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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8831

Mr HAASE (Durack) (19:31): I rise this evening to make some comment in this debate in relation to the Excise Tariff Amendment (Condensate) Bill 2011 and the cognate bill. Of course, this measure is almost shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. I do accept that the major purpose of this amendment is to dispel any doubt as to the impact of the original measure, which was the removal of an exemption from paying excise on condensate that was won as almost a by-product of the development of the North West Shelf gas fields, specifically the Rankin field.

I am sure you recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the North West Shelf gas field was viable only after very long negotiations and strong commitment by the Western Australian government and specifically Sir Charles Court, who negotiated considerations for the Woodside North West Shelf group that allowed such a project to proceed. In the days prior to the commencement of that project, Australia was awash with sceptics—awash with individuals who could come up with every reason for not proceedings with investment in the North West Shelf gas project. The late Sir Charles, to his great credit, had a vision for the development of that petroleum field and could see quite clearly that, so long as the administrative process was put in place that gave some consideration to that project and its investors, it could be a successful project. All went well. I was most fortunate to be a resident of Karratha in those heady years of the commencement of that Woodside project. I saw the changes, so many of them for the greater good of, firstly, the Pilbara community of Dampier and Karratha but, secondly, of Western Australia and the nation as a whole.

Of course, that was a very long time ago. With the emergence of Woodside as a mature, sophisticated, technically competent company and its very large workforce, one Mr Gary Gray emerged as an employee of Woodside. To the great credit of Woodside, they encouraged his challenge to the electorate of Brand, and it is history that his challenge was successful and he was elected as the member for Brand. Everyone in Western Australia was very happy to have as a member of the federal parliament a member who had good sense, excellent knowledge and experience in the oil and gas industry, because we did not have somebody with such qualifications previously. Woodside was very happy; Gary Gray was very happy; the Labor Party of Western Australia was very happy—and then along came the May 2008 budget. Boy, oh, boy, didn't we see some radical change from that point! We saw the new member for Brand absolutely backstabbed and insulted because a pack of greenies headed by Greenpeace decided that the exemption that was being offered to Woodside—which, do not forget, was the very reason that this project was finally financially viable—should not be allowed. This whole strategy was knifed by Treasury.

I have just heard the member for Newcastle waxing lyrical about the fine skills of the Treasurer and Treasury in getting it right. My goodness! I thought that, amongst all of the other failings of the member for Newcastle, blindness would not be one of them. She commended Treasury and the Treasurer simply on the basis of turning green. We know the reason, of course: it keeps Bob Brown and his henchmen close and cooperating with the stated intention of this government, which is simply to stay in power at any cost for as long as possible, because, if we go to an election, there will be an absolute abject failure by this government to win the votes necessary to get back in power. So there was an act of treachery that quite clearly paved the way for the final treatment of Kevin Rudd—and we know what happened to him. There seems to be little doubt that the Australian public's attitude towards and definition of this government right now—that this is a toxic government wanting to impose a further toxic tax—is pretty much spot on. The training ground in treachery was the knifing of the member for Brand, Gary Gray—who, I might add, is a very honourable fellow—as well as the about-face in the treatment of Woodside condensate and the resultant disillusionment of Woodside. That company had no knowledge that they were going to have the rug pulled from under them and a $2 billion-dollar tax—a trifling amount, I am sure, to this Treasurer, but an amount that was very important to Woodside, to West Australians and to shareholders in Woodside—imposed on them. But I am sure that, if it was justified by the leader of Greenpeace, it was all right, because it would have been in keeping with the attitudes espoused by Bob Brown of the Greens and by the Treasurer in cooperating with Greenpeace and the Greens in order to maintain power.

This bill is very specific and highly technical. It defines the Rankin Trend—some condensate is from geological areas within the Rankin Trend, while other condensate is not. Previously, condensate from the Rankin Trend was exempted; under this bill, it is intended that it will no longer be exempted. It is very boring legislation, but, typically, it makes its intentions very clear. It is also retrospective—it dates back to 13 May 2008 in its impact.

In discussions surrounding this bill tonight, we have heard much criticism by the member for Newcastle of the comments of the member for Groom. The member for Groom wanted simply to point out that we do not act sensibly if we aspire to reducing carbon emissions but do not recognise the gas industry for what it is worth. It is an industry that will reduce pollution relative to the pollution that may have been caused had we used coal as an energy, and we fail to recognise that at our own expense. Therefore, I think it is quite reasonable to state that this bill almost represents yet another own goal. It strikes me as extremely lopsided to attack an industry that will produce fewer emissions by imposing additional taxes on it, which this legislation does—and here I am merely clarifying where the legislation will hit—whilst trying to reduce emissions.

The other statement of the member for Groom that was questioned by the member for Newcastle was that this bill represents further evidence that Australia's good reputation as a secure location for international investment was being further trashed by the actions of this government. But if anyone doubts that, they need simply to lift their gaze to the horizon by communicating with a few of our overseas finance houses and looking at some of the internal mail every time there is an action such as this which further destroys the reputation of, firstly, the Rudd government and, secondly, the Gillard government.

We have a great deal going for us in this nation. We are incredibly rich in mineral wealth and petroleum resources, we are in very close proximity to Asia and therefore some of our strongest trading partners, we have had in the past very secure and predictable administration and a safe working environment as well as, in recent times, very efficient ports—many of them privately controlled and run—and infrastructure which works in an incredibly efficient manner by comparison with other port and rail infrastructure in the world. Yet all of those assets are going to amount to nothing if we cannot say to our overseas investors, whose capital is mobile and able to land in any part of the globe, 'Your investment is safe because our taxation regime is consistent.' Those investors will be inclined to overlook our proximity to markets, the efficiency of our materials handling infrastructure and our good record in the area of industrial relations. We trash our reputation as a secure location for investment every time we change the rules after the commencement of the game. We have seen too much evidence in the life of the Rudd and then the Gillard governments of a highly valued reputation trashed time and again overseas to the point where many commentators have raised issues like: 'What are you doing down there, shooting yourself in the foot? Why are you coming up with these taxation changes that will send investors away in droves?' For anybody to suggest that the security of investment in Australia today is equal to that prior to the 2007 election is in dreamland. Ask any international investor whether our reputation today stacks up with that of pre-2007 and they will say emphatically, 'No'. They sincerely hope that it is not trashed any further with any other crazy ideas emerging as policy from cooperation with the Greens or aspirations to take minute portions of reviews of taxation and impose all of the stick and none of the benefits, as has been done too often. I support the push for amendment of this bill and I thank the House.