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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 73

Senator COOK —My congratulations on your appointments to you, Mr President, and to the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Gareth Evans, to whom I direct this question. Is the Minister concerned at the level of State taxes and charges levied on mining and resources industries in Queensland? Do the mining and resources industries in Queensland approve the taxing levels and regard them as being an incentive to their endeavours? Does the real level of resources tax in Queensland give credibility to Premier Bjelke-Petersen's nationwide campaign for lower taxes and flat taxes in Australia?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The basic reality that has to be borne in mind whenever we hear the Queensland Premier talking about lower or flatter taxes-uttering what the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Steve Hatton, described a couple of days ago as simplistic gibberish-is that the Queensland Government has increased its revenue from its own sources of State taxes, charges, fees, fines and the profits of State-run operations at a faster rate than any other State in Australia. According to Bureau of Statistics figures which, quite conveniently for all of us, were gathered together by Kenneth Davidson in the Age a couple of days age, Queensland revenue from the various State taxing sources increased at an average annual real rate of growth of 7 per cent over the last six years compared with the average for all States of less than 4 per cent.

The most significant part of Queensland's tax revenue, from the point of view of my portfolio and the nation's interest in effective resource industries, comes from the State's very heavy coal transport charges, particularly on rail freight. The Queensland Chamber of Mines, which I am sure Senator Bjelke-Petersen and her colleagues here would accept as authoritative, has estimated that the profit or tax component-in addition to cost recovery-of the $584m that was collected as rail freight in Queensland in 1984-85 was $364m or 62 per cent. Again, a recent report by one of the major coal producers in Queensland also estimated that railway profits amounted to something like 67 per cent of its total freight costs. Queensland has what appears to be the highest tax regime in the world on coal exports. Of course, that is occurring at a time when the industry is fighting against very considerable international odds to maintain its international competitiveness. What has to be the case, as I have stated as a Federal Minister over and over again, is that taxes and charges on the coal industry imposed in this way at the State level have to be reviewed and replaced by more equitable and rational taxation schemes.

I want to make it clear that the Commonwealth Government is not opposed to taxation as such of resource industries but taxation which is open to the public view and which does not discourage production is much better than the hidden profit or concealed system of taxation, such as that which operates through rail freight with its massive taxation component on Queensland coal production. It is one thing to call for lower income tax, but when a person calls for that at the same time as imposing a wide range of consumer taxes; imposes taxes at a totally unconscionable rate on a vital export industry; uses those taxes to support what is the most profligate public spending State government in this country; and spouts taxation discipline at a time when, as Steve Hatton reminded us, the person is standing on the steps of an $8m aircraft which costs $1,800 of Queensland taxpayers' money per hour to fly, it is proper to describe that person as a charlatan in exactly the way that every conservative spokesman in this country has been doing.

Senator Chaney —On a point of order, Mr President: I ask the Minister to withdraw the expression that he just used about the Premier of Queensland. It is quite unparliamentary and it should be withdrawn.

The PRESIDENT —Under standing order 418 the word `charlatan' is offensive and I would ask the Minister to withdraw it.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am happy to do so; I will substitute the expression `purveyor of simplistic gibberish' which appears to be, by comparison, perfectly acceptable to the Opposition.