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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2186

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (20:38): What a remarkable 20 minutes. I find it quite extraordinary—and Senator Brown will slink out of here now—that a leader of a political party can come into this place and actually—

Senator Bob Brown: Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: you can see that I am not slinking anywhere. I think that the senator ought to be careful about misrepresenting what is happening in this Senate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Stephens ): Thank you. There is no point of order.

Senator RONALDSON: I am sure if there was a rock about you would find some way of slipping under it. I have heard some remarkable contributions. You come in here, Senator Brown—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President—and accuse the Clerk of being biased. Did you ring the Clerk before you came in and say, 'I'm going to accuse you of being biased tonight'? Did you have the intestinal fortitude to do that, Senator Brown? No, you did not. You are a gutless piece of work. You are attacking the person that we have put in here to protect ourselves and you have not even—

Senator Milne: Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: the standing orders require that remarks be made through the chair and that there are not reflections of the kind that Senator Ronaldson is making on other senators. I would ask that you draw to Senator Ronaldson's attention a requirement to speak through the chair and not to adversely reflect on other senators.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Ronaldson, please make your remarks through the chair, and we are debating this bill. Try and contain your remarks to the bill.

Senator RONALDSON: I think I had referred my remarks through you but I will continue to do so and perhaps repeat what I said through you, Madam Acting Deputy President. What a despicable performance we have seen from Senator Brown tonight who has called the Clerk of the Senate biased. That is what Senator Brown has done tonight. I would have thought—

Senator Bushby interjecting

Senator RONALDSON: It should be referred to the President; you are right, Senator Bushby. In fact, I will ask you to refer that to the President, Madam Acting Deputy President. But I will go on. It is remarkable to me that Senator Brown did not even have the guts to give the Clerk notice that he would be making these outrageous comments tonight. I think the comments themselves are despicable. Now he has slinked out. The fact that he has not even given the Clerk the opportunity to be here and hear those comments, I think, is lower than low. He has gone and he will not return, and I cannot believe that the deputy leader of the Greens, Senator Milne, is prepared to accept that what her boss has just done is appropriate. She has got her head buried down as she would because she is embarrassed. Senator Ludlam is embarrassed, and every one of the Greens on that side is absolutely embarrassed about their behaviour.

Senator Milne: Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: I refer you to standing order 193, the rules of debate. I would ask that Senator Ronaldson contain his remarks and be civil in his comments.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you. There is no point of order. Senator Ronaldson, continue and be mindful of your personal remarks.

Senator RONALDSON: Thank you very much. Civility!—after the 20 minutes we have just had. I wonder if Phil Coorey is listening. I wonder whether Mr Coorey is listening to what was said about him. I am sure that was a reflection on him, Senator Milne. I bet Mr Coorey did not get a phone call to say, 'I'm going to make some comments about you in the chamber tonight.' We have had an attack on Mr Coorey and then we had an attack on the Clerk. There was a show on TV I remember when I was a kid called Precious Pupp, and here we have the leader of the Greens as the 'Precious Pupp' of Australian politics. He is the walking glass jaw. When everything else fails, he will attack someone else. What a gutless wonder he is. I hope Mr President, when he has a look at this, will see this as totally—

Senator Milne: Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: I refer you to standing order 203, infringement of order, when a senator is persistently guilty of disorderly conduct, uses objectionable words and refuses to withdraw such words. I would ask him to withdraw his words relating to Senator Brown. They are unparliamentary, and I seek that he withdraw them.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Ronaldson, I ask you to be circumspect about using terms such as 'gutless wonder' and to refrain from repeating those forms of abuse.

Senator RONALDSON: I will take that admonishment, Madam Acting Deputy President. I want to refer to some of Senator Brown's other comments tonight. You could never have heard a better case for Senator Brown to vote against this legislation than the speech he just gave. The reason he has put up his amendments is the reason he should vote against this bill if the amendments do not get up. We know the amendments are unconstitutional, we know the referral is unconstitutional, so his amendments will not get up. If Senator Brown was serious about this, if that 20 minutes was not just a rave and a rant that was quite meaningless, he would vote against this bill on the basis of his royalty comments alone. If the uncertainty that Senator Brown is talking about and the impacts of that certainty are left—using his words—to continue, then he will vote against the bill, surely, on the back of that. I do not know who this economics expert is that Senator Brown was referring to. The gentleman may well be—

Senator Bushby: A staffer.

Senator RONALDSON: Okay. I would be very surprised whether anyone who knew anything about economics in this country would be likely to sign up to double taxation. Effectively, that is what will happen to the corporate sector if Senator Brown gets his way—there will be double taxation. There will be royalties and there will not be any offsetting of that as part of this agreement, so there will be double taxation in relation to what is happening to these companies.

Senator Bushby: They want that.

Senator RONALDSON: Of course they want double taxation. It is a word that has not been used a lot in the last two or three years but tonight's speech was a classic case of why the Australian Greens are called 'watermelons': because they are green on the outside and pink on the inside. It was a most remarkable speech that we heard tonight. I will not take up the invitation of my very good friend on the other side to take that matter further.

Before I go back to the debate on this matter, I just want to remind Senator Brown, who referred to costings and economic responsibility, of what has happened under the Australian Labor Party. The last four budgets have delivered deficits of $167 billion. In one financial year the presumed deficit, on my understanding, went from $12 billion to $23 billion and then was revised out to $37 billion, all in one year—and Senator Brown had the gall to talk about the coalition's economic credentials. I am pleased that my colleague Senator Wong was in the chamber tonight because the document that was referred to by Senator Brown was a document prepared by the Australian Labor Party. If you have a look at the little red book, the new little red book, you will see that there is not one reference to Treasury having looked at these figures—not one reference at all. This is the Labor Party's little red book where they have allegedly made up deficit figures on behalf of the coalition. We just do not fall for that at all. We also know, and Senator Brown should be aware, that if indeed there is a surplus in May, and you cannot imagine there will not be a surplus announced, it will be a complete and utter manufactured surplus. I heard the other day from a university, not in my home state, that money that has been allocated has been brought forward into this year when sods have not been turned and it is doubtful whether there have even been contracts signed. We know it is going to be shonky, we know it will be a trick surplus and we know that in 2013-14 it will be back to business as usual for the Australian Labor Party.

I want to look at some of this money shuffling and spending forward or back out of 2012-13. In fact, Labor is boasting about spending, to the tune of $100 billion, that is either unfunded or hidden off budget. It is a real $100 billion black hole. Leading examples include the hiding of the bulk of the NBN Co. spending from ditches to cable by treating $27 billion as equity injections to the NBN Co. Equity injections! This is just a manufactured surplus. Labor's Clean Energy Finance Corporation costing $2 billion over five years has been taken off budget. Labor is spending $1 billion each year for its Energy Security Fund, except in 2012-13 when spending will be less than $1 million. Since 2009 the Labor Party has been promising more than $30 billion for purchasing submarines, but not one cent has yet been put into the forward estimates. And we know that if the current European carbon price persists we could face a huge revenue loss of between $3 billion and $5 billion a year. So we do not need a lecture from Senator Brown about our economic credentials. He should be directing that to the Australian Labor Party. They are indeed the ones who have failed abysmally in appropriate economic management of this country.

Senator Carol Brown: Your lot can't even count!

Senator RONALDSON: Deary me! I love Senator Brown to death, I do. But clearly, Senator Brown, someone on your side cannot count either because how can you go from a deficit of $12 billion to $23 billion to $37 billion in one year alone? I hope you do not take that little red book of yours down to Tasmania and wave that around.

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Senator Polley interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Stephens ): Order, Senators! Calling across the chamber is disorderly.

Senator Carol Brown: We only hope that you have the same success as Senator Abetz and go backwards!


Senator RONALDSON: I want some of what Senator Brown had! Clearly my barbecue lunch was not sufficient to get me as fired up as that, so I'll go back and have another sausage at the whips' barbecue when we leave here. I do want to talk about this ridiculous mining tax. Fundamentally, I think that what was wrong with this legislation from day one was the lack of consultation. Only three companies in Australia have been consulted in relation to this matter—BHP, Rio and Xstrata. They of course are the big beneficiaries of this tax. But what about those smaller miners and those start-ups and those prospectors? Ultimately, they are going to be the ones who will pay a higher effective tax rate as a result of this. Rio, BHP and Xstrata—and I am sure that my super fund will have shares in those companies—are good Australian companies, but this country was not built on the back of two or three big miners. This country was built on the back of people going out and having a go in the middle of nowhere, digging and digging, and you see those remarkable success stories throughout this country's history. It was not done by the big miners. This country has always encouraged small miners, and all we are doing with this bill is discouraging them by making them have a higher effective tax rate than we are the large players.

I cannot believe that not only has there not been any consultation with everyone else bar those three companies, but there has actually also been no consultation with the states or territories all the way through with this matter. There has been no consultation at all. This fundamentally changes the way we tax a sector in this country that has never been taxed like this before. No other sector has been taxed like this and I think that it is highly unlikely that any other sector in the future we will ever get taxed like this. The states are an absolute pivotal partner in mining in this country, as everyone in this chamber knows, and they have not been involved in discussions whatsoever. My understanding is that the Henry recommendations had been for a national resource rent tax to replace state and territory royalties, and some of my colleagues will let me know whether indeed that was what Henry first started out with. But that is certainly nowhere near where it finished. There has still been no consultation at all.

Out of interest, I thought I would read these figures to the chamber. When you look at state and territory governments and the implications of the mining tax for them, the resource royalties represent: 20 per cent of Western Australian state government revenue, nine per cent of Queensland's state government revenue, and six per cent of New South Wales state government revenue. They are quite remarkable revenue figures, and here we have a piece of legislation which will potentially dramatically impact on them—and there has been no consultation. It absolutely beggars belief.

It reminds me a bit of the carbon tax. What was the consultation in relation to the carbon tax? There was, I will acknowledge, significant consultation with the Australian people, and that consultation was, 'There will not be a carbon tax under the government I lead.' So there was consultation in relation to the carbon tax, but the consultation was built on sand. It was a broken promise in relation to something that the Prime Minister went to the election with three days before the last election. It was a solemn, hand-on-heart vow to the Australian people, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.'

The Henry tax review—and I am referring to someone else's words here—was meant to be the root-and-branch reform to deliver a simpler, fairer tax system. But what we have ended up with is a dog's breakfast, something that went from about 161 pages when the government released the first draft, to 287 pages with this legislation. As I said before, there is an unfair competitive advantage given to the big three companies that were actually allowed to design the tax, and a significant unfair and higher tax burden for the smaller mining ventures and start-ups.

I just want to talk about the international competitiveness issue, which my colleague Senator Scullion so eloquently talked about during his address. What we are doing with this mining tax is sending out a very, very, very clear message to the rest of the world that we are not serious about our own prosperity, that we are not serious about having rules in place which will enable people to invest in this country without the rules changing. We have got the carbon tax rules changing because of a lie that was told before the last election. We have got the rules changed in relation to mining tax, and you just wonder what will be next. We run the very grave risk of being the only generation to pass on to our children a lower standard of living than the one we were given by our own parents, and to me that is a horrifying thought.

The other issue is that the revenue from the MRRT is highly volatile and is downward trending. Indeed, if you look from the first year since the mining tax was announced, revenue estimates have jumped around from $12 billion under the RSPT, to $24 billion for the RSPT with revised commodity price assumptions, to $10.5 billion post the Gillard government mining tax deal and commodity prices assumptions, down to $7.4 billion post exchange rates to about $7.7 billion with post further exchange rate changes. Treasury has had a look at these revenue forecasts and they have done them up to 2020. Under FOI it clearly shows that Treasury expects revenue to reduce over time. This is quite a remarkable figure: the cost of the proposed increase in compulsory super to 12 per cent alone is expected to rise to $3.6 billion in 2019-20, which is when it will be fully implemented, and that same year Treasury projections for MRRT revenue is $3 billion. So, on that one measure alone, in 2020 this nation will be $6.6 billion behind without taking into account anything else in this package, any increase at all in the cost of the matters included in this. The government stand utterly condemned for what they have done in this regard.

I want to talk briefly about the constitutional validity of the MRRT. Senator Brown thinks it is appropriate to come in here and accuse the Clerk of being biased. We know his amendment. The Clerk has said that is unconstitutional. Senator Brown, that paragon of virtue, is quite happy to attack someone in the gallery without letting them know and quite happy to attack the Clerk of the Senate without letting the Clerk know. As the Clerk has walked in, I will not make any further comment about that except to say that I repeat my request to the President to look at the comments made by Senator Brown tonight.

I want to finish on this note. Ken Henry confirmed that the government did not at any stage seek advice as to the constitutionality of the MRRT. I find it quite extraordinary that, with a piece of legislation which could well end up in the High Court, there was apparently no endeavour at all— (Time expired)

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Stephens ): Senator, I have noted your request that those remarks be referred to the President for consideration.