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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1992

Senator ROBERT RAY(6.42) —I shall not delay the Senate for long. I was at the conference. I should like to back up what the Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, has said. Inferentially from what Senator Messner has said , one would believe that we were at a function-he did not, first, say ' conference' or 'meeting'-attended by four or five Federal people and that some sort of illegal act occurred that we would undoubtedly have noticed. I point out that there were 450 delegates, out of a potential 470, at the meeting. There were 150 observers, and there were 50 representatives of the Press. All this took place, by the way, in Collingwood Town Hall, in cramped, uncomfortable conditions.

I have no memory or knowledge of a raffle being run raffling anything on that day. However, if there was such a raffle and if it was something to do with Pine Gap, the last people who would be approached to buy a ticket would be Senator Gareth Evans, myself, Mr Duffy and Mr Holding. The whole idea of the conference being put on was to give the Federal Labor Caucus a bit of a boot. That certainly happened. Although we won the argument, we just did not have the numbers on the day.

Senator Chaney —I know exactly how you feel. I am glad that it happens to you.

Senator ROBERT RAY —That's life. Occasionally we feel empathy when we perceive that as the situation. I left the meeting 10 minutes before it ended, as did most of the people of my political outlook. We had debated and voted on 12 items . There were five with foreign affairs implications, which I think we had all conceded might as well go through. I cannot say whether some announcement about a raffle or something was made then. All I can say is that it was not obvious to me as a conference delegate, a person who participated in the debate and who organised speakers, that a raffle for something was going on illegally.

I just make the point in defence of Senator Gareth Evans that I do not think that he could have known. I do not deny that it may have occurred, but I sincerely say that it would not have been obvious. It was a conference of very high tension, very high emotion and very high involvement. It was not like the normal conference, at which half of the people attending are in the conference room and the other half are circulating outside it-where one does pick up all these things. Everyone was inside, listening and barracking for one point of view or another. What the Attorney-General has said tonight fits in with my own memory. I cannot deny that maybe some stolen property was auctioned, raffled or something else. All I am saying is that it would not have been obvious to any member of the conference, especially any member who shares the views of the Attorney-General and me.

Senator CHANEY —Western Australia-Leader of the Opposition) (6.45)-I wish to raise a number of matters with the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh). I thank him for being in the chamber in the adjournment debate for that purpose. The Minister made a very important announcement about a greenfields resource rent tax. He made that announcement on 18 April after the Government had been working for about a year on a proposition which has been Australian Labor Party policy for I think, about five years, so it is something which has a long history to it. Part of the announcement was to impose a new form of tax on Fortescue oil, but for the future Senator Walsh indicated that there would be a resource rent tax, and his paper provided a couple of forms of that tax and he sought industry comment.

I am critical of the time which the Minister has permitted for industry comment . I note that he made this announcement on 18 April and requested comments by 8 May. Between those dates there has been the Easter-Anzac Day confluence, so there has been a relatively small number of working days in that period. The Government, through both Senator Walsh's Department and the Treasury, has been working on this matter for a long time. It is complicated. There are still a large number of unknowns in the proposition. Senator Walsh has sought comment on some of those points from the industry; but it appears to have been a relatively short period, and I understand that some people have had difficulty in meeting the deadline, although I believe that some have met it.

I want from the Minister some public comment on what timetable he is maintaining, whether he is allowing an extension of time for people who have not been able to comply with his timetable, and in what way he intends to deal with the submissions which have been received. I understand, of course, that the Minister will be having discussions with industry following his call for submissions, but I should like to know whether, following the receipt of submissions and the discussions that he will be holding, it will be the Government's intention to provide industry with a further indication of the Government's then intention, with some further time to comment on any proposal before the Government really goes firm on it.

I raise these matters because I am a little puzzled as to why the matter needs to be rushed. We have two or three sitting weeks ahead of us, but I would be surprised if Senator Walsh expects to legislate in the time available. If he proposes to have a tax commencing on 1 July, I could understand why he would want the details to be as complete as possible before the commencement of the new financial year. But it seems unlikely that the new tax would be relevant to any producing field for at least some time. It appears to the Opposition that there is no need for the matter to be dealt with in quite the rushed way in which the Minister is tackling it at present.

Another matter that I wish to raise is the extent to which the work currently being done on the greenfields resource rent tax should be regarded as being relevant to any possible extension of a resource rent tax to other sections of the resource industries. We know that the Government is interested in the tax on a wider basis. The original indication, rather than a firm statement, was that the tax might be applied to coal and to oil. The retreat to greenfields off- shore oil is in part occasioned by the difficulties of dealing with the States which are involved on-shore and the very real difficulties of applying a totally new tax arrangement to existing and producing fields. Unless Senator Walsh is prepared to say, and I would be interested to know what he will say, that this is the extent of the Government's ambitions in resource rent tax, I think it is important to clarify for the industry and for the public the extent to which the parameters of any resource rent tax on greenfields oil would be regarded as relevant in establishing the parameters for a resource rent tax on some other sector of the industry.

I do not suppose it is for the Opposition to adopt a final position on this, but I would suggest that the considerations that apply to large pools of off- shore oil will not necessarily be the same considerations that apply to, say, on -shore coal fields or, indeed, any other mineral which might become the target of the Government in this area. I think it important that there be some clarity in this field because if the attention of the public and the industry is focused solely on the conditions which are likely to apply with respect to a greenfields oil field, in particular conditions which might apply to Jabiru if that field lives up to some of the expectations that have been expressed by comentators, one could get parameters-I refer here both to thresholds and to tax rates-which could in my view be totally inappropriate for other forms of minerals and for different conditions of development. In the interests of getting a sensible appreciation of what the Government is doing at the moment, I would like, either now or at some later time if there is anything the Minister does not wish to respond to now, an indication from the Minister of the extent to which this relatively narrow proposal is to be regarded in terms of the parameters which the Government might establish as being necessarily applicable to any other resource or any other sector of the resouce industries to which the Government might subsequently seek to apply a resource rent tax.