst record they can conjure up. But this is simply not supported by the facts. Consistently we see the real facts getting in the way of the myth making, the negativity and the mischief of those opposite who would tell Australians that all our good days are behind us and none in front of us. The reality is very different to what we hear from the other side—'no, no, no' and the carping negativity—and the leadership this country needs is embodied in this legislation.

The latest survey of business investment plans shows that mining companies invested $34 billion last year. They are going to invest $55 billion this year and—wait for it—the amount is growing. They are going to invest $76 billion next year, hardly a sign of an industry in decay. To put that into perspective: that is more than five times the amount of mining investment undertaken six years ago, before the boom took off. However, it is not just an increase in raw dollar investments happening in the mining sector. Since Labor announced its intention to introduce this tax, mining employment has increased by 34.3 per cent. That is 44,200 mining jobs. And as much as those opposite do not like it, this is no indicator of a mining slump.

The second clarification I wish to make about the minerals resource rent tax is that we were only willing to announce it after significant consultations with major players in the industry. These consultations were facilitated by the Policy Transition Group, chaired by none other than Don Argus—the former Chairman of BHP Billiton—and comprised of numerous representatives, including those from peak industry organisations such as APPEA, MCA and a wide range of mining companies both large and small covering iron ore, petroleum, magnetite and coal seam gas operations across the country.

Our government has not only met with and listened to these representatives, we have also accepted every single one of the 98 recommendations made to us by this group. This is an indication of our commitment to work closely with those in industry. The Labor government cares about industry and highly values the opinions of those who are engaged in the mining boom. We have met with the key players in the mining industry, we have listened to them, we have talked with them and we have made our way forward together for the short- and the long-term future, for the sector as well as the nation. This is unlike those opposite who this week in the Qantas debate sided only with big business. They showed no regard for workers and little regard for the ordinary travelling public. Labor listens and Labor leads with a proper regard for business leaders, for union leaders and ordinary working Australians. We get that we are all in it together.

We have listened to all parties and we have brought the best plans into being in the national interest in this legislation before the House today. We are now seeking to implement all those things which have been recommended to us by stakeholders. Suffice it to say, these bills are none other than a collaborative effort with all at the coalface of the mining industry. But more than this, these tax reforms are our attempt to spread the wealth of the mining boom to all of those struggling to make ends meet in our patchwork economy.

The Leader of the Opposition is against these reforms. As we have seen time and time again, the opposition is much more interested in supporting big business than in addressing the needs of those who are doing it tough. With these tax reforms, small businesses within my electorate, such as the scrumptious Terrigal Bakery, the well-patronised Sushi Circle in downtown Gosford, and hard-working tradies like Paul Palmer, a local plumber, and John Owens, a local painter, will be able to reap some of the benefits of the Australian mining boom. This is a very significant tax reform for small business and they will be able to have multiple items written off immediately.

Labor will provide a boost in the super guarantee from nine per cent to 12 per cent for around 8.4 million workers, increasing the pool of retirement savings by $500 billion by 2035. What more can I say, aside from the fact that we are the party who introduced super and now we are the ones increasing it. As a woman with two daughters, I am keenly aware that women really need this legislation to pass through this parliament to practically improve their lives in retirement. Women retire with 40 per cent less than men in their super, despite the fact that, happily, we live longer. But through the introduction of these bills, implementation of the mineral resource rent tax and the petroleum resource rent tax, Labor is giving all Australians a fair share of the mining boom—a boost to retirement savings, tax breaks for small business, company tax cuts—and at the same time supporting growth of the Australian economy. I commend these bills to the House.

Debate adjourned.