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Monday, 29 October 2012
Page: 8173


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:00): My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Wong—and some notice has been given of this and a number of other questions. Can the minister confirm reports that the government has not collected any minerals resource rent tax revenue in the first quarter of this financial year? If she cannot confirm that, can the minister confirm for the Senate how much MRRT revenue the government has collected since 1 July 2012?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:00): I thank Senator Cormann for the question. It is true that he did give me a letter earlier today. It was a very long set of questions, I have to say. I am disclosing that in the interests of transparency. I did also say to him—and I think he knew I would say this—'That does not make it a question with notice, of course, Senator'. I thank him for the courtesy, but I suspect I will not be able to provide him with precisely the answer he wants.

I will make a few points. First, it is the case that the government in MYEFO has reduced the anticipated take from the MRRT—and the senator would be aware of that—by some $4.3 billion. In terms of the first instalment, it is correct that the first instalment was due only a few days ago. I am advised that Treasury will provide final numbers to the government once they have complied with their legal obligations and completed analysis.

As is the practice, and as is appropriate, ministers will not receive any information about individual companies, as a result of ATO privacy provisions. The government will obviously release information on resource tax collections each month in the normal way, commencing from the October monthly financial report, due out in December, subject to the same taxpayer confidentiality rules that have long applied, including when those opposite were in government. It is also the case that the drop in the MRRT take is obviously as a result of a very significant downturn in commodity prices in the financial year to date.

Senator Cormann: Mr President, I rise on a point of order in relation to the requirement for the minister to be directly relevant to the question. She was asked a very specific question: can she confirm whether no mining tax revenue has been raised; and, secondly, if she cannot confirm that, how much revenue has been raised? There are only five seconds left to provide an answer that is directly relevant to that specific question. Mr President, given that we have given her the courtesy of providing the question in advance, you would have thought that she could have been directly relevant to the question.

Senator Jacinta Collins: On the point of order, Mr President: Senator Wong is being directly relevant to the question. She is giving a detailed response to the question that has been asked. But I note that there are only five seconds left remaining to answer. This is more about Senator Cormann getting up and speaking himself rather than asking his next question.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I believe the minister is answering the question. The minister has five seconds remaining.

Senator WONG: I thought I actually did indicate that the government does not comment on the tax affairs of individual companies. (Time expired)

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:04): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Of course, the question was not about the tax affairs of individual companies but about the revenue raised. Minister, by how much will commodity prices for iron ore and coal have to rise for the government to meet even its severely downgraded $2 billion mining tax revenue estimate for 2012-13 and its $9.1 billion revenue estimate over the forward estimates?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:05): The senator would be aware from the mid-year review release that the government has written down MRRT revenues quite significantly in the budget update. Obviously this is due to the larger than expected drop in commodity prices in the September quarter and a drop of some 38 per cent in the iron ore spot price between budget and early September. We anticipate collecting some $9.1 billion over the forward estimates, based on Treasury's current commodity price assumptions. In the question the senator asked he is, I think, really reiterating the same issue he has very consistently and stubbornly pursued.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on the question of direct relevance. What the question asked was: by how much would commodity prices for two commodities, iron ore and coal, have to rise—those were the terms of the question—for the revenue projections to be validated? Given that, in the answer so far, the minister has shown a great familiarity with the downward movements in the prices of those commodities, and given that Senator Cormann did the minister the courtesy of giving advance notice of this question earlier in the day so the very issue which she has shown that she is familiar with could be addressed in her answer, and is on notice, can I ask you, Mr President, to direct the minister to the very question asked of her: by how much would the price of those two commodities have to rise for the revenue projections to be valid?

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, I rise on the point of order, firstly, to make the obvious point that Senator Wong is directly on the question asked of her and providing information to the Senate and, secondly, to make the point that the provision of a letter to the minister on the morning of a Senate question time is not a means by which one can register a question on notice and bears no relationship to what is required at question time in terms of questions without notice.

The PRESIDENT: Order! There is no point of order. I cannot instruct the minister how to answer the question. The minister still has 17 seconds remaining to answer the question. I believe the minister is answering the question.

Senator WONG: Thank you, Mr President. What I was going to go on and say before I was interrupted was that, as was the case under the former government, Treasury does not publish its commodity price assumptions, because they are based on commercially sensitive information from industry. So the whole point— (Time expired)

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (14:08): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, when was the last time any Australian government introduced a new tax which did not raise any revenue in its first quarter? Why should anyone trust anything this government says about the budget when it comes up with a complex new tax on an important industry which does not raise any money and when the government has spent all of the revenue it thought it would raise and more? Is it any wonder this government has still got $173 billion worth of accumulated deficits?

Senator Conroy interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, you will need to withdraw the unparliamentary comment you made.

Senator Conroy: I withdraw.

Senator CORMANN: Is it any wonder this government has delivered $173 billion in accumulated deficits so far and is looking at another $120 billion budget black hole?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:09): I am not sure there was a question there; there was a rant. It was a very long rant. He sounded like he was calling a race. He is getting into the Spring Carnival atmosphere. I am not sure there was much of a question there, Senator Cormann, but I would say this: I would have more regard for Senator Cormann's position if he were to come out and slam the Queensland government for the imposition of a royalty increase, but, you see, Liberal taxes are good and Labor taxes are bad. This is the position of Senator Cormann and the Liberal Party. They are very happy to support royalty increases that the industry in Queensland has said will lead to job losses, but they are not happy to concede that any other form of taxation is reasonable. I would refer the senator to the PRRT and I am very happy in his next question to come back to the PRRT.