I have previously expressed my concern in On Line Opinion at the way in which the mining/resources tax has been handled by government and the impact on our democracy of the mining and resources sectors’ wars against it. (See here for example.) What is now worrying me is the impact of the government’s handling of the consultations just started on the revised tax i.e. the Mineral Resource Rent Tax (MRRT).
The next of these consultations, with Martin Ferguson, the Minister for Resources and Energy, and Don Argus, the former chair of BHP Billiton, as co-chairs, takes place in my home town of Perth this week. The road show then moves on to Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne.
I thought I would like to attend and I might do so on two grounds. First I am a citizen and am likely to be affected by whatever decision is made regarding the design of the tax. It might affect the prices I pay for all sorts of goods and services I might buy in future. It will have some sort of impact on the resources sector in Western Australia and in turn the amount of revenue our state government can raise from that sector. If for example that is reduced, it might then influence the amount of state taxes I have to pay. Again, if the amount of tax raised at a federal level falls, then I might have to pay more taxes or I might be faced with reduced federal services.
Second I am Co-convener of the WA Social Justice Network. With that hat on I am keen to see if I might influence discussions about the tax from the perspective of how socially just it might be.
So I investigated who was to be invited. A media release on Martin Ferguson’s website states: “interested stakeholders should contact the Policy Transition Group Secretariat at PTG@ret.gov.au for further information on the consultation process and to nominate for a consultation session.”
So, as an “interested stakeholder” I did proceed “to nominate for a consultation session”. I was then informed by a representative of the PTG: “Due to the tight timeframes the PTG has prioritised its consultation activities to ensure that directly affected companies and the associations that represent them are given maximum opportunity to discuss their issues directly with the group.” I was “encouraged to provide formal [written] submissions to the PTG in response to the Issues Paper to be released shortly”. I could also email and I could “approach one of the key industry associations and join them in one of their PTG sessions”!
I then phoned the PTG to try to see if I could attend in person but was informed that that was not possible.
This is remarkable! The PTG has not, as it is claimed, “prioritized its consultation processes” to maximise the opportunity of affected companies being able to discuss their issues. These groups will monopolise the process. The public are not there at all. Not at all.
How can this be justified? We have Don Argus ex chair of BHP Billiton jointly co-chairing this process. We have representatives of the resources industry invited to attend - but no one from the general public! It is not that there are limited places for the general public or for organisations like the Social Justice Network. Of course I could have understood if I had been told: “We allocated X places to the public and organisations such as yours but these are now filled.”
There are none!
The original tax - the Resources Super Profits Tax or RSPT - was destroyed by the leaders of the resources sector; the revised, severely watered-down tax (the MRRT) was designed in an unholy alliance between government, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Xstrata; and now these face-to-face consultations to discuss the design of the MRRT are being co-chaired by the former head of BHP Billiton and those eligible to attend are from the resources sector.
What sort of “democracy” do we have?
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