Canberra has ‘plagiarised’ a successful Queensland development approach.
Canberra has ‘plagiarised’ a successful Queensland development approach.
Even though it’s nearly a month since Labor’s Anna Bligh fell to the Liberal National Party’s Campbell Newman, the Q word continues to send shudders down federal Labor spines.
And understandably so, because, if the Newman landslide of 62-38 per cent two-party preferred was repeated next year Labor’s wipe-out would exceed the 57-43 per cent Gough Whitlam registered in 1975.
Although there’s no need to repeat any of the post-mortems, there’s an ignored factor in Bligh’s demise, namely, why didn’t her books balance, the primary underlying reason for her fall from grace.
Here I’m indebted to an informant who, although a Queensland-born and educated long-time Perth resident, has insightful Brisbane contacts, especially on financial matters.
Here’s how he explained Bligh’s trouncing and how one long-standing Queensland financial practice bizarrely contributed to making things so torrid for us all over the five high-taxing Rudd-Gillard-Swan years.
Queensland’s treasury started receiving sizeable revenues from coal exports about 40 years ago.
Rather than spending this willy nilly, the money was directed by the Joh Bjelke-Petersen-led Nationals towards bankrolling public works, now called infrastructure, across Queensland’s expanding municipalities.
That meant Queensland residential land was cheaper than elsewhere across Australia.
Now, this far cheaper developed land, and thus housing, steadily encouraged cash-flush Sydneysiders and Melbourneans to sell their pricey homes and other property and move northwards to bigger and generally newer residences, often with magnificent ocean or canal views.
And leftover cash either went into ‘lifestyle’ outlays or seed capital for businesses, especially in tourism.
Queensland’s resultant, pivotally important, population growth was thus primarily based on coal and other mineral royalties and associated revenues that were channelled into subsidising municipal infrastructure to boost property, resort and business development.
Before going on, it’s worth digressing at this point to the little understood goings on in Canberra once Queenslander Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister.
And remember his treasurer, Wayne Swan, is also a Queenslander.
Both Brisbane Laborites knew full well that Mr Bjelke-Petersen and his Labor successors – Wayne Goss and Peter Beattie – built Queensland’s impressive demographic, real and canal estate, and business growth on subsidised municipal infrastructure all assisted with mineral royalties and other mining operations’ revenues.
How could Mr Rudd and Mr Swan not have known?
Mr Rudd spent several years as Mr Goss’ top bureaucrat, where he acquired the nickname Dr Death because of his ruthless management style that eventually led to his removal from the prime ministership.
What this Queensland-based Rudd-Swan duo therefore attempted after gaining control of Canberra’s finances, was to repeat the tried and tested Bjelke-Petersen approach by moving to slug not just Queensland’s but Australia’s mining sectors so they could go on nationwide super-spending sprees designed to guarantee themselves and Labor power indefinitely.
What the mining tax they proposed – and which led to Rudd’s toppling via the largely foreign-owned BHP Billiton-Rio Tinto-Xstrata’s $30 million anti-mining tax advertising blitz – was thus to firstly be a re-run of the Bjelke-Petersen approach that worked so well for so long for Queensland.
Why not all over Australia, they wondered?
There were several reasons why not.
Firstly, mineral royalties belong to states, not Canberra. The constitution says so.
But there’s another reason that’s failed to attract the attention it so deserves.
The Rudd-Swan mining tax was not simply or solely another tax that just happened to also jointly muscle in on states’ rights and revenues.
It was also, wait for it, partial socialisation – I repeat, socialisation – of Australia’s entire mining sector; coal, iron ore, gold, uranium, bauxite, you name it, with banking and certain other sectors to follow.
For reasons I’ve never grasped, MPs never highlighted this at the time.
Even today it’s difficult to find one who will say it, which suggests they still have not grasped it fully.
Robert Menzies would not have been so mute. He would have whacked Mr Rudd and Mr Swan right out of the political court over it.
Let me therefore state it here simply and unambiguously – the Rudd-Swan version of the mining tax envisaged Canberra becoming a 40 per cent partner in all targeted mining ventures.
I have only encountered one Liberal MP prepared to say just that, and he, Andrew Robb, the coalition’s finance spokesman, did so belatedly late last month.
In an article headlined, Seeking a return to freedom of choice published in a national newspaper in late March, he outlined the growing list of Labor moves to boost the size of Canberra’s slug and said: “There was also the failed attempt to nationalise 40 per cent of the mining industry and, on top of it all, the carbon tax.”
At the time this partial nationalisation manoeuvre was camouflaged with tricky words and phrases – Orwellian newspeak – like, “de facto joint venturing” and “silent partnership”.
Thankfully, Fortescue Metals Group CEO Andrew Forrest promptly called a spade a spade.
“This is nationalisation of 40 per cent of the mining industry and the first step towards where despotic economies go when they start nationalising industry,” Mr Forrest said.
Rio Tinto chief executive Tom Albanese backed Mr Forrest. “For good reason, people are beginning to use terms like nationalisation and expropriation for this new partnership,” Mr Albanese said.
For a more detailed assessment of this crucial, long-overlooked point, see WA Business News (Clarity missing in mine tax stoush, Mark Pownall and Joe Poprzeczny, May 27, 2010).
That’s primarily why the largely foreign-owned BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata, plus Mr Forrest, Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and other miners were so angered.
They, understandably, did not want ignorant Canberra bureaucrats and politicians muscling in – taking-over nearly half and gaining control of their property – with Canberra part-owning their operations.
That’s essentially what happened in Leninist Soviet Russia, Cuba, Mao’s China and other such communist basket cases.
Interestingly, Mr Swan, who inexplicably rose to become deputy PM after he and Julia Gillard toppled Mr Rudd over this socialising tax, went off and did a behind-closed-doors deal with BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata.
Now he has launched a nationwide hate campaign against the big three true blue Aussie miners, Mr Forrest, Mr Palmer and Ms Rinehart.
Try explaining that weird behaviour.
So, although the idea of acquiring mining revenue is traceable to plagiarising from Queensland’s post-1970s governmental underpinning of the growth of municipalities in that state, the Rudd-Swan adding of partial socialisation of Australia’s mining industry emanates from Labor’s long-standing socialistic desires.
Never ever forget Ms Gillard, who backed all this all the way, convened in the 1980s the Melbourne-based Socialist Forum that included former communists and hardline leftist Laborites.
Back to Anna Bligh.
She, and her predecessor, Peter Beattie, did what all Labor governments, including the Rudd and Gillard ones, are good at – spending ever more and going into hock.
But Queensland’s day of reckoning inevitably arrived when it lost its triple-A rating, meaning Ms Bligh had to scamper around to repay costly debts.
That meant scrapping a fuel subsidy and selling off state assets, something Queenslanders disliked.
And there was also the winding back of those municipality subsidies. Municipal charges began rising, property development slowed and everything that hinged on this fell away.
Little wonder Ms Bligh resigned from the parliament straight after her re-election as South Brisbane’s MLA, despite saying she would serve out her term, no matter what.