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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6415

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (18:51): I rise to speak this evening on the passage of the MRRT repeal bill through the Senate yesterday and the repeal of this failed mining tax. Without question this is a significant milestone not only for Western Australia but also for the Australian economy. There are few pieces of legislation that were more anti-Western Australian or more anticompetitive. The majority of Western Australian electors voted for the abolition of this tax at the last election. In my first speech I promised that I would fight for a better deal for Western Australia. I was delighted to be able to vote for the repeal of this appalling tax yesterday.

When I worked in the Howard government, I never dreamed that a few short years later I would hear the words 'sovereign risk' associated with Australia and the Australian economy. After six long years we are once again seeing not only good governance but also good government. Despite all of the naysayers and the harbingers of doom on the supposed ungovernability of this Senate, we have yet again demonstrated the fallacy of that contention.

Commentators often forget that we on this side of the chamber are a strong and united coalition and that our coalition never just happens; it results from goodwill and years of experience on how to collaborate and negotiate behind closed doors to achieve common outcomes. This government has calmly and responsibly negotiated this outcome with four separate and responsible political parties to achieve this outcome, all of whom were acting in the national interest. The repeal of this odious tax was realised in the same old-fashioned way—not through spin, rhetoric or bullying. We achieved it through quiet and genuine negotiation to methodically achieve the best outcome possible.

With the repeal of the mining tax and its related spending measures, not only has a dead weight been lifted from our critically important mining industry but it will also save $50 billion over the next decade. This is a staggering amount of taxpayers' money. To my mind, it is also another demonstration of true and responsible national leadership by this government.

I believe this was a bad tax for many reasons. The tax package, like so many other initiatives of the previous Labor-Greens government, was so poorly designed that it was actually costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year. It is absolutely astonishing to most of us that a tax could have a negative impact over the forward estimates, but that is the truth of this tax. You would almost have to laugh if the consequences had not been so serious for the nation.

Ever since the original version of the mining tax was announced it caused enormous uncertainty, in Western Australia in particular, and had become widely acknowledged as a dead hand on the mining industry. It was also having a deleterious impact on our reputation. Without question, it was holding us back. But for all of the pain it cost my state, and was starting to cost our economy, the absolutely kicker is that by the incompetent way the tax was developed and structured it was never ever going to raise anywhere near the money the former government forecast and, most astoundingly of all, based new expenditure on. This, to me, is not good government.

As I said in my first speech, the truth is that for every new government action, large or small, there is an opportunity cost: something we must forego, a debt we must burden future generations with or a new tax. I believe it is disingenuous and dishonest for any government to raise community expectations, in this case very cruelly, about new benefits based on phantom tax revenue. A mining tax that raised almost no funds was expected to pay for school kids bonuses and low-income superannuation top ups—a cruel hoax on millions of Australians.

In relation to my own state, the fact is that Western Australia accounted for 27 per cent of Australia's business investment in 2013 and 51 per cent of resource projects that were under construction in April of this year. Last year, Western Australia accounted for 46 per cent of global iron ore exports. Today, well over 100,000 Western Australians are directly employed in the mining sector. Additionally, in March of this year there was $149 billion worth of resource projects under construction and a further $112 billion under consideration.

While the figures I have outlined are impressive, the reputational damage being done by the mining tax was jeopardising future revenue streams not only for our industry and our state but also for our nation. It was making it much harder for companies to make a decision to invest in Western Australia, and I believe Australia had much to lose. Through my own experience I know that governments never create wealth; only productive and competitive markets do. The long-term economic prosperity of the Commonwealth depends on all states doing better, not on hampering—and in this case, completely unnecessarily—sectors of the economy that are actually doing well.

In 1971 Sir Charles Court noted that as a government:

We seek to do more than just develop a number of iron ore mines. Our objective is to develop a great region with all the complex infrastructure and associated developments that are necessary to have a permanent, contented, well-housed, well-education and well cared for community.

Critically, both he and former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies understood that this required both political and industry leadership with a collective vision to forge a long-term partnership required to establish the conditions under which this could occur and, consequently, national wealth be generated and, critically for us today, for it to be sustained. It takes decades of sustained investment and leadership to develop this wealth generation. Today the reality is that international capital flows readily across borders and we are competing with the rest of the world for this investment. This investment is never inevitable and neither is the required leadership from industry and politics inevitable.

The Mineral Council's report released today suggests that the profligate stimulus program of the previous government had, almost inconceivably, left a loss of competitiveness as a lasting legacy. They actually went backwards, despite all of this stimulus, in competitiveness. Looking at the fiscal disaster that Labor and the Greens left us, it is absolutely no wonder that this occurred: six straight years of record budget deficits, $123 billion in projected deficits and gross debt forecast to hit $667 billion. And this debt disaster occurred despite the benefit of a once-in-a-century mining boom.

While we on this side did not create the mess, we have yet again taken responsibility for fixing it. In removing this tax millstone from around the neck of the Australian economy, in conjunction with the other measures this government is taking, the door has once again been opened for genuine wealth creation and wealth creation sustainment in Western Australia that will undoubtedly result in prosperity and more jobs nationwide. It will also ensure that we are on a more level playing field internationally and that our mineral and resource companies are able to compete in this highly competitive global environment.

Certainty and stability are being restored. I believe the repeal of this tax will increase investor confidence, create more jobs and improve our international competitiveness. I am very proud that this government has been able to deliver on this election commitment. I remind the Senate that this government has passed the budget. The carbon tax is now gone. The boats are stopping. The budget repair for the longer term fiscal condition of Australia continues. Most importantly, we are making decisions to make our country safe and strong.

While it was pleasing to see today in the June quarter national accounts evidence of real and building momentum in the Australian economy, growth remains below the long-term trend, which should remind us all of the importance of continuing to do everything we can to drive momentum in our economy. The Australian newspaper today characterised the minerals resource rent tax as 'a sorry chapter in our tax history', and I agree. Thankfully, that chapter is now closed and we are starting to write a new one.