The latest spot from the Minerals Council of Australia unveils the mining lobby’s ultimate coup de grâce.
An ageing Crocodile Dundee lookalike has weighed up both sides of the ongoing debate between the “intellectual pygmies” (to borrow a phrase from Clive Palmer) of the Australian Labor party, and the noetic juggernauts who own and operate Australia’s wealthiest mining companies, and, after careful consideration, unambiguously come out in favour of the big miners.
Decked out with a brand new ute, and a collar that couldn’t get any bluer if it were immersed in indigo, our man has become convinced that his beloved outback can provide much more than the mere aesthetic pleasure, spiritual enhancement, and roasted goanna that sufficed in yesteryear. It can, with a little beneficence from the mining companies, provide jobs for everyday Australians like him, ideally working at the nominal rate of $2 a day advocated by his much adored boss lady here.
The character earnestly warns us off the ‘”really dumb idea” of considering using any more of the vast amounts of revenue generated by the mining industry to help pay for “really dumb” election promises like a first rate National Broadband Network, fostering a viable domestic renewable energy industry, and improvements to primary and secondary education. Instead, he sternly directs us, we must “keep mining strong”, the implication being that a strong mining sector is one that returns the maximum amount of revenue to owners and investors, regardless of the social or economic outcomes for the other 22 million of us.
As convincing as this 30-second composition is, I think we can dedicate at least the same amount of time, and perhaps a little more, to putting both the arguments it explicitly and implicitly makes into perspective.
Firstly, the imagery of the ad is supremely cynical. We are presented with what appears to be a typical Australian mine worker, arguing from the bottom of his heart that any increase in taxation of the mining industry, regardless of how it is structured, will be a potential threat to his, and all of his blue collar mates’, livelihood. The reality is that the speaker of this spot is not Joe Australia, or Mick Dundee, it is in fact Ken Lamb, Director of ODT Australis, a mining logistics company and avowed cat-shooting enthusiast. A mining super profits tax won’t cost him his job, but it might mean it takes him a few more days to buy his next gold-plated shark tank. Meanwhile, if the tax revenues were spent responsibly, the rest of us might hope to get a decent education or an hour or two off the emergency room wait next time we need it. I highly doubt Ken needs deign worry about anything public, education or healthcare.
Secondly, the $20 billion in taxes and royalties already paid by the mining industry is presented to us as if it were some colossal figure whose nominal value in itself should silence any calls for an increase in the tax. Never mind that according to the Henry Review, tax paid as a percentage of mining profits fell from around 50 per cent in 2001 to less than 20 per cent a decade later. If you are wondering where that missing 30 per cent has gone, check out the growth in net worth of such lovable mining personalities as Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer, and Ivan Glasenberg over the same period of time.
Nathan Tinkler, arguably the worst of the lot, has fallen from his previous financial perch, but not before giving out ample sneers directed at all of the “f—ing deadbeat(s)” who “climb out of your bed every morning for your pathetic hundred grand a year”. A revealing insight into how these mining executives, so concerned about working Australians, really feel about those earning a meagre 150 per cent or so of the average Australian income. Tinkler’s sneers establish his credentials as the contemporary Australian embodiment of the North English industrialist described by George Orwell in his classic 1937 essay “North and South”:
“The type who starts off with half a crown and ends up with 50,000 pounds, and whose chief pride is to be an even greater boor after he has made his money than before. On analysis his sole virtue turns out to be a talent for making money. We were bidden to admire him because though he might be narrow-minded, sordid, ignorant, grasping, and uncouth, he had 'grit', he 'got on'; in other words, he knew how to make money.”
The idea that the first casualty of any possible increase in the mineral resource rent tax will be regular Australian workers is incorrect at best, and is in fact an exercise in wilful deceit and scaremongering. While the name is slightly more ambiguous than its predecessor, the “super profits tax”, the principle is the same: the tax affects businesses that are already stupendously profitable.
What would in fact happen is that all Australians, including every single one the mining industry’s much beloved working Australians, would receive a fairer slice of the unprecedented profits being garnered from the extraction of resources that, it turns out, actually belong to all of us. This would come in the form of tax subsidies in other areas and public spending. The mining industry is a notorious under-employer in comparison to the wealth it generates.
In 2012 mining brought in 9.6 per cent of GDP while providing 2.4 per cent of jobs. If you are in fact truly concerned about the impact on Australian jobs an increase in the mineral resource rent tax would bring, consider the underfunded schools and healthcare system that would benefit. Public spending does not disappear into a vacuum, it provides a diversity of services that the Australian people need, and employment goes with it.
One inescapable fact about any increase to the mining tax is clear. It would require a handful of the most profitable, majority foreign owned, mining companies, along with a fraction of a percentage of the richest Australians, to pay more money for the good of the other 22 million of us. The fundamental question is this: Do we think the richest mining companies, who without exception achieve their levels of wealth with the support of the rest of us, either as workers, consumers, or taxpayers who provide infrastructure for their operations, education for a skilled workforce, or any myriad of other public goods, should pay more tax for the benefit of the overwhelmingly vast majority of Australians?
The mining tax isn’t an argument for a radical new policy of wealth redistribution, it is simply a demand that a greater share of the profits derived from an industry reliant on mineral resources owned by all Australians should in fact be used for the benefit of all Australians. By current World Bank statistics Australia is, per capita, the richest country in the world with a population over 10 million. The next wealthiest country over this population threshold is Canada, with a full 20 per cent less wealth per capita than Australia. We are in the company of Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. Anyone who has travelled to these countries will be aware of the impressive quality of infrastructure and public services. Anyone who thinks Australia is in the same league as these countries in these areas is severely misinformed. By strategically increasing revenues in areas such as mining super profits, Australia can afford to begin moving forward from its current position of a first rate economy with second rate public services and infrastructure, without radically increasing income or corporate tax.
Don’t heed the message of Rinehart as it is manifested in this latest ad. Demanding a more equitable slice of the profits from an industry that runs off publicly owned resources does not make you an ungrateful whinger, who doesn’t want to work, who should be grateful for whatever scraps the mining barons deign to kick down to you. It makes you somebody who believes the wellbeing of the other 22 million Australians is more important than whether the Forbes rich list values Gina’s net worth at $20 billion rather than $19.5 billion next year.
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