27/03/2013 - 09:43

Industry lauds Ferguson after rough patch

27/03/2013 - 09:43


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Industry lauds Ferguson after rough patch

FORMER federal resources and energy minister Martin Ferguson has gained genuine respect from a sector that nearly brought his government down.

Falling on his sword after last week’s failed coup, Mr Ferguson attracted epitaphs from all the major industry groups, despite his central role in a titanic tax battle that rocked the nation three years ago.

Martin Ferguson brought to his role a deep understanding of the mining industry and a strong commitment to consult with the industry on policy challenges,” said the Minerals Council of Australia, the federal government’s arch-enemy in the first phase of the mining tax fight.

Even in private, industry players who dealt with Mr Ferguson face to face during that tumultuous period regard him well and recognise that he was simply doing his job as professionally as he could in trying circumstances.

All laud him for his understanding of the industry, quite a compliment for a man that heralds from a staunch union background, and has been a notable figure in a government that has generated such animosity from the mining sector.

“At the time there were people, of course, who did not like what he said but, to be frank, nobody ever talked to me about not liking the guy,” one industry insider said.

If Mr Ferguson lacked for something, some industry figures suggest, it was real influence in Canberra.

This weakness, it is claimed, became transparent when he was caught off guard, as was the industry, when the Resource Super Profits Tax was announced in the federal budget in May 2010.

While some acknowledge his performance in putting on a brave face and playing hardball with the industry to get the tax over the line, they see that as the work of a foot soldier rather than a general.

They say Mr Ferguson was integral to the negotiations that shaped the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, which replaced the RSPT – a compromise to end the war with the mining industry but one that left most in the sector with a bitter taste in their mouths.

“With greater gifts of influence and communication he could have come up with a better solution,” one mining industry player said.

“The mining tax cost more money than it has generated.

“We have wasted the past three years.

“Martin, as resources minister, had the opportunity to influence that.

“It was a missed opportunity, he could have delivered a social dividend.”

Some mining players bore the brunt of Mr Ferguson’s feelings during the peak of the mining tax revolt

“He was not all sugar and spice,” said one.

“When he became feral it was when there were political consequences; it was about survival.”

But such comments were rare. In general, even privately, they understood the minister was doing a difficult job.

“He can be pretty abrasive,” another mining executive said. “I took the view that was his job.

“His job was to sell and he went and sold it.

“He sold it hard because that is the way he was brought up.”

Most said that Mr Ferguson was well advised, listened well, and did not always pretend to know better.

“I felt sorry for him at times, because he was doing the bidding of the prime minister on policy that he did not agree with.”

Outside the mining sector, Mr Ferguson was even more appreciated, especially in offshore energy where Canberra has much more clout than in state-controlled mining.

Mr Ferguson was attacked last month by unions representing workers in the energy sector for not doing more to discourage floating LNG projects, such as the one being undertaken by petroleum giant Shell for its Prelude gas field.

While some suggest there was no love lost between Mr Ferguson and his successor, Western Australia-based Gary Gray, the new resources and energy minister has backed FLNG as a way of pressing ahead with development. 

Mr Gray, seemingly also at odds with unions over migration issues, was welcomed by industry publicly and privately as Labor’s only worthy replacement for Mr Ferguson.



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