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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 3480

Senator BERNARDI (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Wong. Has the minister seen the comments attributed to Chile’s mining minister, Laurence Golborne, who described the situation surrounding the Rudd Labor government’s new tax on mining as a ‘tremendous opportunity’ for Chile? Aren’t the Chileans right when they say that this new tax on mining means that Chile provides a more secure investment environment and a better return on investment than Australia?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water) —I have not seen the detail of those comments. I am amused by the prospect of Senator Bernardi quoting any Latin American government in support of some of his policies, given what I think he said about a range of similar governments previously. The next thing is that we will have him coming in here and quoting Chavez.

An honourable senator interjecting—

Senator WONG —That is right; we will have Senator Bernardi quoting Chavez in support of his argument. We know that those opposite are opposed to tax reform, and they will trawl, apparently, the world in order to try to find evidence to support their scare campaign. As I said previously, we on this side are supportive of tax reform. We believe that a profit based tax is more sensible and more economically efficient. In fact, you may recall there was a range of submissions to the Henry review, including some from the mining sector, which reflected that. We also believe that the Australian people should get a reasonable share of the income from the resources, which are not renewable, which they own, and we want to invest that to strengthen the economy—

Senator Abetz —They’re all watching this in Chile.

Senator WONG —I will take that interjection. I somehow do not think they are watching us in Chile, although they might be watching other things. What I will say is this: this is about tax reform for the future. We know that we on this side are about building a stronger economy for the future. We know that those on the other side are about a scare campaign and the interests of a few. I think that, over time, we will see the Australian people exposed more and more to the shallowness of the campaign by those opposite. (Time expired)

Senator BERNARDI —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Has the minister seen the comments attributed to Canada’s finance minister, Jim Flaherty, who thinks that this new tax offers a ‘competitive advantage for Canada’? Do the Canadians have it wrong too? Does the minister expect us to believe that every other government has it wrong but hers does not?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water) —Senator, perhaps a way of looking at this is to consider the member for Dickson’s investment strategies. If he had bought BHP shares on 4 May, which he did when the price reached $38.50, we would see that today the price is higher. If he had invested in some of the Canadian mining companies—I am coming to Canada, Senator Brandis—

Senator Brandis —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. A question about the effect of Australia’s competitive advantage as a result of this tax in the context of remarks made by the Canadian finance minister does not admit of an answer that begins with the words, ‘Let us consider the member for Dickson’s investment strategy.’ Plainly, the minister is treating the Senate and the questioner with contempt.

Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order: I can understand Senator Brandis’s confected outrage in relation to his defence of the member for Dickson. I am sure he does not have that view really. What the minister has been doing is answering the question. The minister has 44 seconds remaining to provide an answer to the question. The question was very broad in its frame and the minister was providing an answer relevant to the question that was asked. I humbly submit there was no point of order.

The PRESIDENT —The minister has 44 seconds remaining in which to address the question.

Senator WONG —I was referencing Canadian mining companies. Cameco has fallen two per cent since 4 May, Tech Cominco has fallen six per cent since 4 May and London Mining has fallen by 18 per cent since 4 May. These figures do, I think, go to exposing the opposition’s scare campaign for what it is. It is a scare campaign from an opposition bereft of policies about the future.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator Conroy interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Conroy!

Senator BERNARDI —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question—third time lucky. Could the minister explain why it is that the rest of the world appears to be celebrating the imposition of this new tax on investment and jobs in Australia? Could the minister say just whose side the Rudd Labor government is on—Australian working families, Chilean working families, Canadian working families or maybe even Russian working families?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water) —This government through its stimulus package ensured that this country’s unemployment rate compares extremely favourably with those overseas. Let us talk about the UK or the United States, where we see close to or double-digit unemployment. As a result of the stimulus package, against which you voted, we have seen unemployment in Australia at levels which are reasonable given the economic crisis that we faced. Remember, you voted against that package. We on this side stand for jobs; we on this side stand for investment in the future—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, resume your seat. I remind senators on both sides that interjecting is disorderly. If people wish to debate the question then debate it post question time.

Senator WONG —We on this side support tax reform which strengthens the economy for the future, which ensures working people get a better share and more superannuation, which ensures lower taxes for small business and which lowers the company tax rate. You oppose that. (Time expired)