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A PS to the RSPT

By Gavin Mooney - posted Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The “debate” around the super profits tax has been illuminating. For me it has said so much about the mentality of the top executives in the mining sector - and of politicians. Early on there were the suggestions that Kevin Rudd was a communist (Clive Palmer), that it amounted to nationalisation (Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest) and the tax was straight from the pages of Das Kapital (Julie Bishop).

In the wake of their success in bringing down both Rudd and the tax, their arrogance and their indifference to democracy are now out there in full flow. Or maybe I am being unfair, after all Forrest seemed to be championing democracy, maybe even speaking for the people when he claimed: “We're all the one people, we can't be separated, we can't be class-warred.”

Atlas chief David Flanagan divulged to The Australian that he would talk to his wife each night about the implications of the tax “and the legacy it would leave for their two children”. He went on: “I actually could see a scenario where the RSPT could destroy the fabric of the Australian economy … I mean, totally f …ing smash it to bits.”


According to Forrest it wasn’t the miners who brought down Rudd - Twiggy’s pal - it was Ken Henry. Forrest asked “who voted for Ken Henry?

Thank God for Forrest to alert us to the dangers of an unelected Ken Henry. And thank God for those who brought down the tax and saved us from these commies who were otherwise set to “destroy the social fabric” of Australia.

These mining giants also have global aspirations. They are keen to use their power to save not just Australia. They want to save the world from nasty governments elsewhere as well! In a speech to mining executives in London last week, Tom Albanese, the Rio Tinto CEO, according to Peter Wilson in The Australian, “issued a none-too-subtle warning about the events in Canberra to other governments attracted to the idea of ‘resource nationalism’ and hiking taxes on mining profits”. Albanese is reported to have stated: “Policy makers around the world” (and presumably that includes democratically elected governments - like ours) “can learn a lesson when considering a new tax to plug a revenue gap, or play local politics”. We are fortunate however that as Wilson reported Albanese “held back from openly crowing about the fall of Mr Rudd”.

The Australian Financial Review joined in. “In a shot across the bows of Brazil, South Africa and Chile”, writes Andrew Cleary, “Rio Tinto’s chief executive Tom Albanese, has warned countries considering a super tax on resources to ‘learn a lesson’ from the Australian government’s experience in dealing with the industry’s opposition”.

I would encourage readers to write to The Australian and the Fin Review to express their thanks to the big miners for saving - today - the social fabric of Australia and - tomorrow - the world. Good chance your letters will be published.

Others must surely share my concerns about the impact of all of this on democracy. There is a worrying trend in Australia today to have “the Big End of Town” very much dominating political debate. The RSPT as I have tried to indicate is a case in point. But then so to was the process involved in revising the RSPT down to the MRRT. That process appears to have involved the new PM and three of the big miners. According to the media that I saw, the industry complained that it was only three (and not more) mining companies which were involved in these discussions. I saw no media suggesting that some wider groupings might have an interest. Where for example were the unions? Where were those - other industries, the superannuation representatives, the tax payers generally - who are also affected by the change from the RSPT to the MRRT?


It is now clear as the smoke lifts that the government and the tax payers - the citizens who elected this government even if not this Prime Minister - have lost substantial tax revenue amounting to an estimated $7.5 billion. That is not peanuts; it is getting on for $400 for every man, woman and child in Australia. Indeed it even dwarfs - well maybe not dwarfs but is certainly bigger than - Andrew Forrest’s estimated worth of $4.5 billion.

And this switch from the RSPT to the MRRT is somehow a victory for not just the mining industry but for the common man …? But then “we're all the one people, we can’t be separated”.

Against this background, what chance is there of any reasoned debate about the impact of the mining industry on what is perhaps the biggest issue facing not just Australians but the planet - global warming?

Ah, but the Flanagan kids’ future is secure in the knowledge that their dad and the other big miners are there to look after them and we can similarly be assured that they will look after the rest of us as well.

And just a final thought: why do we need an election when no matter who is elected we can presumably continue to rely on the “big miners” to take good care of us?

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This is an edited version of an article first posted on Challenging the Market.

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About the Author

Gavin Mooney is a health economist and Honorary Professor at the Universities of Sydney and Cape Town. He is also the Co-convenor of the WA Social Justice Network . See

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