PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been talking tough, which might impress many people including, no doubt, the conservative rump of his own party.
However, even the shirt-fronting, tough-talking Tony Abbott lost support with this kind of approach.
The energy crisis has provided a neat opportunity for Mr Turnbull to show what he’s made of, to demonstrate how a genuinely “strong” Prime Minister operates.
Calling the captains of the energy industry into Parliament House to lay down the law certainly made for effective media. It provided the opportunity for the PM to demonstrate his genuine concern over energy shortages and the supply of natural gas with its impact for business and householders.
Government and industry now have an agreed position. Adequate supplies of natural gas will be made available to electricity suppliers in the event of high demand situations – such as heatwaves. Australia must have priority and the Prime Minister is even prepared to use the Commonwealth government’s external powers to ensure security of supply for Australia. However, at what price will the gas be delivered?
When will the mining industry begin to pay its fair share of revenue? The successful attacks by the mining industry on former WA Nationals Leader Brendon Grylls illustrate how hard it is to take a tough stance with this industry. Grylls, an MP from the Pilbara, was calling for a significant increase in mining tax to be used for the benefit of the community as a whole. It cost him his seat in the recent WA elections.
He had struck a deal with then-Premier Colin Barnett to form a minority government in 2008 on the proviso that more than a billion-dollar commitment was made to the Royalties for Regions program. After eight years, $6.9 billion had been spent on around 3700 projects, building halls, pools and apartment blocks, and upgrading streets.
This demonstrates how mining revenue could be used for the benefit of the nation whose resources are being depleted. It is in marked contrast to the story of natural gas from Australia’s north-west shelf, off the coast of WA, where our governments have handed over the resource on half-baked promises. The Gorgon liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in WA is so gargantuan it will transform Australia into the world’s biggest LNG exporter by 2018.
While Australia wrestles with shortages of natural gas, US-based Chevron and ExxonMobil, the owners of Gorgon, are exporting huge amounts of LNG without paying revenue to Australia. They are being investigated by the Australian Tax Office regarding use of international tax havens.
Michael West pointed out in “The Conversation” that Japanese consumers spend less on LNG from Bass Strait than do Victorian consumers. He went on to explain that just six companies control the price and supply of LNG. He suggests that these six – Santos, Exxon, BHP, Origin, Arrow Energy and Shell – act more like a cartel than a market.
“Japan, which is the single-biggest buyer of Australian LNG at 30 million tonnes a year, levies an import tax that will deliver $2.9 billion to its national coffers over the next four years”, according to Heath Aston in “The Sydney Morning Herald”.
In the meantime, the Australian people are simply handing over their shared natural resources and being told that we need to tighten our belts. Apparently, we have “a spending problem rather than a revenue problem”.
No, Prime Minister; we have a revenue problem. We also have a focus problem. While the government focuses on cutting Sunday penalty rates for the poorest workers, the wealthiest companies escalate prices for Australians and then find ways to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. A strong Prime Minister would take them on.