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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2010

Senator REYNOLDS —Has the attention of the Minister for Resources and Energy been drawn to urgent representations made by some Queensland coal producers for taxation relief? In view of the current impasse between the Queensland Premier and the Queensland coal industry, can the Minister indicate whether the Federal Government is able to respond quickly to those representations.

Senator WALSH —Some weeks ago-probably more than a month ago-I received representations on behalf of the Thiess CSR mine at South Blackwater and the Thiess Dampier Mitsui mine seeking relief from the coal export duty for coal produced by those mines. Yesterday the Government decided that that relief from duty would be granted. The mines in question are required, for quality reasons to meet contract specifications, to mix about 25 per cent of underground mined coal with the predominantly open cut coal. Because of that, they were obliged to pay the coal export duty of $3.50 a tonne on the entire mix. They are mines that are operating on the margin of profitability, or possibly even below that margin . That decision having been made, the only two remaining mines which will be liable to pay the coal export duty are BHP Utah and BHP Gregory. The duty cannot have an effect on any new mines because it applies-and applied even before yesterday's decision-only to open cut, highly quality, coking coal mined at depths of less than 60 metres and in mines operating before 1980. The Government , in making its decision, was conscious not only of the problems of those specific producers and the incongruity of a tax designed to apply only to highly profitable ventures; it was also conscious of the need to maintain, and to show the Government's commitment to maintain, underground coal mining in Queensland, and I might add in New South Wales.

I add that the two mines to which the coal export duty will continue to apply are quite profitable or highly profitable mines. It is to be hoped that the Queensland Government will follow the lead established by the Commonwealth Government and provide some relief from the hidden taxes which it imposes, particularly on newer Queensland coal mines. I refer to the hidden tax in the form of excessive rail charges. Regrettably, however, the present intransigent attitude of the Queensland Premier suggests that that will not happen. Indeed, the Queensland Premier, responding I suppose in typical National Party fashion to the complaints-indeed, one might say, to the financial strife of a number of Queensland coal producers-has threatened those coal producers that he will rescind the always somewhat illusory freight concessions that he announced some weeks ago. In general it is an attempt by the Queensland Premier to bully the Queensland coal producers into silence.

Finally, I note that Queensland, which used to be boasted of by its Premier as the development State, is rapidly becoming a wide ranging confrontationist State . Confrontation between that Government and some groups has always been part of the style of the Queensland National Party Government. The number of groups with which it is having confrontations has now been widened to include coal producers , with which the Queensland Government previously would have claimed to have good relations.

Senator Chaney —I raise a point of order, Mr President. I do not know whether the Minister intends to use Question Time to announce all of his revenue concessions, but the fact is that, in answer to a quite specific question, he is rambling on with a general criticism of the Queensland State Government. I suggest that he should be asked to answer the question and just sit down.

The PRESIDENT —I suggest that the Minister is commencing to debate the matter. I suggest that he confine himself to the question posed by the honourable senator.

Senator WALSH —The Commonwealth Government has recognised the just case put forward by these mines and their need for relief from the coal export duty. We hope that similar rational policies and attitudes will be adopted by the Queensland Government in response to the other problem mines in Queensland but, regrettably, the indications are that that is not likely to happen.