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Transcript of joint press conference: Parliament House, Canberra: 22 August 2012: MRRT; Coalition; Slater and Gordon; BHP

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Christine Milne Australian Greens Leader


Larissa Waters Greens spokesperson for Environment, Biodiversity & Natural Heritage

Press conference Wednesday 22 August 2012

Subjects: MRRT, Coalition, Slater and Gordon, BHP

CHRISTINE MILNE: If in Australia we want the kind of society and community where people can access high quality dental care, will have universal access to dental care, where we have a National Disability Insurance Scheme, where we invest in education so that we overcome the educational

disadvantage that’s already locked into the system, we have to have the revenue to provide it. We have heard recently from everyone from the Secretary to Treasury Martin Parkinson through to former Treasury Secretary to Treasury Ken Henry, more recently even the business community Heather Ridout, Jennifer Westacott all saying the same thing - that there isn’t a big enough revenue base to be able to deliver the health and education and dental services, disability services that the nation needs and I think that most people would value.

And so on that basis the Greens are saying we want to see that money raised. It’s essential that Australians are given access to those services because it shows that we care for each other, that’s important.

And so we are moving to actually give effect to what should have happened in the first place with the Minerals Resources Rent Tax because it was a mistake at the time when the Government negotiated to say that they would pay back the mining companies every royalty increase that the State imposed.

That was clearly a big mistake. The Greens moved at the time with an amendment to say no that should be pegged. The Government didn’t agree because they had the agreement with the companies. Now it’s apparent that that is going to threaten the ability for us to deliver good programs to Australians who are expecting better investment in education, health, Denticare and the like.

The Greens are now going to give effect to what the Treasurer now says that he wants to do and that is protect the revenue base for the Commonwealth. So we will introduce as a Private Members Bill, the amendment that we moved at the time which was to say that as of the first of July 2011 the Federal Government will not reimburse the mining companies any additional royalties that the States may impose thereafter. That actually protects the revenue base as at that time. The Treasurer has said that he has written to the States. He has said that he will talk to them about perhaps in the GST context he would consider looking at taking that additional revenue out of there. but I think it’s much cleaner to go back and say, right, we are not going to allow the States to gouge this and we will make sure that we get an appropriate revenue base. In fact it’s not enough. We would have liked to have seen the super profits tax in the first place but that hasn’t happened so at least we can make sure we can protect the revenue base that we have.

JOURNALIST: Given that you have balance of power in the Senate, isn’t it as much as (inaudible) the Government could have insisted on this as a condition for the passage of legislation in the first place?

CHRISTINE MILNE: This shows that the Greens tried very hard to point out to the government where it thought it was wrong. But the option was do you vote against any money being raised through that process or do you actually point out to the Government they’re wrong? And this was a case where we had to compromise - something that people accuse us of not doing, we actually went in there and said we think this is a mistake, we should be raising more, the Government didn’t agree but nevertheless we passed it because it was an improvement on where we were but it wasn’t as far as we should have gone.

JOURNALIST: You are of the view they would have pulled the legislation rather than amend it?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The Government had no excuse at the time in the discussions when we first moved this amendment the Government had no response to the merit of the argument, all they had was we have done a deal with mining companies, that is what the mining companies have agreed to and therefore we’re doing it. Now that is not the way to legislate in the public interest and the mistake of the rushed nature of those negotiations post the abandoning of the super profits tax have led to this mistake now coming home to roost and we think this is an opportunity to fix it. The Treasurer has said that he might consider legislation but would look at these other options. I think it’s much cleaner to go back and legislate and make it very clear.

JOURNALIST: Will you consider any other imperfections that you might find with the mining tax over time? Talking about the revenue base, are you satisfied the revenue base is substantive enough as is?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The revenue base across the board is not substantial enough to deliver implementation of better funding for the schools across Australia most in need particularly in the public sector; we don’t have the money the National Disability Insurance Scheme, we want to see universal access to Denticare, there’s not enough money to do that and the Greens have said all along that we would support a super profits tax for the mining industry but we would also support getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies - there’s $7.2 billion right there, we could actually get that tomorrow and it would be consistent with the Government’s policy perspective on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There’s a little bit of a contradiction, in fact a major contradiction in Government policy where on the one hand they say they want to reduce emissions and on the other hand they actually subsidise the activity of burning fossil fuels. That is a big problem. We pointed that out consistently, unfortunately both the Government and the Coalition are very happy about that internal contradiction.

LARISSA WATERS: I might just add on that issue the disintegration of relationship between the national Government and the States. We’ve seen today the Coalition announce that not only do they want to give the States the entire responsibility for protecting our national environment but they also want to give away responsibility for education and health. I don’t quite know what they’re going to be doing around here without those key responsibilities, but we’re very alarmed. They say that the States will simply apply federal standards and that this has worked already in the environment’s sphere but I point out all of the various instances when it hasn’t worked and the States have thumbed their noses at those federal standards. You just have to look at the most recent example in Queensland of the Alpha coal mine environmental impact Statement which Campbell Newman ticked off on the dodgiest EIS and of course that led to a big stoush. The Queensland Government’s clearly not complying with the standards already so why would you give them yet more standards and more responsibility.

That same theme is repeated when you look to WA with the assessment of the Browse Basin gas plant there in the Kimberley. We’ve seen copious examples of it in Tasmania with the forests there. You simply cannot trust the States to look after the environment in the national interest and in the interests of all Australians. And it is a very slippery slope and a very alarming trajectory that the Coalition is putting this nation on.

CHRISTINE MILNE: Can I just add one more thing to what Larissa has just said in relation to this devolution of Commonwealth responsibilities to the States, the Coalition has got a $70 billion black hole, they don’t know how they going to fund any of the things that they are promising and the easiest way for them to try and suggest that they can reduce costs is to get rid of Commonwealth public servants and to suggest that they can somehow devolve responsibilities for the States and that the only responsibility of the Commonwealth would be to have a hit squad that runs around the States checking on whether the States actually implement government policies. As my colleague has said in the Browse Basin, in Queensland, it’s obvious in Tasmania, just look at the complete mess that they made of the assessment of the Tamar Valley pulp mill where the Tasmanian Government took it out of the assessment process, fast tracked it, it was a complete abuse. So make no mistake this is just trying to pretend that you can sack thousands of public servants in Canberra and that somehow the States would have the capacity to pick up the tasks. Not only would they not pick up the tasks but that there would be complete abuse of process and it would lead to an even greater dysfunction than we have now. And there is a complete, again, inconsistency - on the one hand you have both the Government and the Coalition saying we want to hand back environmental protection to the States and on the other saying as Tony Burke has said frequently look how badly the States manage the koala habitat for example, and he is now going to come out on Tarkine. So let’s have a bit of consistency here and let’s recognise that the Coalition simply is trying to dress up the fact that they can’t account for where the $70 billion black hole is going to be filled and in the case of the revenue that we are raising, the Greens are bringing in a private member's bill which will plug the big hole that the Federal Government has when it comes to the mineral resource rent tax.

JOURNALIST: Independent MP Andrew Wilkie suggested that the Prime Minister make a statement to the Parliament just explaining the circumstances in which she left Slater and Gordon, suggested that that might just clear the air and assist her. The Coalition’s also happy to facilitate that if the Prime Minister wishes. What’s your position on that?

CHRISTINE MILNE: If you recall Andrew Wilkie was going to support a censure motion against Craig Thomson, he suggested at the time that it might even be enough to warrant no confidence in the Government - that was one morning, by that afternoon he had decided that no he had legal advice to suggest that that wasn’t an appropriate course of action. I think Mr Wilkie should reconsider his position. From where I stand there has been no accusation made about the Prime Minister at all and to me this is a matter if people have got accusations then they should bring them forward and have them dealt with in the appropriate process. I don’t think we should be using the Parliament in this way.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s a character issue -

CHRISTINE MILNE: I think there are a number of people who are trying to make the Prime Minister again centre stage in relation to matters of integrity and I think that unless they have something substantial to say then the accusers need to be asked what is their agenda.

JOURNALIST: BHP Billiton is expected to announce its record run of profits has essentially ended, the profit expectations to be lower than last year. Does the fact that the MRRT has come into force, do you find that there’s any connection with that?

CHRISTINE MILNE: No, it’s still going to make a $14.5 billion dollar profit so let’s get this in some perspective in terms of the company and also when you have a look at the reasons why BHP has had to have a lesser profit, a lot of it comes back to judgement calls that Marius Kloppers has made in relation to various acquisitions that he has been pursuing that did not come off. So I think there are a number of reasons for BHP’s reduced profits forecast but don’t forget they’re still out there with $14.5 billion.