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Friday, 16 March 2012
Page: 2019


Senator CROSSIN (Northern Territory) (11:32): I rise today to support the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Bill 2011 and related legislation, which will no doubt deliver historic economic reform to benefit all Australians. (Quorum formed) Thank you, Senator Macdonald, for drawing attention to the state of the chamber—you, of all the people in the Senate from whom I would welcome such a call. You and I have worked so closely together building up the profile and promoting the Outback Highway that will run, as you know, from Kalgoorlie right through the centre of this country and through to Queensland. Our joint aim, our joint ambition—our dream—to have that extended bit of road bituminised could be realised if you embraced this legislation.

So I welcome the fact that you wanted to intervene and call a quorum while I was talking, because it gives me a chance to proudly stand with you and say, 'Senator Macdonald, we've been working on the Outback Highway and drawing attention to the lack of the funds it needs to get itself bituminised for those many thousands of kilometres.' But of course if you had enough courage to actually support this legislation—many of the benefits of which will go to additional infrastructure projects in this country—that project might well be one of the projects that could benefit from the additional income this government and this country will receive through the passage of this legislation. Perhaps while I give my contribution you might want to rethink about your efforts to support this legislation and what this might mean to our colleagues and friends at the Outback Highway.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Moore ): Through the chair, Senator Crossin.

Senator CROSSIN: Through the chair. He will think about that, I am sure.

These bills implement the minerals resource rent tax and extend the petroleum resource rent tax regime as part of reforms to obtain a fairer return on our non-renewable resources and will support growth across the entire economy. The bills provide for the taxation of the above-normal profits from mining of iron ore and coal. The MRRT is a tax on the realised profits from selling iron ore or coal that are attributable to the condition and location of the iron ore or coal just after it has been extracted. As you would know we are debating the legislation in the Senate this week and next week because the regime is due to apply from 1 July, the extension of the existing petroleum resource rent tax regime is to include onshore oil and gas projects, and all offshore projects will also apply from 1 July this year.

The design of this legislation aims to strike an effective balance between the government's policy objective of ensuring that all Australians receive a fair return from the use of our valuable mineral and petroleum resources and to provide an efficient, internationally competitive and sustainable taxation framework that will support continued investment in these industries. I know a lot of my colleagues have gone through the benefit of this legislation, but I am going to take some time in the Senate to reiterate it. I do that because mining is an integral part of the economy in the Northern Territory and, being the only government Territory senator, I think it is important that on this historic occasion, as we embark on this major reform, that the views of Northern Territorians and their support for this tax are reflected.

So what exactly will this revenue generated from the MRRT and the PRRT be used to fund? Predominantly, we know it is about important tax and superannuation reforms, and they go to a range of issues: company tax cuts for all companies from 1 July 2013, a new tax break for up to 2.7 million small businesses, and investment in our regions through the Regional Infrastruct­ure Fund and the Regional Development Australia. I will just stop going through the list there and say that when you come from a place like the Northern Territory, where I think the last estimation for sealing one kilometre of road was $1 million, and when you think that there are at least 1,425 kilometres between Darwin and Alice Springs—if I remember that correctly, not having driven it thousands of times but many times; it is one of the very few sealed roads—

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

Senator CROSSIN: No, I have never seen Gina's jet in the Northern Territory actually, but we would probably welcome some of her assistance with funding through this legislation, I have to say.

We have around 3,000 or so kilometres between Darwin and Katherine that is sealed road, but once you get east and west of the Stuart Highway there are thousands and thousands of kilometres of unsealed roads—and that is just for starters. There are hundreds of airstrips that are relied upon in the Northern Territory for delivery of food, mail, health and emergency services. So infrastructure is chronically needed in the Northern Territory to a capacity that I think the funds that are generated from this sort of legislation will assist. Bridges are certainly needed, particularly down near Nooka way. Borroloola managed to get a new bridge last year through Regional Development Australia and Northern Territory funds. There are many examples. The road to Wadeye, for example, is often cut off. It is the same with the road between Katherine and Nhulunbuy as you go through East Arnhem over the Giddy River. It has always been unsealed and I am sure that with negotiations, the traditional owners would welcome a major upgrade to some of that infrastructure. So this is an opportunity to invest in our regions through the funding that will emanate from this legislation. It is inventiveness and incisiveness by this government and is really too good to pass up.

Another benefit will be simplifying personal tax for 6.4 million Australians, with a $500 standard deduction from 1 July this year and a $1,000 deduction from 1 July next year, rewarding personal saving for over five million Australians and with a 50 per cent tax discount on up to $500 of interest income from 1 July 2012, increasing up to $1,000 of interest income from 1 July 2013. There will be a boost to superannuation for 8.4 million Australians, with the first increase on 1 July 2013, and expanded superannuation concess­ions for 3.5 million low-income earners and about 275,000 over 50-year-olds from 1 July this year. There are many extensive benefits emanating from this legislation.

Our future tax system review recommend­ed implementing a resource tax regime which taxes profits rather than production in order to recognise different mining costs across projects. There was consultation with the industry, and after that the Australian government in 2010 announced the minerals resource rent tax. It will move Australia's resource-charging regime closer to a non-distortive, profit based tax that focuses on Australia's most significant bulk commodi­ties: iron ore and coal. A profit based system will get a better return for Australia for its non-renewable wealth and do it in a better and more efficient way than state royalties. The 'noalition' on the other side of the chamber, who champion no benefits of this government just for the sake of it, will want to suggest that industries will fold and that there has been no new development and no benefit since the announcement. Quite the contrary—all of the available industry statistics point to an extremely positive outlook for the mining sector. Since this government has announced its mining tax reforms, mining investment has skyrocketed from $35 billion in 2009-10 to $47 billion in 2010-11. That is expected to rise to $82 billion in this coming year. Mining employment has also grown substantially by 24.3 per cent. That is 44,200 mining jobs compared to 2.1 per cent for the whole economy over the same period.

What people opposite me fail to realise is that the economy in this country is changing the way in which we are going to generate revenue for governments to use. It is massively expanding through the minerals boom. We have had one boom. We were in opposition during that time. People will look around and do an analysis of how the Howard government performed during those 10 years and will, by and large, come to a conclusion that it was squandered, that money was not put into infrastructure. Billions of dollars were ripped out of the health system. Money was not put into the education system. Money was not put into the training system. In fact, we sat back and watched ANTA, the Australian National Training Authority, get hacked to death by the Howard government. Then we looked around and wondered why there were so many Australians without the necessary skills to get into the workforce to be part of this new and emerging boom that we are now expecting. The Labor Party has stepped up to the plate and put a lot of energy, effort and reform into the VET sector, supporting businesses, apprentices and young people in this country to have the skills they need so they can get on board the train and be part of this new and emerging resource benefit.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Madam Chair, I hate to interrupt Senator Crossin again, but this is such a good speech that there should be more people listening to it, so I draw your attention to the state of the chamber. There is no-one here to listen and I would like them to hear Senator Crossin.

(Quorum formed)

Senator CROSSIN: I will not be cheeky and seek leave to start again from the beginning, although it looks as though the clock is suggesting that I could do that.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator CROSSIN: Because, Senator Macdonald, I want to give you as much time as I possibly can to get you to change your mind. If you could just change your mind and support this legislation, we would have enough money in the infrastructure budget for Regional Development Australia to bitumise the Outback Highway. You and I could get in that truck and drive from one side of this country across to the other and champion that success. I would not mind if you took all the glory for it and claimed that you were the one that managed to get it all bitumised and up to scratch. You could take all the glory that you like if you could just change. Maybe you want me to keep talking so I can give you more reasons why you should change your mind and support this legislation and get that highway off gravel and bitumised and get on it as quickly as possible.

Let us see where we are at. We have talked about exactly what this legislation is going to bring for the country. Let us home in on what it actually means for Territorians. The revenue from this legislation will lock in the benefits of the mining boom for Territorians, continue to create a sustainable economy that will go beyond the mining boom and support investment in infrastruct­ure and industries to grow jobs in the future. Particularly in the Northern Territory it is going to secure a boost to the superannuation of 62,000 Northern Territory workers, and 22,000 of those are in the seat of Lingiari, which will increase their pool of retirement savings by $6 billion—not $6 million but $6 billion—by 2035, according to the federal Treasury. What does the party opposite me—that rabble led by Tony Abbott—want to do?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Moore ): Mr Abbott, Senator.

Senator CROSSIN: The rabble from Mr Abbott want to rip out that major savings boost from my Territorians.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator CROSSIN: No, it does not sound as good. I am not Scottish. I think I have a Cornish background. Of course, the 'noalition' say no, no, no. That is all they can say. In not supporting this legislation, they want to rip out the major savings boost that my constituents in the Territory could so well do with.

This legislation will provide 30,000 low-income earners in the Northern Territory with an extra boost to their super accounts through a refund of the contribution tax, worth up to $500 a year in extra retirement savings for a person with an income of $37,000, but, no, they do not want that to happen either for Territorians. That is right: those people are more concerned about supporting the top end of town and not low-income earners, of which I have at least 30,000 in the Northern Territory.

Senator Nash interjecting

Senator CROSSIN: The saddest thing about your position, Senator Nash—and I cannot believe that, as a senator from regional Australia, as I am, you would do this—is that you would turn your back on businesses in rural and remote Australia. This legislation is going to deliver a special new tax benefit for 16,000 Northern Territory businesses and a cut in their company tax. Of the 16,000 businesses in the Northern Territory, 9,600 are situated in Darwin and Palmerston, in the seat of Solomon. I am yet to see 9,600 letters, signed by the member for Solomon, Ms Griggs, outlining to those 9,600 businesses why it is that she did not support this legislation. Every single day, when I am out and about, most of the businesses come to me and say: 'We don't understand why the member for Solomon wouldn't have supported us getting our special new tax benefit. We don't understand why the member for Solomon walked away from us being able to instantly write off each asset worth up to $6,500.' Why is there no explanation from her about why she has walked away from supporting small business in the Northern Territory, particularly the 9,600 businesses in Darwin and Palmerston? Once this legislation goes through, I will have the pleasure of writing to each and every one of them and explaining why this is the government that can raise the flag for small business. This is the government that will support small business. This is the government that will now be able to say to small business: 'Not only is part of this package about looking after the future of your workers, with a better superannuation benefit, but a big part of this package is to ensure that you are part of the 2.7 million businesses in this country, many of which are struggling with our patchwork economy, that will get a huge boost and huge assistance from this government.'

What a day of shame in this federal parliament when the party opposite us, which once used to be the champions of the economy and once used to pretend that they were the friends of small business, have turned their back on both. They are unable to embrace the new economy that this country is about to embark upon, thanks to the mining boom, are unable to embrace the pressures and the needs of small business in our community and are unable to assist small business to maximise the benefits out of the boom that we are about to realise.

Last but not least, this legislation will fund vital infrastructure, particularly in our rural and remote areas. If you are a member of this parliament, particularly if you live outside the capital city kingdoms of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, I do not understand why you would not happily put your hand up to support this legislation, why you would not embrace the opportunity for this country to benefit from the minerals resources boom, and get on board with a minerals resource rent tax to assist workers with superannuation, assist small business with tax cuts and put into this country the vital infrastructure that is so badly needed. When you bring those three elements together, you will have a new economy and a new future for this country. But what we see on the other side are members of a party that had no alternative, no other ideas— (Time expired)