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Thursday, 20 October 1983
Page: 2025

Mrs KELLY —I present the 205th report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, relating to Finance Minute on Report 197-Coal Export Duty, and I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Mrs KELLY —The 205th report contains the Department of Finance minute on the Joint Committee of Public Accounts earlier report No. 197 on coal export duty. The Department of Finance minute is the formal mechanism used by the Government for responding to the Committee's recommendations. The inquiry into coal export duty arose from comments made by the Auditor-General in his report of 1979-80. The Committee's report on this inquiry was tabled in Parliament on 29 April 1982 . The inquiry indicated a need for the development of a consistent and stable policy on coal export duty. It also highlighted the fact that considerable uncertainty has been generated within the industry by the almost annual changes. The Committee suggested in the report that a co-ordinated approach involving discussions with all interested parties, including State governments, should be developed to ensure fair and equitable taxation of the coal export industry.

As a rule, the Committee does not concern itself with the substance of Government policies but rather with their administration or implementation. The distinction, however, is not always easy to draw. During this inquiry the Committee felt that it could not separate the difficulties involved in the administration of coal export duty from policy considerations. Consequently, the 197th report does concern itself to some extent with policy issues. As a result, the response which was submitted to the Committee on 18 April 1983 is presented predominantly in terms of the previous Government's policies in this area. Following the change of government, events have now progressed towards a resolution of these matters. The need for substantial discussions and consultations with the coal industry, with State governments, and with other interested organisations has been recognised by the Government.

A major initiative of the Government on coming to office was the convening of a national coal conference in March 1983 to discuss a wide range of issues and problems affecting the industry. That conference was attended by Commonwealth Ministers, relevant Ministers from New South Wales and Queensland, and representatives from the coal producers, coal mining unions and the Join Coal Board. The conference agreed on a number of immediate measures, including the establishment of the Australian Coal Consultative Council; a review of the Joint Coal Board; a Commonwealth review and firming up of export control procedures; the sponsoring of missions to overseas markets and newly emerging markets; the promotion of education in coal-use technology and logistics in less developed countries; the carrying out of intensive research on identified market opportunities; and the strengthening of bilateral relationships with consumer governments.

Coal industry representatives have drawn attention to financial pressures brought about by the levels of government charges on the coal industry. In this regard, the March coal conference noted that it would be a matter for the industry to pursue these matters directly with the State governments concerned. The Commonwealth, for its part, has since raised with State governments, through the Australian Minerals and Energy Council, an intention to rationalise taxes and charges on the industry through the introduction of a properly designed resource rent tax. Consultations have already commenced. The Committee will continue to take an interest in this matter. The Committee believes that the Government's policy should be directed at ensuring the efficient exploitation of Australia's coal resources, with particular regard for domestic requirements and the balanced development of our coal exports. I commend the report to honourable members.