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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5536


Ms GRIERSON (2:46 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism. Minister, how is the government supporting mining communities and the resources industry through the regional infrastructure fund?


Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism) —Unlike the opposition the government are committed to ensuring Australia’s long-term prosperity. We also accept, unlike the opposition, that the role of government varies, given the economic challenges that confront the government, from time to time. For the last 12 to 18 months the challenge to government was different to the challenge that confronts Australia at the moment. That related to the fact that we had to manage the Australian economy through a major global financial crisis. I remind the House that, just like the opposition opposed the decisive action we took during that period, the opposition again stands in opposition to major tax reform which is about Australia’s future and managing varying economic challenges in the future.

Coming out of the global financial crisis I remind the House that, because of our action, the unemployment figures of last week were 5.2 per cent. I know the opposition cringes every time we get good employment figures. I also note that, in April, for the first time in 13 months we experienced a trade surplus, which is a further major achievement for the Australian economy. I also acknowledge that from the Australian community’s point of view, when it comes to the resources sector, at times we have booms and at times we have slumps.

That is what this tax reform is about. It is about how we as an economy actually manage those challenges. I refer to Mr Battellino, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, who said yesterday:

… booms have very significant impacts on the economy and do cause a lot of stresses and strains.


Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order relating to relevance and the question of infrastructure, which was the substantive point. I refer you to page 553 and although you can often accept a tangential touching of the relevance it is no way relevant to the substance of the question. I ask the minister to either be relevant or to sit down.

Honourable members interjecting—


The SPEAKER —Order! I thought the member for Mackellar might be interested in the response to the point of order, but she probably is not. If she has a problem with tangential relevance to the question her problem is in the practices of the House and perhaps she can engage in improving that, but that has been the precedent of this place. I would have thought, given this was a question about how the government was supporting mining communities and then went on to talk about the infrastructure fund in particular, that the minister was being relevant. I would also ask the member for Mackellar to refer to page 501 of House of Representatives Practice, which outlines a point made by the member for Barker yesterday that it is also regarded as disorderly to imitate the voice or manner of a member. I would ask that all members would realise that that has been the practice of this place.


Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —The deputy governor went on to say:

… the challenge for the Australian economy for the next few years is going to be how to accommodate this mining boom …

That goes to one of the key issues with respect to the tax reform before the parliament at the moment, the key issue of infrastructure and our capacity as a nation to actually invest in infrastructure to assist the mining industry for the purposes of realising all the potential that the Australian mining industry has available.

I remind the House that, over the last decade, that is where the Australian community was let down by the previous Howard government. They were good at spending the benefits of the mining industry’s gains and very bad at investing in the future of the mining industry when it came to infrastructure and the skilling of the Australian workforce. I also remind the House that the Australian community is entitled to a fair return on the development of its natural resources. The mining community appreciates that, when prices are high, it should be expected to pay more out of its profits as a return to the Australian community. But we also appreciate that the mining industry understands that the current volume based state royalty regime, not a profits based tax system, is bad for it during bad economic times. That is why it has historically approached state and territory governments for relief from royalty payments during those periods. The Australian government is therefore absolutely committed not only to putting in a profits based tax system, something that the mining industry has argued for, but also to ensuring that we as a community have the capacity to invest in the infrastructure related projects that are so important to the expansion of the mining industry in the future. I also remind the House that that is also why we made key investments in the skilling of the Australian workforce in the recent budget.

Let us go to the infrastructure fund, a $6 billion fund aimed at trying to assist those regional communities dependent on the mining industry to cope with all the stresses and strains of the boom that is currently underway because of growth in China. We are the beneficiaries of that growth in China, but it is also our responsibility to ensure that on this occasion we regain market share lost under the previous Howard government in a number of key commodities and no longer just live off the back of increases in commodity prices. For those purposes, the House should also not forget that, unlike the opposition, we saw this challenge in the lead-up to the last election. Therefore, in addition to the superprofits tax that we are now considering, we committed up to $100 million a year out of the proceeds of the Gorgon project to the Western Australian government for the purposes of assisting in infrastructure development in those key regions in Western Australia.

But when you come to key infrastructure decisions it is not just about the tax regime and it is not just about the infrastructure fund that we have established but also about a range of other government decisions which go to achieving these major investments. Yesterday, for example, I referred to the potential British Gas decision which is so important to Gladstone in Queensland. I advise the House that I also made a decision yesterday under the National Gas Law to grant a 15-year no coverage determination to the British Gas group’s proposed Queensland Curtis LNG project. The 15-year no coverage provisions in the National Gas Law are designed to bring on efficient investment in pipeline assets. This decision was consistent with the recommendations of the National Competition Council and therefore provides investment certainty for this aspect of the BG Queensland Curtis Island LNG project—another step forward in a range of key decisions with respect to the potential investment decision by BG.

I raise these issues to remind the House that we are absolutely committed to putting in place the necessary parameters to maintain the strength of the Australian economy, just as we did through the global financial crisis. Just as the opposition opposed our action then, so they now oppose the introduction of a new tax system which is to the long-term benefit of the mining industry in Australia during booms and slumps. We as a government are committed to an outcome that will provide the certainty investors require whilst also ensuring the Australian community gets a fair return from the development of its resources. Unlike the opposition, we are about developing policy, taking hard decisions, pursuing reform and investing to ensure Australia’s long-term future. The opposition, as usual, remain opposed to any major reform in Australia because they stand in support of their own self-interest and against Australia’s national interest.