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Tuesday, 19 November 2013
Page: 729

Mr NIKOLIC (Bass) (20:24): After those contributions from the member for McMahon and the member for Jagajaga, it is clear that the early days of the 44th Parliament are bearing witness to the most extraordinary efforts by those opposite to cling to the 43rd Parliament. As Australians have come to realise, the Labor Party created a number of problems during the last six years. The member for Jagajaga and her colleagues created a boat problem, a taxes problem and a debt problem. As soon as the election was over, the clamour from those opposite for us to do something about the debt, taxes and boat problems became deafening. Yet every day in this parliament they work to deny us the clear mandate we have from the Australian people to fix their debt problem, their taxes problem and their boat problem. In the process, they only accentuate the trust deficit that they have with the Australian people.

But whether it is their opposition to the carbon tax repeal bill, or their efforts to deny the success that the member for Cook and Lieutenant General Campbell have achieved with Operation Sovereign Borders, or their efforts to stop our repeal of the MRRT, Australians are awake to the motivation of those opposite. It is not based on any noble assessment of national interest or a deeply held ideological belief. It is about those sharp, jagged factional edges which continue to grate against each other after six years of chaos, division and broken promises.

What I encourage those opposite to do is just let go of the 43rd Parliament. Let go of the carbon tax and the mining tax, which the Australian people so comprehensively rejected at the last election. Let us implement the repeal of the MRRT legislation which, after all, was front and centre at our 2013 election campaign. At a time when the industry was and remains confronted with challenges to its ability to invest and grow, the former government imposed additional pressure through the MRRT. We will work to wind back the bad policies of the former government and alleviate that pressure. And if you think that Labor's approach to the MRRT sounds familiar, you are right: it repeats the mistakes of the carbon tax.

As members present will recall, Labor's carbon tax took no account of what had happened at the Copenhagen summit. It became a millstone around the neck of Australia's international competitiveness. And despite the pain that it caused, the carbon tax did not actually have the effect of reducing emissions at all. It did not achieve its intended effect, yet it undermined jobs and endeavour. Just like the carbon tax, the MRRT imposed a big lead weight on the mining industry without raising the forecast revenue. As the Treasurer said when introducing this legislation to the House, we are in the very unusual position as legislators of repealing a tax which will actually save the Commonwealth money. That is the simple truth of the matter, and that is why I strongly urge all of those who are not on the government benches to support this bill.

As someone whose former career was in the military, I recall the old joke: if it moves, salute it; if it doesn't, paint it. If I might extend that adage in a political sense, the Labor Party's approach is, and historically has been: if it contributes to the national economy, tax it mercilessly. But like so many policies that were recklessly inflicted on the Australian people and businesses in the last six years, the MRRT was simply not thought through. Not only was it ill-conceived but it also compounded the economic damage when the former government linked a number of spending measures to this blunt economic instrument. The schoolkids bonus, which we have heard about this evening, was dependent on revenue from the mining tax. We see that link, as the member for Hughes pointed out earlier, in comments from Senator Wong, the then minister for finance, in June 2012 which directly linked the schoolkids bonus to the proceeds of the mining tax.

In essence, Labor raised expectations in our community that the federal government would fund certain programs from mining tax revenue. The problem was that the MRRT did not deliver anywhere near the forecast revenue, and Labor became even more reliant, if that is possible, on borrowings to pay for these commitments. Repeal of the MRRT package will deliver more than $13 billion of savings to the budget bottom line on an underlying cash basis over the forward estimates—I repeat: $13 billion in savings. In doing so, it goes some way to repairing the economic damage caused to our nation's finances during the last six years.

In the case of the MRRT, as we have heard, it is forecast to raise only around 10 per cent of the original forecast revenue. Since its introduction, the MRRT has raised only around $400 million in net terms, yet the former government has locked in $16.7 billion of expenditure on an underlying cash basis over the current forward estimates. That is over 40 times the current revenue accrued. Just imagine running a business on that basis. Imagine committing 40 times your forecast income—not actual income, but forecast income—based on questionable assumptions with a political twist. The Labor government were like gamblers at the casino, predicting a huge windfall, spending that windfall 40 times over and then expressing surprise when the consequences of their bad judgement were realised. And unforgivably, they were gambling with Commonwealth revenue and expenditure. By repealing ill-considered policies like the carbon and mining taxes, we are acting to ease pressure on the budget. As the Minerals Council of Australia has rightly pointed out, even if the original basis of the MRRT could be argued, the economic situation applying in 2010 is very different in the resources sector from that which applies in the international commodity world of 2013, and the member for Fraser, surely, would understand that.

It is difficult to understand why the Labor Party, having created this mess, is now standing in the way of us fixing it. Repeal of the MRRT will have a significant effect on Australia's reputation as, in the words of the Prime Minister, we will be 'open for business', and specifically open for investment. Like the repeal of the carbon tax currently being debated, the MRRT was an isolationist tax. It was a government taking measures that disadvantaged the national interest in isolation to the policy settings of our major competitors. That is what made the Rudd and Gillard government decisions in this area so breathtakingly bad. It is legitimate for us to have different views about the environment and management of resources, but it is surely bereft of any economic sense whatsoever to take policy decisions that had the direct effect of disadvantaging our terms of trade.

Much of the media commentary on the MRRT has concentrated on Western Australia and Queensland, and so it should because of the importance of the resources sector in those states. But this House must remember that every state of the Federation is a mining state. In my home state of Tasmania, resetting our economic course to a brighter future includes reinvigorating valuable industries like forestry and mining. Increases to the tax and compliance costs for industries like mining have the potential to damage our state doubly. They can impede new investment and impact on the growth of local jobs—highly undesirable outcomes for a state that has the highest unemployment rate in Australia. The MRRT did not raise revenue directly from Tasmanian mines but the signal it sent to those keen to invest in and expand our mining sector was clear. 'We will tax you,' Labor said, and there was no ambiguity in that message for those seeking to invest.

And in doing this, they were enthusiastically supported by the Green Party. The Greens of course are masters at traducing reputations of companies especially in the resources sector. They have no compunction whatsoever in using whatever tools they can—underhand or out in the open, it does not matter to them. It was nothing short of alarming that a major political party founded on support for working people especially miners was happy to support a law which attacked confidence in the mining sector so squarely. I hope that Labor parliamentarians reflect on this the next time they evoke images of the Eureka flag.

In my own state we have seen the Greens party's consistent efforts to lock up the so-called Tarkine in Tasmania, a name quickly leapt on by Dr Bob Brown in the early 1990s to elevate it to some mystical and romanticised status. In reality this is of course the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area bounded by the Arthur River in the north and the Pieman River in the south. Yet Dr Brown's invention has mystical growing boundaries matched only by growing Greens party demands to lock up even more of our state as a national park.

The Arthur-Pieman area is indeed a beautiful area with important reserves that already deliver a sensible balance between recreational, economic and conservation imperatives. But despite recent mine proposals and existing mines only covering one per cent of Dr Brown's mystical creation, the Greens continue to use every legal device to impede mining approvals. This is an area dotted with historical mine sites and railway infrastructure, yet the Greens party quite mendaciously present it as pristine, untouched wilderness. But of course the Greens have never let the facts get in the way of a good story. That is why they have duped so many good people. There is little doubt the Greens celebrate the MRRT, which only serves to add pressure on the mining industry. In this sense Labor's mining tax supports Greens party efforts around the country to impede sensible development.

When we are considering legislation directly related to our mining industry, it is worth reminding the House of the contribution the industry makes. Apart from the very important royalty payments, the growth of many areas of regional Australia has been directly supported by mining. The Minerals Council stated yesterday that the mining industry made a contribution of $34.7 billion to community infrastructure, Indigenous contractors, and local suppliers in just one financial year, 2011-12. This was the conclusion of the corporate social responsibility consultants, Banarra. As all of us who have visited mining towns know, this includes community facilities such as health centres, education and training, sporting clubs, transport services and community amenities.

So when Australians heard the glib Hawker-Britton line that Australians should get 'something back' from mining, they were rightly bemused. They knew—and even Labor spin doctors knew—Australians do get something back from mining. They get royalties, company tax, licencing fees, and the often underestimated community contribution. But of course most of all they get long-term employment for thousands of Australians directly and many thousands more indirectly.

When the history of Australia is written, the carbon tax and the mining tax will be remembered as signature policy failures of the Labor Party in government and I do think that the more thoughtful of those opposite also understand that. Many of those opposite who understand it have now left the parliament. As the former member for Batman so eloquently said in this House on 29 May 2013:

Creating opportunities by working with business is not the same thing as pointless class rhetoric. In essence, we need to grow the pie to share it.

Martin Ferguson got it and I know that there are others on that side of the House who get it as well. More is the pity that they do not represent an influential majority in the Labor caucus.

The member for Jagajaga and the member for McMahon during their contributions were keen to lecture the House on values. Trust is considered by some as a foundation value. In the three weeks remaining of parliament this year the opposition have the opportunity to redeem at least some of the trust deficit that they have with the Australian people—to stop the class war rhetoric and the politics of envy and divisions that those opposite relentlessly persist with.

Australia is advantaged by having a strong alternative government and this House is certainly better if we can have a robust exchange of competing policies and ideas, but there is no way that this House should ever vote for laws which have their genesis in isolationist economics, reckless to the effect on our trade and investment and reckless to nourishing the confidence that is so essential to a flourishing economy.

By passing this bill the House can move Australia forward. We can send a clear signal to this important industry that we support it and that we understand the contribution it makes to our national economy. We can remind the electorate that an adult government and an adult parliament will now legislate for a taxation regime that is actually based on fairness and the encouragement of investment and growth. I encourage those opposite to heed the words of the former member for Batman, to heed those moderate voices in the Labor caucus and to create a welcome outbreak of political common sense. I commend the bill and urge its support in this House. (Time expired)