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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 22 August 2012: Olympic Dam



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JOH

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WARRINGAH

22 August 2012

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR JOINT DOORSTOP INTERVIEW WITH THE HON. CHRISTOPHER PYNE MHR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION & MEMBER FOR STURT AND SOUTH AUSTRALIAN LIBERAL MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT AND SENATORS

CANBERRA

Subjects: Olympic Dam.

EO&E..............................................................................................................................................................

TONY ABBOTT:

I’m here with my South Australian colleagues, including Senator Designate Anne Ruston because we’ve just had devastating news for South Australia. The Olympic Dam mine expansion hasn’t just been postponed, it’s been changed and postponed. It will no longer be the $20 billion investment bonanza that the people of South Australia and Australia more generally were hoping for. It will be a scaled-back investment, if it goes ahead at all. So, that’s 8,000 construction jobs, 4,000 permanent jobs, 13,000 associated jobs that South Australia won’t get because of the changed investment climate created in significant measure by the Government’s new taxes.

Now, BHP has been warning for months - through Marius Kloppers and through Jac Nasser - that the mining tax, the carbon tax and other factors were increasing uncertainty. Instead of taking these warnings seriously and addressing their concerns, the Commonwealth Government has just pushed on with its plans to impose more costs on new projects. What we’ve seen, I regret to say, from this government, is a situation where good projects have become marginal and marginal projects have become impossible. This is not the way to run our country. This is not the way to get the investment that Australia needs.

Now, the Coalition does have a better way. We would abolish the carbon tax. We would abolish the mining tax. That would improve investor confidence and it would maximise the chances of ensuring that projects like Olympic Dam do come to our country.

I’m going to ask Christopher Pyne, as the senior South Australian member of the Coalition, to say a few words and then we’ll take some questions.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Thank you very much, Tony. We South Australians stand here more in sorrow than anger today. This is a catastrophic announcement for South Australia. For months and months, the Opposition has been warning that the Government’s policies - whether it’s the carbon tax, the mining tax, uncertainty over the accelerated depreciation, uncertainty over the diesel fuel tax rebate - are working like a wrecking ball through the

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economy and unfortunately, that wrecking ball has now just claimed its biggest victim in the Olympic Dam mine expansion.

South Australians were looking forward to Olympic Dam as a saviour for our economy. The Federal Government’s policies have now made that impossible for our state. We need a change of government at the federal level if the Olympic Dam expansion is to go ahead in any form. Otherwise, the same issues of uncertainty and high-taxing regimes that exist today will simply continue into the future.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, recently Jac Nasser was complaining about the industrial relations regime when he was flagging this issue a couple of months ago. Will you commit now to implementing a policy along the lines of what Nasser is asking, should you be elected, given this is now about investor confidence?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I’ve been saying for a long time that we needed to address the flexibility problem, the militancy problem and the productivity problem. I’ve also been saying ever since the Government announced its abolition, that the Coalition in government would restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission in full and one of the big problems that we currently are beginning to experience with major new resources projects is industrial militancy in the construction phase.

QUESTION:

Mr Pyne, you say this is a catastrophic decision for South Australia. What are we talking about? Is South Australia now a basket case? What sort of message does that send to business and investors in that state?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Well, I think we have to face the reality, Mark, that the Olympic Dam expansion was looked forward to by businesses all across Adelaide and South Australia to save them from what is a very depressed state because of the policies of both the state and federal governments. We’re the highest taxed state in the country. We have the highest electricity prices in the world and of course this is a catastrophe for South Australia. South Australians must be wondering now where our great economic future lies and it does still lie with this project but not under this government. There’s no way BHP Billiton will be able to bring this project to book under the current policies of the Federal Government.

QUESTION:

We’re 12 months away from an election now. The critical policies that you’re talking about and blaming this decision on will be changed, you say, when you get into government. Assuming that’s the case, you must therefore predict that this project will go ahead under a Coalition government.

TONY ABBOTT:

We are going to maximise the chances of this project going ahead by abolishing the carbon tax, abolishing the mining tax and giving big investors the kind of confidence that they need if they’re going to make multi-billion dollar commitments to our country.

QUESTION:

The mining tax doesn’t apply to uranium or copper. Isn’t it wrong to actually attribute any part of this decision to the mining tax?

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TONY ABBOTT:

BHP is Australia’s largest iron ore producer. It’s pretty close to being our largest coal producer, if not our largest coal producer. BHP is massively affected by the mining tax. The profitability of BHP is massively affected by the mining tax. The investment climate for BHP is massively affected by the mining tax. It is absolute nonsense to say that the mining tax doesn’t impact on BHP.

QUESTION:

But you’ve been saying they weren’t going to pay the mining tax. You said they’ve been telling you in private, the Coalition, that they’ve sort of swindled the Government and they won’t be paying mining tax.

TONY ABBOTT:

And one of the facts which they are only too conscious of is that you cannot trust the current government. Let’s not forget, this is a government which said, “there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,” and there is a carbon tax. Sure, this government is saying the mining tax won’t extend beyond iron ore and coal but how can you believe them on the mining tax when you couldn’t believe them on the carbon tax?

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, maybe lost in all this announcement is that BHP had announced the second largest corporate profit in history today. How can you say that is an indictment against the Government?

TONY ABBOTT:

That is today. This is about the future. Sure, mining companies have been doing very well based on previous policies. They are not going to do so well based on current policies. Current policies affect the future. The future is looking much less prospective for the kind of investments that Australia needs if we are to have the prosperity in the future that we’ve enjoyed in the past.

QUESTION:

The other big project for South Australia of course is the $36 billion future submarines project. The Government’s committed to build them in South Australia. Given this decision today, what’s your message to South Australians about that project?

TONY ABBOTT:

We’ve always said that we would prefer the submarines to be built at home and if they’re going to be built at home, we’d prefer that to happen in South Australia. We’ve always said that, but, again, with this government, you’ve always got to remember that you can’t trust what they say and you can’t trust that they will have the money - given the fact that this is a government which is much better at spending money than it is at creating the kind of buoyant economy that will generate the revenue.

QUESTION:

BHP would already know your position on the carbon tax and the mining tax. Assuming or if there is a Coalition government at the next election, is there anything else you can do in a policy sense to make it more attractive to BHP to go ahead?

TONY ABBOTT:

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Sure, they know our position, but they don’t know the outcome of the next election. What they do know is that the current government will stoop very low indeed and will stop at nothing to try to win the next election. That’s why they can only take for granted the abolition of the carbon tax and the abolition of the mining tax after there has in fact been a change of government.

QUESTION:

Would you consider tax breaks to make it more, as an incentive, to BHP to invest?

TONY ABBOTT:

What we want to establish for all investors in this country is a level playing field and the carbon tax and the mining tax mean that there is no level playing field for investment in Australia vis-à-vis investment elsewhere.

Thanks so much.

[ends]