SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON THE 2010 MINING TAX CAMPAIGN

Ross Gittins, self-proclaimed truth-teller and "bulldust" identifier, took it upon himself recently to "tell the miners a few home truths" at a government-sponsored mining conference. His address has now bobbed up in a weekend column.

His central charge is that the mining industry has spearheaded a regression to a "culture of rent- seeking" in Australia. Exhibit A is the 2010 mining tax dispute.

According to Mr Gittins this episode sums up why economic reform is more difficult than it used to be, echoing a theme Ross Garnaut has hit upon. Vested interests, it’s alleged, are now more aggressive in opposing high-minded reform in the public interest.

If only the world conformed to such Manichean stereotypes! A more careful treatment would show that it wasn't the mining industry that tore up the economic reform rule book in the mining tax dispute. It was the former Labor Government

The mining tax campaign was - to paraphrase former Prime Minister Keating - our last shot in the locker. We had exhausted all avenues to good policy reform with a Government that was more interested in a tax grab and fomenting a class war to boost its stocks. Our opposition to bad policy was then and remains in Australia’s interests

To borrow a term beloved by conscious-raising academics, there are a number of "silences" in the Gittins version of events which need to be countered in case they gain currency.

Silence #1: At no point does he recognise that the minerals industry approached the Henry Tax Review "in the cart" for reform of existing industry taxation arrangements. We put the concept of profit based royalty arrangements on the table from the outset, but that was contingent upon engaging the states, who have Constitutional responsibility for minerals, and on meaningful consultation with industry. History shows that neither condition was met. The elegant Canberra theorists knew best.

Silence #2: We now know that Kevin Rudd deliberately set out to pick a fight with the minerals industry thinking it was good politics. No excuses for missing this one as the Herald’s Peter Hartcher outlined the story in the Herald on 29 May 2010. And former Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has set the record straight declaring this was the case.

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