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Thursday, 28 February 2013
Page: 1364


Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (17:45): It was interesting listening to Senator Ludlam speaking. He said, 'Looking after the environment: that is what the Greens are about'. I noticed the wording of the formal motion about national parks today, where the feds would take over the national parks and not allow grazing. Just let the fuel levels rise and let the bushfires come along and have the savage, hot fires—like we had a few weeks ago at Coonabarabran, where 50,000 hectares of mainly national park and 33 homes were burnt. I am thinking: this minerals resource rent tax is about the environment.

If we look at the so-called greenest government the New South Wales parliament has ever seen—in one former Premier, now senator, Bob Carr—the Greens ruled that government. We saw them locking up country and leaving it, with virtually no hazard reduction burning and no grazing allowed. It is amazing that they do not allow grazing. They do not want hard-hooved animals in the national parks. It is about environment management, which relates to the very bill we are talking about. It is all right to have brumbies, wild pigs, feral goats or deer, but don't put any cattle or sheep in there to graze the country or get the fuel levels down so we can control the environment! Enough of that, as far as Senator Ludlam's farcical comment that the Greens are concerned about the environment. They actually destroy the environment. Their policies have been wrecking the environment, killing the animals and killing the trees, and savage hot fires have destroyed the seed on the ground for regeneration. I just had to comment on that while we are looking at this bill of the Greens.

Why was the MRRT first introduced? It was because this government got into such a financial mess—we will see the figures again tomorrow—with $263 billion of gross government debt. That is just the federal government. I am sure my colleague Senator Mason will remember the luxury car tax. It put the clamps on General Motors-Holden. No-one should be able to afford to buy those Statesmans! You have worked hard, you have put some money away and you have dreamed of your luxury car, but you had better pay more tax. There was the alcopops tax. That was going to save all the young ones from binge drinking. Instead of buying a can of Bundy and cola they would buy a bottle of Bundy rum and a bottle of coke. What is the effect of that? Then we had the LPG tax—the clean Australian fuel that we produce here. Ninety-five per cent of taxis run on it. What a good way to lose an election: upset the taxi drivers who talk to so many people every day and every night of the week! Then we had the flood tax, the carbon tax that we were never going to have, and then we got to the minerals tax. The brutal, savage, political guillotining of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd—the axing of a prime minister who was elected by the people—will go down in our political history.

We know about the presidential-style elections we have these days. Prime Minister Gillard said the government had lost its way. It was Mr Rudd who proposed the super profits tax. The word 'profit' is a naughty word in the eyes of this government and their left-wing partners in politics, the Greens. This word 'profit' is a dirty word—to have a business run at a profit and to have a business grow. Every big business started off as a small business, and they worked hard and they worked smart.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator WILLIAMS: We will get to that later on, Senator Polley. I will wait for Senator Heffernan to back me up. So, apparently, this word 'profit' is terrible. The then Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, said, 'We'll get into these profits; we'll get some of this money off them.' Of course, that all turned to tears. One of the jobs of the now Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard, was to clean up the superprofits tax—and 'We will give you the minerals resource rent tax.'

Senator Mason, I wish you had been on that select committee that I had the privilege to be on with our colleague, Senator Cormann, when they brought out the document signed by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer saying that all state royalties would be credited. We got into a bit of an argument with Senator Cameron—which is not unusual—and I asked one of the witnesses, 'Will you please take on notice and give the committee a definition of "all"?'

Senator Furner: You wouldn't increase the royalties to Queensland.

Senator WILLIAMS: I take your interjection, Senator Furner. So all the royalties would be credited. Who do the minerals belong to? Who is responsible for them in the ground? The Crown. That is correct, isn't it, Senator Ludwig?

An honourable senator: The Aboriginals.

Senator WILLIAMS: 'The Aboriginals', Senator Ludlam says. So they own all the resources? Here is another tack thrown in. The way Campbell Newman has increased his royalties is on a pro rata basis. Once the price of a commodity gets over, say, $100 a tonne, then the royalty increases. But, if the price goes down, the royalty is reduced, to give business a fair go. I have no problem with the states raising the royalties. They have control of the minerals in the ground—the same as coal seam gas and oil, after the then Premier of New South Wales, Neville Wran, took control off the farmers in New South Wales in 1981. The same thing happened in 1971 in South Australia and back in 1915 in Queensland. Senator Ludlam, that is when the states took control of those resources off the farmers.

I have no problem with the states raising royalties. I think it is only fair that we get a fair share. The states can then use that money on their schools and their hospitals. All this federal government had to say in the COAG meeting was: 'You state blokes, you state guys, you state ladies, you state ministers, raise your royalties and we will give you less money from Canberra,' and do a balancing around the states—of course some states have much more mining than others—and just let the states raise their royalties. It is their commodity; it is their resource. They are finite and we want to get our share to benefit all the people who live in our states. And the feds would just simply pay less money to the states. Money saved is money made. But, no, they wanted to go and get control of it, and the states of course became recalcitrant and said, 'We'll raise our royalties'—as they have every right to do.

That is what this is about. It gets back to the point about the budget surplus. How many times did we hear about the 'not negotiable', 'ironclad' budget surplus that we were going to see in the financial year we are in now? Was it two or three hundred times? It will be interesting when we get to Mr Swan's budget come May to hear what his predictions are for this financial year. But, Senator Mason, we know one thing for sure: there will be no surplus. We need this Labor Party government to go to the dictionary and actually see what the word 'surplus' means, because they do not know what a surplus is. During the 13 years of the Hawke-Keating government the Labor government delivered four surpluses, and we have had five years of this government. So 13 and five is 18. After 18 years in government there have been four years of surplus. It has been many, many years—we are probably talking about decades—since we have seen a surplus from a Labor government. So they have probably forgotten what it means. We know they will not deliver one of them.

As far as this tax goes, we argued that it was no good and we argued that it was rushed—have a look at the recommendations that Senator Cormann's select committee handed down—and we stand here in hindsight and say, 'We told you so.' But it came into this chamber, and the Greens—who are very big supporters of guillotining debate in this place and teaming up with the Labor senators to get the numbers—pulled the guillotine down and said: 'Stop debate. Don't have any more discussions; let's just pass it.'

But now it is all wrong. It has all turned to tears, so we will guillotine the debate on this tax, rip it through the Senate and get it into place. Then it all turns to tears when it does not work. But there is one thing worse: the money that has not been raised has been spent. That is the problem. Labor said, 'Yes, we'll give company reductions to small business.' That would be good, but we never saw them. 'We'll put into superannuation to build up the super funds.' No, stripping the money from these big companies, which are owned in some respects by the super funds, is taking money away from every working Australian. That is where they have their money invested to get a return for their super funds.

Senator Mason: Shambles.

Senator WILLIAMS: Shambles is a very good description. The whole thing has turned to tears and like many other things—just look at the government—this whole minerals resource rent tax was not about a fair share for all Australians of the finite resources in the ground. It was about the federal government's budget that was in a state of disarray. Remember when Labor was elected to government the ceiling of the debt was $75 billion. You raised it to $200 billion. Then you raised it to $250 billion. Then last May, in a year in which we were meant to have a budget surplus, you raised it to $300 billion. Why did you need to raise the ceiling debt, the credit card limit for the Australian people, when you are going to have a budget surplus? Because you knew there was not going to be any surplus—and history will prove that correct.

During the Christmas break when we were away from the cameras, Treasurer Swan said, 'It's unlikely it'll look like a surplus now.' Blind Freddy could have told you that there would be no surplus. Get the equation right: the Australian Labor Party in government equals debt—borrowing, debt, waste. It has happened all my life. I can take you back to the states and I am sure my colleague Senator Ronaldson would remember that the Cain-Kirner government in Victoria set that state back by $60 billion of debt, and Premier Kennett was left to clean up the mess. He was asked why he sold the electricity company. He got $19 billion for the sale and every cent went to pay off debt that the Labor Party had built up. Perhaps we should look at Queensland's finances now.

Senator Mason: With $80 billion in debt, a shambles.

Senator WILLIAMS: Running on a par with Ireland, 4½ million people. The sad thing about this is that Queensland was debt-free for decades. I remember when former Prime Minister Bob Hawke called the tax summit when he won in 1983 and one Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen said: 'Why don't you be like Queensland and not run deficits?' They laughed at him—a debt-free state and now it is on the point of bankruptcy. But that is what happens when you have no idea about running business so you simply borrow, spend and waste.

Senator Furner interjecting

Senator WILLIAMS: It is late in the week and I will not take your interjection, Senator Furner—only for the reason I did not hear it properly.

The most laughable aspect of all this is what Prime Minister Julia Gillard said. This is a big point and it is what the minerals resource rent tax is all about. The Greens have a bill saying we need a bigger cop, but let me quote the Prime Minister for anyone listening:

You can't run this country if you can't manage its budget.

It is a pretty good statement; the words are good. Let us have a look at the reality of what is happening. I reckon at about $10 billion the penny will drop when we get the actuals in September. When we get the actual debt for this financial year in September, because this minerals resource rent tax has only returned $126 million, two things are going to happen. On 14 September we are going to have an election—you beauty, a lot of people say. Two weeks after that we are going to find out the actuals of this year's financials.

I wonder why they plan the election day two weeks before the Treasurer will give the real budget figures of this financial year? A cynic would say it is because there is going to be another big hole; not a big black hole, but a big red hole, a hole of red ink of more borrowings. If all goes well—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Crossin ): Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired.