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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2064

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (10:27) I rise also to make a contribution to the legislation before us today: the Minerals Resources Rent Tax Bill and associated bills. I stood in this place last week talking about the private health insurance bills and said, 'Wouldn't be great if, just once, this government could give us a decent piece of policy to debate?' We see a lot of commentary from the other side not only in this chamber but also in the other place about the supposed negativity of the coalition, the supposed negativity of the leader of the coalition. If the government gave us some decent policy, we would not have to say 'no'. It is as simple as that. It is not 'no' for no's sake. It is 'no' because the policies this government continues to put before us and before the Australian people are so bad. The minerals resource rent tax is no different.

The shambolic process that we are seeing in the development of policy is gobsmacking. Again, the minerals resource rent tax has thrown us up that same shambles. This is a piece of legislation that is unfair, complex, divisive and fiscally irresponsible, and yet the government is putting this up, saying, 'Isn't this a wonderful piece of legislation,' and 'This will be great for Australia.' Quite simply, it will not. Interestingly, when we look at this shambolic process, again it throws up the nature of this government and its inability to properly go through a process to give the Australian people decent policy and decent outcomes.

Let us have a look at how this turned up. There was the initial RSPT, which was announced without any consultation with anyone. The government put together what it thought was a great policy, the RSPT, and brought it forward. It absolutely got howled down by the entire industry, it seemed at the time, as well as by many others simply because the government had not even bothered to consult. It had not bothered to talk to the industry or to the people that the RSPT was going to impact to see if it was even going to work or to see if industry could even deal with the implications of that particular piece of legislation. What was extraordinary at the press club, which was very recently on 5 March, was the Treasurer talking about that. He was questioned about the process of the RSPT and the fact that the government had come under fire from all quarters. The Treasurer said:

And if we could have sat down in greater detail with the mining industry following our announcement and worked our way through those issues then we might have had a less bloody and bruising experience.

Again talking about the RSPT, he said:

But the real thing that meant that we could get it done was that when we sat down, we got for the first time from the companies, information that neither the Henry Inquiry nor the Treasury had, which was the real story about volumes and price.

That is after the RSPT—that is talking about the new configuration—and the Treasurer is saying, 'This is the first time we have actually sat down with the industry.' When they were talking about the new form of legislation we were going to have post the RSPT: 'Oh yeah, first time we'd sat down with the industry.'

I wonder if it had actually ever occurred to the Treasurer initially to talk to industry about the initial policy. Clearly it had not, and yet we had as recently as last week the Treasurer saying, 'Oh yes, this was the first time we got to sit down with the companies.' It is entirely his responsibility. It was entirely his bailiwick to talk about those impacts of the initial RSPT with industry in the first place. How stupid is that? Why would you not as a government take the opportunity to discuss the potential impacts of a significant piece of legislation with the industry it is going to affect? It is just extraordinary and yet another example of this government's inability to properly go through a process, to properly consider implications and to properly consider any unintended consequences from pieces of legislation. They are just doing it on the run and they are completely inept.

We have this situation with the Treasurer, who eventually thought it might be a really good idea to sit down with industry and see if they might like some kind of minerals tax part 2. But then, when he ended up sitting down with industry, how many companies did he talk to? Three. Three of the biggest miners—and that was it. Not inclusive, not talking to the whole range of hundreds of other companies this was going to affect. He did a deal with the big 3.

I do not know about you, Mr Deputy President, but to me that is not consultation. That is picking and choosing to try and get a piece of legislation through from this cobbled together Greens, Labor, Independent government—whatever it is that is actually running the country at the moment—and speaking to three of the big mining companies. I find it absolutely extraordinary for this Treasurer to initially have no consultation whatsoever and then: 'Let's see now. I have a few hundred, I don't know, 700 or 800 mining companies this is going to impact. I know—I'll talk to three! Three would be good. Three is a good number. I like the number three. That sounds like a good idea. I will talk to three of them and see if I can get them to agree.' This is completely unfair and illogical for the government—for the Treasurer—not to include consultation with the entire industry. It just goes to show that the government was merely trying to get a piece of legislation through the Parliament, not trying to develop legislation properly for the industry, and again shows just how inept this government is when it comes to developing policy.

The Henry tax review was supposed to be about root-and-branch reform to deliver a simpler, fairer tax system, but what we have actually got is something that is more complex and less fair. We have got something like another 287 pages of tax law and an unfair competitive advantage to big end of town. It simply does not make sense. Those on the other side go on about the great virtue of, 'We all own the minerals and it has got to be fair for everyone and we all deserve a share'—well, we get that through the royalty system.

The fact is there has to be recognition given to the companies who are investing in the industry in the first place. There has got to be recognition given to the productive capacity that those companies provide. You cannot simply say, 'Gee, all of those minerals are under the ground and we deserve all of them,' when we have got these companies who are doing the investment, who are taking the risk, who are at the coalface—pardon the pun—doing all of the work to extract the minerals. You simply cannot discount that. What they are doing in their contribution for this nation at the moment is nothing short of extraordinary. In a lot of ways they are actually holding up a very inept government, making the country look good. It is those men and women out of the ground in the mining industry, the agriculture industry and our small businesses right across the country who are holding this country together, who are providing the productive capacity for this nation in spite of the government, not because of the government we have in place at the moment. That is just wrong, and it is no surprise that so many people are coming up to me at the moment and saying: 'Will you please get this government out of office. We need a change of government. We have no confidence in this government.'

You can really see it. When I am out in regional communities and moving around, it is still very under the radar, but confidence has gone. Money has stopped moving. We have got small businesses running accounts out to 90 days, effectively working as banks because of the lack of confidence in the ability of this government to run the country, and that is a very sad state of affairs.

It is going to leave the budget worse off and, when we have got now a debt of around $232 billion, a piece of legislation that is going to leave the budget even worse off is absolutely extraordinary. Keep in mind, colleagues, as my very good colleague Senator Williams knows only too well, the ceiling is $250 billion.

We are getting very close to that $250 billion ceiling. Do you hear the government talk about that very often? No, you do not. You hear them talk about this legislation before us—the Minerals Resource Rent Tax—and how terrific it is. It is actually going to leave the budget worse off, and we have a situation—is it not extraordinary colleagues that when we came in we left the Labor government a surplus—where we now have a $232 billion debt and the four biggest deficits in a row that we have seen in this country in decades. The fact that it is going to leave the budget worse off is just extraordinary. Again, it is dividing the industry. It really is the big three and the rest. It has become David and three Goliaths, and it is really dividing the nation and dividing the industry. How would all of those other companies have felt when the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, went in and talked to the big three but did not bother talking to any of them? What are they, chopped liver? They deserved as much consultation with the Treasurer as any of the big mining companies did. I think it is simply appalling.

What is extraordinary is that this legislation is just another example of shambolic policy when it comes to regional Australia. This government simply does not understand regional Australia or regional communities. Extraordinarily, this Labor government thinks metropolitan areas should be treated as regional. This is how incredibly inept the government is at delivering for regional communities—it is looking at metropolitan areas as regional. This mining tax is going to fund the Regional Infrastructure Fund. It is interesting that the biggest allocation from that fund so far is $480 million. This is hugely significant. Nearly half a billion dollars is going out from the Regional Infrastructure Fund, and where did that $480 million go? To roads around Perth Airport.

Senator Sterle: Great!

Senator NASH: I will take that interjection, Senator Sterle. I am sure you say 'great'.

Senator Sterle: Fantastic!

Senator NASH: Sure, it is fantastic, but I defy anybody in this chamber, anybody in the other place and anybody across the nation to define Perth Airport as regional. It so clearly is not. Yet this government says: 'Here we go, here is nearly half a billion dollars. We're going to whack this out to Perth Airport and we'll take it from the Regional Infrastructure Fund.' That is a classic example of this government not caring two hoots about regional Australia. If it did—and the proof is in the pudding here—it would have directed that $480 million to somewhere regional.

I know Senator Sterle is always telling me—and I agree with him—how absolutely fantastic Western Australia is, and I would think that Senator Sterle would hate to think that those of us over here on the east—'t'other siders'—might even possibly ever refer to Perth as regional. You would be affronted, Senator Sterle. You would be astounded. You would be absolutely appalled that we t'other siders would ever refer to Perth as regional. Yet your Labor government says Perth is regional, and has put on the table $480 million for somewhere that is clearly not regional. It just shows the absolute disconnect that this Labor government has when it comes to regional communities.

The Regional Australia Institute—again, more shambolic policy like the minerals resource rent tax—sounds regional, doesn't it? It sounds like it should have a fairly regional bent, to me. It has the word 'regional' in there. It has one office, and where is it located? Gosh, Canberra! Let us put the Regional Australia Institute in Canberra—what a fine idea! Did it never occur to anybody in the government that the place to locate the Regional Australia Institute might be in a region? Good lord, that would absolutely necessitate common sense, none of which we see from the other side of this chamber or from the other side of the chamber in the other place.

Last week we heard Senator Wong, Minister for Finance and Deregulation, saying in answer to a question:

First, this government is the greatest supporter of regional Australia this nation has seen in a very long time.

One tries not to laugh uproariously in this place but, at that particular moment in the chamber, I did, and I think it was echoed right around every single regional community in this country. For this government to say that it is the greatest supporter of regional Australia is nothing short of hilarious because it is so obviously not. When it comes to things like mismanaging and delaying water reform, the whole Murray-Darling Basin debacle and the fact is that there has been no proper scrutiny of the social and economic impacts of withdrawing water out of those communities—it just has not been done. When it comes to water there is no information about where any of the environmental water is going to go, what the benefit is going to be and how it is going to get there. It is another shambles from this Labor government.

The best one, though, has to be the carbon tax. How can the minister, Senator Penny Wong, say 'this government is the greatest supporter of regional Australia this nation has seen in a very long time,' yet at the very same time be introducing a carbon tax which is going to hit regional Australia—as my very good colleague Senator McKenzie knows probably better than anyone—and regional communities harder than anywhere else? This government hasn't a clue, and we are seeing it again with this minerals resource rent tax. It is around 100 days until this carbon tax comes in, and that is going to be a very sad day for this nation and a very sad day for regional communities in particular.

What else have we seen from this government when it comes to not being the greatest supporter of regional Australia? They will not even consider properly the impacts of foreign ownership and foreign control when it comes to our agricultural land. Indeed, we have the reverse, with the Minister for Trade, Craig Emerson, saying: 'Oh yeah, we should just be bringing money in from Asia. It's a fantastic idea! It's brilliant!' He is not even thinking about the potential impacts of that 20, 30 and 40 years down the track. He is not even considering it.

Senator Sterle: We're talking about the mining tax, aren't we?

Senator NASH: It is all related to the mining tax, thank you very much, Senator Sterle, because the minerals resource rent tax is yet another example of policy from this government that does not properly consider regional Australia. It is absolutely relevant. The trade minister talks about considering properly the impact of foreign ownership and foreign control, and says they are going to risk our free trade agreements. They are free trade agreements; they are not feel-free-to-buy-up-our-country agreements. The fact that the minister will not properly consider the long-term ramifications of this is yet another example of the shambolic policy that we see from this government when it comes to regional communities. The minerals resource rent tax is just another. When we look at that tax we see what it is going to do. As I said earlier, it is divisive and it is going to pit company against company.

The fact that the minister spoke to only three out of goodness knows how many companies it is actually going to affect is absolutely extraordinary. This lack of consultation is something that we see through legislation time and time again from this government. The minerals resource rent tax is no different at all. It is extraordinary. As I said earlier, it is going to make things worse. It is going to leave the budget worse off. The revenue is going to be highly volatile and downward trending.

Senator Sterle: How? How is it going to make it worse off?

Senator NASH: We will hear from the other side many a contribution about how wonderful it is going to be. Thank you, Senator Sterle. You know, Senator Sterle, as much as I do. You will stand up and give this blah, blah, blah in a few minutes about how fantastic it all is. Yet at the end of the day when this is going to leave the Australian people worse off, when this is going to leave the economy worse off, how on earth can we on this side of the chamber support this legislation? We cannot. This is not saying no for no's sake. This is saying no because this is yet another appallingly bad piece of regional policy from a government that has such a disconnect and clearly does not understand the needs of regional communities.