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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 12963

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (16:44): The things that have already been achieved by this government in this parliament will see the transformation of our country. We have seen historic initiatives such as paid parental leave, the establishment of a national broadband network and health reforms which modernise our health system and make it more accessible and more responsive to the needs of Australians. We have put a price on carbon, we have introduced the Carbon Farming Initiative and we have committed ourselves to a clean energy future with clean energy jobs.

Today I take great pleasure in speaking in favour of new measures in this package of bills before us, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011 and related bills, which will ensure that all Australians share in the benefits of the mineral wealth of our country. It is a historic measure and it follows a range of other very significant reforms that this government has already put in place in a relatively short time. And it is a Labor initiative. It is fundamentally about sharing the benefits of the mining boom for the long-term benefit of the many, not simply the short-term gain of the very, very few.

The minerals resource rent tax demonstrates very clearly this government's determination to provide for future generations—some of whom I suspect are sitting up in the gallery now. It is a determination to ensure that those people share in the prosperity that our country is presently experiencing through the mining boom. The MRRT will support the superannuation savings of some of our lowest paid workers. Funds raised through the MRRT will be used to boost superannuation for around 8.4 million Australians. It will also mean expanded superannuation concessions for around 3.5 million low-income earners and about 275,000 people aged over 50. The benefits of those concessions will be available to around 26,900 people in my electorate who, according to ABS statistics, earn less than $37,000 per year. All of this means, for example, that a 30-year-old worker on average weekly earnings will retire with an extra $100,000 in savings.

That is very significant to people living in my electorate of La Trobe. The average age of people living in my electorate is currently 36.2 years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. A substantial part of my electorate takes in Melbourne's south-east growth corridor, with new families moving each week to the local government areas of Casey and Cardinia. So the figure that I have just quoted will be extremely relevant to parents of young families in my electorate when they retire. That is why the minerals resource rent tax is so important to my electorate and to me as their representative. It will make a real difference to so many people living in La Trobe, particularly to their financial situation on retirement, their independence on retirement and the circumstances of their families.

The average annual salary for workers in La Trobe is around $43,900, according to ABS statistics for 2008-09. To put that figure in perspective, the average annual salary for 2008-09 of people in the Leader of the Opposition's electorate of Warringah was around $73,000 a year and the average annual salary of people in the shadow Treasurer's electorate of North Sydney was $62,000. So an increase in superannuation from nine per cent to 12 per cent is clearly going to be a very important source of savings for a huge number of people in my electorate who are on low wages.

That is exactly what the Hawke-Keating government had in mind when it started the superannuation system in this country. It was a Labor initiative from the beginning and we are progressing it now. And it was opposed then by the coalition, just as the initiatives that we are talking about today are being opposed by the coalition. Indeed, as we have heard today from the Assistant Treasurer, the present Leader of the Opposition made some remarks about compulsory superannuation at the time. On 25 September 1995 he said:

Compulsory superannuation is one of the biggest con jobs ever foisted by government on the Australian people.

That has been the view firmly held for some time by the Leader of the Opposition about the prospect of retirement savings for average Australians, like the substantial number of working people in my electorate who will enormously benefit from the increase this government is proposing should flow from the MRRT. Why is it that those opposite would prefer to stand up for big mining companies than for people on low or average incomes? Why would they prefer to go in to bat for the few who are currently making an extraordinary amount of money from Australia's mineral wealth than for the many families and workers who stand to benefit from the legislation before us today?

I think the people in my electorate should know that the coalition, through their opposition to the minerals resource rent tax, are going in to bat for Rio Tinto, which had a first-half profit of US$7.6 billion. That is an increase of 30 per cent on the previous year. The coalition, in opposing the minerals resource rent tax, are going in to bat for BHP Billiton, which recorded a profit of $22.48 billion for the year ending 30 June 2011. That is an 86 per cent jump in profits. The coalition, in speaking out against the minerals resource rent tax, are standing up for Fortescue Metals Group, which has seen its net profit increase by 76 per cent to $985 million. They are also standing up for Xstrata, which had an operating profit of $4.25 billion, some 31 per cent higher than that previously recorded by it.

So, while the Labor government lines up with families to ensure as many Australians as possible can take advantage of the mining boom, the Leader of the Opposition and the member for North Sydney are going in to bat for mining companies with record profits measured in the billions. And that is not all: many of these same mining companies that the Leader of the Opposition and the member for North Sydney have gone in to bat for have already agreed that they should pay more! And it is to their credit that they do so. The Liberal and National parties' position is illogical, unnecessary and comes at the expense of ordinary working families and small businesses like those in my electorate. As a member of this government I am standing up for people in my electorate whose average salary is around $44,000 a year. I am standing up for their superannuation, their retirement savings and their futures. I am standing up for the some 53,600 working people in La Trobe who stand to benefit from the superannuation increase that will flow from the minerals resource rent tax.

Under the government's proposals, local small business owners in my electorate will be able to write off every asset they buy valued below $6,500 and the first $5,000 of any motor vehicle, yet this is being opposed by the coalition, who seem absolutely determined to sell out the people that they perpetually claim to represent. As a result of the benefits flowing from the MRRT, Australian businesses stand to benefit from a company tax cut. All of these measures in relation to small business and company tax stand to support people and businesses in our patchwork economy who may not be travelling as well as those in the mining sector. We want to ensure that those in small business and companies throughout Australia remain strong and continue to support jobs and growth in our economy. Yet again, this is being opposed by the coalition.

This government is standing up for better infrastructure in mining communities, which should see some reward, some direct benefit, from mining activity on their doorstep. It seems that individual members of the coalition might quietly think that this is a good idea. The Leader of the Nationals recently made some very interesting remarks about mining operations. In a speech to the Transport Australia Summit and Expo on 28 September, he spoke about the concerns of many Australians to ensure:

… the mining boom would leave behind a legacy of stronger country communities with permanently improved services and enduring populations.

The Leader of the Nationals went on to tell us what he really thought about mining companies, their contributions and their impact on local communities, thus far. He said:

I share the disappointment about how few mining companies contribute to the areas they invade …

It is a somewhat curious choice of words. Could these be the same mining companies that the coalition is arguing should not be subject to the MRRT? The Leader of the Nationals said it was a tax which would ensure 'the mining boom would leave behind a legacy of stronger communities'. Are these the same mining companies that the Liberals and Nationals would prefer to see profit at the expense of local families and small businesses in my electorate of La Trobe? Indeed, they are. They are the same mining companies that are making extraordinary profits. If the Leader of the Nationals is genuine about supporting local communities, he ought to have a word to the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Treasurer to tell them to stop putting the interests of the very wealthy—the very few—ahead of the interests of ordinary Australian wage-earners and small businesses.

I am proud to be speaking in favour of these bills today. In doing so I am standing up for residents and small businesses in my own electorate, residents and small business owners who do not earn billions of dollars and who understand that all Australians should share in our nation's wealth. They are local residents whom the Liberals and Nationals simply do not care about. It is time that all Australians—not just a few big mining companies—benefited from the resources boom and shared in our country's enormous mineral wealth.

The initiatives of this government, reflected in the bills before us, offer an opportunity for all to benefit. They will strengthen our economy, they will assist in building up national savings, they will support small business and they will support infrastructure investment in mining communities and investment in our regions. These opportunities could have been seized during the Howard government's years in office, to ensure that the benefits of the mining boom at that time were experienced by all Australians.

Reflecting on the remarks of the Leader of the Nationals, it is a wonder they did not take the opportunity at that time. Now it is clear that it was not simply a case of the Howard government failing to act. It was not simply that they did not think these kinds of measures might be a good idea. It is clear that the coalition has always intended that big miners should have the exclusive benefit of Australia's mineral wealth. Australians know how important the mining industry is but they also know that we can only dig up Australia's natural resources once. That is why Labor believes in the mining tax—to ensure that all Australians, not just the very profitable mining companies, can benefit from the mining boom.

We understand that many Australians do not currently feel the benefits of the boom. We understand that many businesses and households are doing it tough. Mining is important but we have to make sure that we have a future beyond the mining boom and that we share the benefits for future generations. The coalition opposes the mining tax because it will always put the limited interests of big business before the interests of Australians who are doing it tough. It is once again acting for vested interests and for the very few.

It really is time that the coalition sets out its plan for ensuring that all Australians benefit from the rich mineral resources that our country has found itself the beneficiary of. The coalition must explain why the Liberals are supporting tax breaks worth billions of dollars for mining companies but do not support tax breaks for small businesses in Berwick, Belgrave, Boronia or Ferntree Gully in my electorate. The coalition needs to explain why it is standing up for billionaire mining magnates but ignoring the retirement savings and the day-to-day challenges of families and residents in Pakenham, Berwick Clyde North, Emerald, Belgrave, Cockatoo and Boronia. All that the coalition has been able to articulate in its rebuttal to this package of bills before us today is that somehow it suspects there is likely to be a risk to investment in Australia as a result of the proposals the bills contain.

It is useful to consider part of the proposed investment that is currently being contemplated by a range of the mining companies that I have already mentioned today. It is ludicrous that the coalition suggests there will be damage to mining investment in this country as a result of the MRRT. We know that a number of major projects have already been entered into since the announcement of the package of bills that is before us today. We also know that Australia is clearly experiencing a very significant increase in mining investment.

Since the government announced its mining tax reforms, for instance, mining investment has increased from some $35 billion last year to $47 billion this year, with an expected $82 billion in the 2011-12 period. Mining investment is not going to slow down. The employment that is generated through mining investment is not going to slow down. This is about ensuring that companies which are profitable pay their fair share and that all Australians derive the benefits from resources which can only be dug up once and which we need to make the best use of for our future generations.