I rise to speak on the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2013, and just from listening to the previous speaker, I am glad that I am.
About the comment that the resources belong to all Australians: I think there are a couple of little imaginary lines drawn on the map of Australia—we call those places 'states'! I think they have an inherent right to call those resources their own. We could get a challenge on it through the courts for a determination on who they are really owned by. The whole principle of the state royalty provisions is to provide that the ownership of those resources sits with the states.
Mr Thistlethwaite: They belong to the people!
Mr BUCHHOLZ: Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story!
They came into this place and spoke about how proud they were of the minerals resource rent tax. I just want to find out how proud they are of which version? I was here for the last term and I saw five versions of the tax. There were more starts on that tax than Phar Lap had. Dead set.
Mr Brendan O'Connor: Is it a Phar Lap tax?
Mr BUCHHOLZ: I can only make the sweeping assumption that the last version is the one that you settled on. Again, like most pieces of legislation brought by this government last time, it was some thought bubble brought up on the back of—heaven forbid!—someone making a profit. Those on the other side of the House will always have socialists who make the point that 'profit' is a dirty word, and anyone who makes a profit must be evil.
Later on during my speech I will make a particular note of the comparative tax rates of our mining sector here in Australia—the sovereign risk issues—and how we compare with other mining investments right around the world. We need to be competitive as a nation. I do not believe it for one moment when the member who spoke before me—the member for Charlton—spoke about going into a small business and that they were devastated they had lost their tax benefit. Did he manage to bring up the bit about the superannuation with them, because it is small business that actually paid the increase?
When this bill was brought before the House, the government was spruiking about the increase in superannuation. All economic theorists agree that superannuation does need to go up—absolutely. With cost-of-living pressures, it does need to go up. But it needs to go up in a way which is sustainable. It is no good speaking to someone in the street who is unemployed. This is where it is going to get to, if you speak to someone in the street who is unemployed: 'Mate, what do you do for a living?' He will say, 'I'm unemployed. But I tell you what, if I was working I would get 12 per cent.' It is better to have a job and to be picking up your nine per cent and let your business grow for a couple of years. We, as a conservative government—the true party of small business—will come to the rescue of business and save them, as only we can and as the history books tell us that we do.
Mr Brendan O'Connor: You've never voted for any superannuation increase ever!
Mr BUCHHOLZ: On the back of your comments, I want to have a chat about Norway. Norway is quite a peculiar country. They have a number of oil reserves and they have been putting away reserves similar to what we had in the Future Fund. We thought that what Norway was doing was not a bad idea, so we started to do that as well. We called it the 'Future Fund'. The Labor government got into power and spent the money! If it is a Future Fund for the future and if you aspire to the same benefits as Norway in economic credibility you need to remember that we had a Future Fund that was quickly depleted when Labor got into government.
The previous speaker spoke about billionaires. I know billionaires—they are good people—same as the other side knows union bosses. They know the Eddie Obeids and those HSU bosses. They know those guys, so they should not come in here and be provocative about someone having a relationship with a billionaire being a bad place to be and that everything done on the other side of the chamber is good and righteous.
The MRRT damaged international investor confidence in Australia, has damaged the mining industry and subsequently had an impact on our nation's economy. The lead-in time for mining investment is about five years, so by the time they do their first geo inspections and get all their state and federal preapprovals in place we will not see the effects of this tax for another couple of years. But we are seeing the financial impacts straight away, because we were supposed to have a bucket load of money—and I will run through those numbers later on. It was a bucket load of money that was supposed to be generated out of this tax. But that never happened. Counting numbers is not the Labor Party of Australia's strength. Nearly every line item or portfolio that these guys have previously presided over have been absolutely diabolical.
The MRRT has proved a monumental failure when it comes to raising even half the forecast revenue—revenue which the previous government had already spent. That is the clanger. No-one would expect a small business or a medium-sized business in Australia to operate under the conditions under which the previous government set this up. Fair enough if the government had said, 'This is the revenue, we'll wait till it comes in and then we'll invest that into our nation.' But, no, there was an election cycle on. The Left and the Right were at each other's throat. It was like coming to work each day and wondering: who are Labor going to have as their Prime Minister this week? Who are they going to have as their immigration minister? Who are they going to have as their small business minister? It was like a turnstile of revolving personalities in this parliament. As a result of them not being able to get their act together, Australia as a nation was the lesser for it.
Comments were made in this House that the Australian people have spoken overwhelmingly. We now have what one would consider a legitimate mandate. One only needs to have a look at the chairs in this parliament. For the benefit of the Hansard, the chamber we stand in is a U-shaped horseshoe and the coalition numbers consume over half, whilst on the other side, outside of the numbers on its front bench, the Australian Labor Party is flat out getting to the first aisle on that side. What significance has that for Australia? It just means that, for each population block of 90,000, each member has been sent here with a majority from their electorate. Not that the Australian Labor Party is great at listening to the Australian people: one only needs to have a look at the election of their leader, where one gets 18,000 votes, the other one gets 12,000, and the bloke who gets 12,000 wins. So it is not as if they have a great track record at having an acute ear to the Australian public—nevertheless, all that aside.
The mining sector is cyclical. We have spoken about the lead-in time, the five years that it takes. Sometimes it takes longer: we have got coal interests in Queensland which are trying to get up at the moment and they are going to be closer to eight and in some instances 10. Talking about the lead-in times, the coal reserves at one particular lease in Queensland that is being looked at have the capacity to generate out of the Galilee Basin an equal amount of coal to the complete amount generated by the Bowen Basin at the moment. That is the next wave of the resources sector that has the capacity to come on. By comparison, in Mongolia there are Australian companies that have chosen, under the political climate set by the previous government, not to invest in the future of the Australian coal sector. Because it was seen to be a lesser risk, they have chosen to take their investment to Mongolia. The production costs in Mongolia are nearly half ours; their transport costs are half—they are landing it on the Chinese border for around $80 a tonne. How do we compete with that by, as a government, having our hand in the mining companies' pockets? The MRRT is bad for investment in one of our most important industries. Arguably, this is the worst time to be looking to stick on an additional tax.
A comment was made by the previous speaker as to what the problem was about having a tax if you just let it sit there and no-one is paying it. In theory, that is probably not something that needs to be challenged. The problem, fundamentally, is that you have gone and spent the money that was supposed to be generated. You spoke about the schoolkids bonus and how atrocious it is that we are taking away the schoolkids bonus. All you have done—not through you, Deputy Speaker; I do not impugn the chair—all the Australian Labor Party have done, when they talk about the schoolkids bonus and how we have to look after this generation but as a government had this tax, is shackle our next generation of children to debt.
I will put that into perspective, in terms of when this debt is going to be paid down. The current debt ceiling is $300 billion. We are going to have a look at trying to increase that. If we go back into the history of Australian surpluses on both sides of the House and took the highest surplus we have ever had, for the coalition to emulate the best surplus Australia has ever had, given that the economies of the world are very cyclical, we would have to emulate that record surplus for 18 consecutive years to pay down the $300 billion worth of debt. That is what we would have to do. Talk about the schoolkids bonus and talk about looking after the future of the next generation—the best way we can look after the next generation is to stop shackling them to debt. If it is good debt—investment in ports that create revenue, good debt that builds hospitals—so be it, but not debt that has been wasted and squandered.
Mining is one of the biggest contributors to the Australian economy. This tax has translated to fewer jobs in engineering, retailing, finance, accommodation, travel—in fact, every sector of business. I do not have any mining in my area. I am on the Gold Coast hinterland, going up to the top of the Toowoomba range, and it is predominantly an agriculture and tourism sector. But even though I do not have mining in my sector, things are tough. As a result I have fitters, truck drivers, mining engineers and mining bosses who choose to live in my electorate and fly in, fly out, and the number of people coming to me of late and raising concern about the future of the industry is concerning. They no longer have jobs. Is that completely attributable to the MRRT? It would be irresponsible of me to link those two. However, with the Chinese economy softening, coming off the boil, and the Australian dollar having an impact, taking away our competitive strength in global markets once we hit parity, other levers have had an impact in terms of retarding the industry. Has the mining tax contributed to providing confidence in the sector? Most definitely it has not. Most definitely the mining tax has had a negative confidence effect on investors in this sector.
Evidence of that is the amount of new investment coming into the sector. Evidence of that is the amount of current investment now leaving Australia, going offshore. Ratings agencies out of London are now saying that you can buy money to go and invest in a coal mine more cheaply outside Australia then you can in it and they are citing that because of the sovereign risk issues. As a government we should be hanging our head in shame.
I have got figures here which pertain to the forecast revenues that this bill was supposed to bring in—$26 billion, then $11 billion dollars and then downgraded to $10.6 billion. It was downgraded again in the 2012-13 MYEFO to $9.1 billion. Finally in 2013 in the PEFO documents, it is down to $4.4 billion, generating only $400 million. A disgrace. I keep on bringing it to the fore when it comes to economic credibility that the previous government has shown time and time again that it could not hit the side of a barn with a forecast. It is continually out in nearly every facet by roughly around $20 billion.
However, it gets worse. The previous government committed the cardinal sin again of spending the money before they earned it. Small businesses cannot afford to do that. If they do, they put it on an overdraft that becomes an expense. In the same terms, what we have now is an enormous amount of debt, money that has been spent that is going to be shackled to our next generation. To look after our future generations we need to make sure that they have got jobs and that cost-of-living pressures are low. We need to make sure that they have got great education opportunities and, as a coalition and as a Liberal Party member, I accept the mandate that we have to pursue the repeal of this ridiculous minerals resources rent tax.