Dissenting Report by Senator Cameron

Dissenting Report by Senator Cameron

1.1        I do not agree with the Coalition senators’ conclusions and recommendations in the majority report. The coalition senators have accepted, with little scrutiny or critical analysis, the submissions of the Minerals Council of Australia and mining companies. The Minerals Resource Rent Tax, with appropriate amendments, has the potential to deliver over time an appropriate return to the Australian taxpayer as a result of the exploitation of Australia’s resources. The MRRT, no matter how high the rate, still only applies in the event that the companies make a profit. Royalties do not give any concession to loss-making firms.

1.2        To ensure that the national interest is protected and appropriate returns for the exploitation of Australia’s finite resources are achieved, the government should:

1.3        The government should ensure that the national interest is prioritised and appropriate amendments to allowances, if they are found to be overly generous or unsustainable, should be made.

1.4        In response to questioning from Senator Bishop, Professor Fargher expanded on his joint submission to the committee in relation to the question of market valuation.

If the question is narrowed to simply comparing the two start-up options available within the MRRT, then both the market value option and the current book value option offer substantial start-up allowances. On average, accounting rules are likely to result in book values understating market value. Further, there is relatively greater flexibility in the procedures used to estimate the market value. The self-assessor is expected to take the higher deduction and so in my opinion is more likely to use the market value option where tax liability needs to be minimised. Both current start-up options however create substantial tax shields. [1]

1.5        I am unconvinced by the submissions of the Minerals Council of Australia and individual miners that there are no downsides to the minerals boom and flow-through benefits are available to all Australians.

1.6         I note the recent decision of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court which casts doubt on the economic modelling used by Rio Tinto's Warkworth mine to justify expansion of its Hunter Valley mining lease.

1.7        In the judgement, Justice Peterson said:

I accept Dr Denniss’ evidence that, to a considerable extent, employment generated from the extension of the Warkworth mine would involve currently employed skilled workers transferring from other industries, but the vacancy thereby created in the other industries may not necessarily be filled.

I am not satisfied that the economic analysis provided on behalf of Warkworth support the conclusions urged by both Warkworth and the Minister, namely that the economic benefits of the project outweigh the environmental, social and other costs. [2]

1.8        In my view the industry has consistently overstated the benefits it confers on the country as a whole and understated the problems it creates. Examples of this include:

1.9        The mining industry is the beneficiary of significant government subsidisation. This is achieved through generous research and development tax concessions, accelerated depreciation of mines and equipment, fuel tax concessions and enormous infrastructure projects funded by state governments. Some estimates put this as at least a $4 billion public subsidy to the mining industry.

1.10      I note the view of Coalition Senators expressed in the majority report that they are satisfied that the resources sector is “already 'paying its fair share' through among other things, state royalties and that the MRRT “adds an unnecessary, inefficient and ineffective burden” on the mining industry. I further note the opinion of Coalition senators that resource taxation should remain exclusively within the jurisdiction of the States.

1.11      Coalition senators must be about the only people in the country who actually believe this.

1.12      It is almost universally accepted that it is in fact volumetric state-based royalty payments for the extraction of mineral resources which are the least efficient, least effective, most uncertain and least equitable form of taxation on the industry.

1.13      The Minerals Council of Australia has consistently said that resource rent taxes are preferable to royalties on grounds of efficiency and equity.

1.14      The Australia's Future Tax System review, headed by former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry (AFTS review) found royalties to be an inefficient and inequitable method of taxing the extraction of finite mineral resources.

1.15      The AFTS review concluded that Australia’s resource charging arrangements were inadequate, both from an efficiency perspective, and in that they “fail to collect an appropriate return for the community from allowing private firms to exploit non-renewable resources”. [3]

1.16      The AFTS review recommended a fundamental overhaul of the way resource revenue is collected, and who it is collected by. It called for the replacement of all existing resource charging arrangements with a single, uniform resource rent tax imposed and administered by the Commonwealth. One of the stated reasons for this recommendation, as well as for the particular form of resource rent tax preferred by the AFTS panel, was to remove the effect of existing royalty and excise regimes, which it saw as distortionary and highly inefficient, on investment and production decisions

1.17      The GST Distribution Review panel in its June 2012 interim report gave unequivocal in principle support for the findings of the AFTS review. It said:

The Panel accepts the finding of the Australia’s Future Tax System (AFTS) review that well-designed rent-based taxes are likely to be more economically efficient than royalties applied on the basis of value or volume, particularly in periods of low commodity prices or high costs.

The Panel also agrees with the AFTS review’s assessment and States’ views that other factors, such as the size, variability and timing of the return received by government, as well as relative administration and compliance costs, are important considerations when evaluating any particular resource charging regime.

The Panel is mindful of the depth of concern amongst States regarding their historical role in charging for the right to mine under their soils. However, the Commonwealth has a similarly well-established position in the field of taxation. The challenge is therefore to find a way to reconcile these two competing interests. [4]

1.18      Coalition senators' views on this are at odds with every reputable review of resource taxation recently undertaken in this country.

1.19      The implementation of an appropriate Minerals Resource Rent Tax is absolutely essential to ensure that the Australian public are properly recompensed for the extraction of their finite, non-renewable resources predominately by overseas owned mining companies.

 

Senator Doug Cameron

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