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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25989

Senator LIGHTFOOT (2:04 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Senator the Hon. Nick Minchin. Will the minister update the Senate on the strong performance of the resources industry under the Howard government? Is the minister aware of any emerging risks to the prosperity of Australia's resources industry?

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —I thank Senator Lightfoot for his question and acknowledge his strong support for the Western Australian resources sector. Australian companies are currently in the process of reporting their interim profit results, and one of the star performers in those results is the great Australian resources sector, where predictions are that earnings growth will be up by about 30 to 40 per cent. Companies like Alumina and Rio Tinto have reported significant increases in their profits, and the index for resources has gone up 28 per cent over the past 12 months. This is, of course, great news not only for workers in that industry; it is great news for all the workers with superannuation funds invested in Australian resources companies. It is very good news for investment. There is a pipeline of billions of dollars of resources projects coming down the line. This does not come around simply as a result of good luck.

Access Economics—and we all know Access Economics; they advise the Labor Party, among others—did a report for the Business Council which found that the mining industry achieved higher productivity growth than any other industry sector in Australia between 1994 and 2002. That report concluded that this was due to the flexibility of its workplace arrangements. The mining industry was found to have very high flexibility of employment contracts and low reliance on awards. In fact, Australian workplace agreements operate in 50 per cent of the resources sector operations, and it is 80 per cent in hard-rock mining. That flexibility has produced very good outcomes for workers in this industry. Real wages in the mining sector have grown by 19 per cent since we came into office, compared with 14 per cent for the economy as a whole.

I was asked about threats to this. There is a very significant threat to this performance. The Labor Party, in deference to its union masters, has committed to scrapping AWAs, to add to the complexity of awards by expanding the current 20 allowable matters and to restore the commission's role in regulating the minutiae of workplace arrangements. Steve Knott from the Australian Mines and Metals Association summed up the consequences of these policies for the industry when he said:

Proposals to return to a monopolistic union and tribunal-centred system of industrial relations would have disastrous ... consequences for Australia.

Labor is proposing to sacrifice the success of this great resources sector of ours on the altar of trade union control of workplace relations in Australia. Of course, this is before we take account of Labor's policies in a range of other areas that will damage Australia's resources sector.

Senator MINCHIN —Senator Evans ought to stick up for the resources sector instead of supporting these policies, which are going to do so much damage in his state if they ever get into office. Labor are going to cut the diesel fuel tax rebate, impose a new payroll tax on all employers and sign the Kyoto protocol and increase the mandatory renewable energy target. All of these things are going to be damaging to the resources sector, which is our vital and most important export sector and a great employer.

The resources sector is a great success story but it has required hard work and a good policy to bring that about and that is all under threat. The Labor Party seem to operate on the basis that the economy is on autopilot, it will all just continue—the resources sector will continue to employ Australians no matter what they do. They seem to think it does not matter what taxes they bring in, what regulations they bring in, what union interference they bring in, it will all continue. Well, it will not. Their policies are a grave disservice to the resources sector. They will do enormous damage to the resources sector. Labor senators from Western Australia in particular ought to stand up for this industry.