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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 5785

Mr BILLSON (3:45 PM) —The support for this MPI reflects the seriousness with which the coalition views the impact of the mining superprofits tax on small and medium enterprises. We hear a lot in this place from the government talking about it involving Rio, Xstrata and BHP Billiton. What they do not say is that this mining superprofits tax will affect all the small businesses, the family quarrying operations, those mining operations which are in no way huge like the ones the Labor Party would have you believe will be affected. Those small operations will get caught by this mining superprofits tax. The only super they might be involved with is superphosphate or fertilisers that are being extracted to support food production in Australia.

Dr Emerson interjecting

Mr BILLSON —I welcome the interjection from the shadow minister opposite. Where has his voice been?

Mr Perrett —He’s the minister!

Mr BILLSON —He is the minister now, sorry. Some people think he is the shadow minister. Where has he been when the issues of the mining superprofits tax are being discussed by communities and small businesses right across Australia? The Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy is the Marcel Marceau of the mining supertax debate. He will not raise his voice in support of the small businesses in every corner of this vast continent who will be adversely impacted upon by this tax. He will not stand up for their interests. He will not highlight how the Henry tax review said, concerning a whole category of resources mined by small mining operators, by family business quarries, that we should, ‘Take those resources out of the mining superprofits tax.’ He will not stand up for the businesses that rely on what is extracted by those mining operations, those involved in building materials that use clay and stone. He will not stand up for the farming enterprises which are involved in extracting superphosphate to fertilise our food production in Australia. He will not even stand up for the small children who use the talcum powder extracted by those small operations. He will not stand up for any small business that is damaged by this tax, and they will be damaged quite severely.

This is a government budget built on shifting sand, where the government is going to attack the sand which goes into kids sand pits in order to prop up this budget black hole. That is what is going on here. There will be no children’s sandpits spared from this government’s tax grab as they touch up the mining operators, the small family businesses, on the fringe of metropolitan areas in regions right across Australia which extract that sand. They are not Xstrata. They are not involved in export commodities. They are not involved in humungous profits, which this government wants to tax; they are just going about their business. They are just employing local people. They are supporting the landscapers, the construction industry, they are providing the gravel for the roads and they are getting involved in their local communities—they support the footy club. These are not the huge organisations that Labor would have you believe they are, but you never hear a word about that. You never hear the small business minister talk about their interests.

I am betting that in the next few minutes the Marcel Marceau of small business interests, Dr Emerson, will again not say a word about paid parental leave. He will not say a word about the fact that the Senate will send back to this parliament a Senate position which says, ‘Don’t fit up small businesses with the administration of those schemes.’ You will not see the government support that and you will not see the small business minister stand up for what the small business community wants on paid parental leave; just as you do not hear the small business minister utter a single word about the adverse impacts of this mining supertax on small business involved in the mining sector. You do not hear a word about that. You do not hear a word about the impact and concerns of the cement industry, as Cement Concrete and Aggregates Australia have pointed out—about 80 to 90 per cent of quarried products that are extracted by small enterprises—they currently do not even pay royalties on those things. So we have this idea that we are trying to make sure that royalties are sucked up and somehow compensated for by this great big tax, but what is happening is that this federal Labor government is striking out on these small businesses for more money to fill the black hole in their budget. This is the concern about those people.

Mr Morrison —Hoover!

Mr BILLSON —They could hoover, but they are actually saying to these small businesses—some with family debts to finance their operations, they use their assets, their houses mortgaged up to the wazoo, their heavy trucks moving goods through their communities—‘On your earnings before interest and tax, we are going to take 40 per cent.’ At a time when small businesses are finding it hard to get finance—another issue on which the small business minister is Marcel Marceau—these small businesses are going to be finding it even harder because the opportunity for them to be profitable, to have enough profit to pay for their financing, is going to be sucked out by 40 per cent by this mining supertax.

What is it about this government and this minister? Why do they keep doing things that disadvantage the small business community? Why do they not speak up on the clear adverse impacts that this mining supertax is going to have on thousands of small businesses right across Australia and on all of their customers?

There are only two possibilities here. The 40 per cent mining supertax on small and family businesses in the quarrying and mining area is going to cause prices to go up—which we put to the minister for housing today and she seemed disinterested or completely unaware about this impact—and the cost will be passed through to consumers at a time when they are deeply troubled by cost of living pressures everywhere. Everywhere you go, small businesses are saying, ‘Customers are very price sensitive; we just can’t push costs on to those people.’ Or, if the government says, ‘No, this mining supertax and its impact won’t be pushed on to the small business customers,’ small businesses are going to suck it up themselves, are they? Are they just going to wear that? They are going to have their viability and prospects for prosperity in their businesses, their opportunity to employ, and their chance to reinvest in their local communities, diminished as the government sucks up 40 per cent of their EBIT just to fill up a hole in their budget.

That is what we are faced with here: damage to consumers and cost increases right through the production chain. I have talked about the impact on building materials and construction materials. I have talked about the impact on local governments that have to get gravel for their roads and the impact of fertilizer production on the agriculture industry in the food that we produce in our country—more input costs there—and even on the sandpits and talcum powder consumers of Australia. But do you hear a word?—no, not a word.

You do not hear a word. There are two possible reasons you do not hear a word. You certainly do not see this fact captured in the political propaganda exercise—$36 million of political propaganda about this mining supertax—and you do not hear even a squeak about this crucial issue for so many small businesses and family enterprises involved in mining and quarrying. There has not been a squeak. Why? Because to say that they are doing this would add to the concerns, fears and outrage that these small business operators have about this Rudd Labor government. And it would also alert the hundreds of thousands of consumers of these products that—directly or indirectly through these minerals and resources being in the production cycle—their costs will go up. It will be one thing or the other.

So the government has deliberately not said anything about it in any of the material that is available—in any of the advertisements—and when constituents of mine ring the Prime Minister’s office and the Treasurer’s office looking for an explanation of this impost on exploration they get the run-around. They end up getting referred to a phone line that no-one answers. So when they are looking for certainty and confidence they get—beep, beep—nothing: no-one at the end of the phone.

Dr Emerson —How is Hansard going to handle that?

Mr BILLSON —What else could be happening here? There is one other possibility that Hansard would probably capture not quite as well as the sound of a phone that no-one is answering! There is one other possibility, and that is that the government has already decided to take those resource categories out: to say, ‘Look at us; we’ve consulted.’ That is the other possibility: that they have already made this decision. The mining industry and those at the bigger end of town have learnt that the government is completely uninterested in consultation and will not even discuss the fundamental issues about this tax and its impact on their businesses, on the jobs of thousands and thousands of people, on everyone’s superannuation, and on the costs of resources that are used in production in Australia. All those people get ignored. They will not even talk to them about that, but I bet you that in about a week—that would be my tip—Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, just before he goes on an overseas trip, will say: ‘I’ve consulted. I’ve talked and I’ve listened. And do you know what we’re going to do because we’re so consultative and so interested? We’re going to take out these resources, because that’s just the kind of guys that we are.’ That will be what Labor says: ‘Haven’t we consulted well?’ They will not say that that was what Henry recommended all along. If they had thought this through they would have done that to start with.

They will say that it will not have any impact on the budget because there been this problem that if you keep the tax you damage the economy but if you change the tax you ruin their dodgy budget numbers. They will somehow find some new way of saying, ‘Well, it’s not going to cost anything because some of these businesses were doing it tough; maybe they weren’t going to add that much anyway.’ But we know that that is a concern. Small business operators are fearful and quite fatalistic. They are fatalistic because they know the government is not interested. Their circumstances will be used as some kind of political prop—some kind of spin—when what the government should be doing right now is strengthening confidence in those businesses that will be damaged by the tax. The government will use that announcement in the hope that somehow it will strengthen Australians’ confidence in the Prime Minister. That is what the government members will do. The Prime Minister will get out there and say, ‘See, I am listening. It is not that I’m difficult to work with and that if you’re not in the gang of four no-one is listening.’ That is exactly what they will do.

That is always what this has been about. This tax has always been about exploration—not exploration of resources but exploration by Labor for a spine for the Prime Minister. They are trying to find him one. They are trying to find him a spine so he will take on a fight with those miners. You have seen the class warfare and the nonsense that has been trundled out here by the Labor Party in backing up what is essentially a tax grab—it is a fight they were looking for—to try and prop up a dodgy set of budget numbers and to make the Prime Minister look as if he believes in something. That is what this is about.

Do you think they have thought this through? I think not. I think of Midland Brick in Western Australia. Midland Brick challenged this government—the Customs people on behalf of the Commonwealth—about diesel fuel rebates. They said, ‘We reckon we’re involved in mining. Therefore our clay extraction operations in Western Australia should be able to qualify for the diesel fuel rebate.’ Do you know what the government said? They said, ‘No, mate. You’re not in mining.’ And they declined access to the diesel fuel rebate because that clay extraction activity that Midland Brick is involved in, according to the law, is not mining. But do you think this government could be consistent? Do you think they could be honourable in their application of these technical descriptions? Do you think they would think through and see whether they were being consistent? Of course not. So, in one decision they said, ‘No, in terms of you gaining a benefit from government policy, you guys taking clay out to make bricks is not mining; it is something else. Uh-uh; you miss out. No money.’ But when it comes to copying this government’s mining supertax: ‘We know we said you weren’t in mining when there were some benefits available but, by golly, you’re in mining now. You are a miner now, because we will catch you in that net and we will insist that you are subject to that tax.’ So there is the inconsistency, the duplicity and the desperation by this Labor government. I think the Australian public is learning more and more about that.

But it gets worse. On the Minister for Finance’s rather interesting performance on Meet the Press on 30 May he was quite dismissive—almost arrogantly dismissive—about concerns about the extreme complexity that this tax will have on businesses left to work with it. He said that concerns about the extreme complexity of the government’s mining tax are ‘fallacious’. He went on to say that the impact will be simply ‘dealt with by large companies with sophisticated accounting and computer systems’. Does the finance minister not know that this tax is going to land on small and family businesses operating local gravel, sand and fertilizer operations? Is he ignorant of the Henry recommendations to exclude those resources, or does he just not care? He is supposed to be one of the gang of four; he is supposed to be part of where all these big decisions are made. That is where the locus of knowledge now sits. But when it comes to the implications on small and medium enterprises he is completely indifferent.

This is yet another example—and we saw it with the great big ETS tax—of everyone getting compensation except small businesses. We have seen it in relation to paid parental leave: ‘We don’t even worry about the administrative burden we’re going to fit you up with. We’ll ignore that for small business.’ This great big mining tax is supposed to land only on big companies that have shareholders in pinstriped suits on the other side of the world. That is completely wrong to start with. They have a complete blind spot because this lands on family-operated and local small businesses that are a part of their community right across Australia from Warwick in Queensland, where they are deeply concerned, down to Dunkley in southern Victoria, where the local sandpits in some cases dip into their profits to provide charitable contributions. They are going to be done over by this, and this government does not care. (Time expired)