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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2201


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (22:12): Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of standing order 142 be suspended as would prevent the Senate debating the issues that were just raised by Senator Bob Brown in relation to the constitutional aspects of his amendment and the constitutional aspects of the mining tax.

This mining tax, which the Senate is asked to vote on, is very clearly unconstitutional. This mining tax is a tax on state property, as prohibited by the Constitution. This mining tax discriminates between states.

There are, of course, serious issues of constitutionality that are to be debated by the Senate tonight, and I encourage Senator Bob Brown and the Greens to join with the coalition to scrutinise and apply pressure on the government and force them to explain themselves here in the Senate. I urge Senator Bob Brown and the Greens to support the suspension of standing orders moved by the coalition, so that we can properly flesh out all of the constitutional problems that arise with this mining tax.

We of course know that the Greens are even worse than the Labor Party when it comes to their high-taxing record. We have a high-spending, high-taxing government that, rather than wanting to support those parts of the economy that need help, wants to slow down the fast lane. We have a mining tax in front of us which is bad for the economy, which is bad for jobs, which is bad for investment in the mining industry and which actually happens to be unconstitutional. I have absolutely no doubt that this mining tax will ultimately be thrown out by the High Court, the same way as Labor's dodgy Malaysia people-swap deal was thrown out by the High Court. These are serious issues that need to be considered by the Senate, and I am very, very pleased that the Greens have finally seen the light—that this is a government that wants us to vote on something that is clearly unconstitutional. Given that the Greens have now got concerns about the constitutional aspects of what the Senate is asked to vote on, I urge Senator Brown to vote with the coalition to ensure that all of us are given a proper opportunity to properly flesh out and debate these issues.

The Greens are quite hypocritical in this debate, because the Greens have conspired with this very dodgy government in gagging the debate on this proposed legislation. This is a bad tax. This is a tax that was negotiated through a process that was highly dodgy. It was an absolute national disgrace the way the Prime Minister and the Treasurer sat down with the managing directors of the biggest mining companies in Australia, excluding their competitors from the process and excluding every single state and territory government from the process. The Greens have made themselves complicit to a dodgy tax which was developed through a dodgy, unconstitutional process, and here they are now today, at the last minute, querying the constitutional issues that arise out of the dodgy amendments that they moved here today.

But we welcome this debate. We think that we need to have a proper debate about it. A lot of my colleagues on this side of the chamber have a lot to say about the unconstitutional aspects of this dodgy mining tax. No doubt, given the issues that Senator Brown has just raised, he will join with the coalition in making sure that we have a proper debate about it, in the same way as Senator Brown joined with Senator Xenophon and the coalition in calling on the government to release the advice they have that says that somehow this mining tax is constitutional. We all know that it is not. In the past, Senator Bob Brown has been quite outspoken about it being time for the Senate to flex its muscle. If we want to be serious about the Senate flexing its muscle, we should insist on not further debating this mining tax legislation until such time as the government have complied with our request to table the constitutional advice about the mining tax.

In fact, I would go further. In the past, Senator Brown has been quite outspoken in criticising the government about their abject lack of transparency when it came to mining tax revenue estimates. They are still keeping the mining tax revenue assumptions secret. He has been quite critical of the government's lack of transparency in relation to the cost of all their related promises, but, when it came down to actually flexing the Senate's muscle and forcing a secretive government to be a bit open and transparent, what did Senator Brown do? He just got into bed with the government and voted with them to guillotine this debate, something which in the past he said was the most evil thing that anyone could possibly do. Remember the days when the Greens said: 'The guillotine is such an evil thing to do; you should never, ever do it'? Of course, we are now on to guillotine 20 or 25—who knows?

This is an opportunity for Senator Brown to right all of the past wrongs and to join with the coalition in ensuring that the Senate has a proper opportunity to properly debate the many flaws in the legislation before us, not least of which is the serious flaw that this is a completely unconstitutional piece of legislation.