13/05/2010 - 00:00

Rents, rewards as lobbyists cross the Rubicon

13/05/2010 - 00:00


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THE business of lobbying government is a tough one and none more so when representing a sector unloved by the politicians in power.

THE business of lobbying government is a tough one and none more so when representing a sector unloved by the politicians in power.

Just ask the industry players in minerals.

When the federal government’s response two weeks ago to the Henry Tax Review introduced a previously mooted resources rent tax, the industry was stunned.

Where was the warning? How could such tax be introduced fait accompli? The tax, including the 40 per cent headline rate, had been flagged for months; why hadn’t it been challenged before this?

Industry insiders claim they were duped on the proposed tax because the government had assured the sector there would be consultation on the headline rate and the design of the tax.

WA Business News has been told that, before the announcement, government representatives had denied the 40 per cent rate had been leaked by them and claimed it was media speculation.

Of course the industry has reacted badly to what it sees as duplicity.

Even the Minerals Council of Australia, which sees some merit in a resources rent tax, concept was dumbstruck that a detailed proposal could be announced without any discussions with the states or companies involved.

The council, along with several individual miners, has embarked on a major advertising campaign to bring the government to account, particularly on fundamental issues such as the amount of tax the sector already pays.

But the government’s ploy, which has been viewed as a strategy to avoid a campaign of opposition, may well have backfired.

Firstly, industry insiders don’t believe the federal government created significant momentum for the tax, despite the silence they had from the mining sector. The result has been a government caught out by polls expressing doubt about the tax, a swift move by the opposition to block the proposal, and a vocal fight with an important industry for more than a week.

Both federal Labor and the miners will be doing some soul-searching over this one.

The mining sector may not have realised that the game had changed after it fought against the Rudd government’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

Is the Resources Super Profits Tax simply revenge?

“I don’t know if that is too strong,” said one insider.

“They were annoyed with the industry as a whole.”

However, the ETS position may have weakened the industry’s ability to influence the government’s next move, especially the Canberra-based Minerals Council, which was the flag-waving leader of opposition to the ETS.

“There are ramifications when you do these things, you cross the Rubicon.”

Adieu Adele

ADELE Carles quit the Western Australian Greens late last week to sit as an independent MP after falling out with senior party member Giz Watson over publicising her extra-marital affair with Liberal MP Troy Buswell.

After the affair became public during the Anzac weekend, Mr Buswell quit as treasurer over his use of ministerial entitlements during his liaisons with Ms Carles.

The Fremantle MP, the first Green to hold a lower house seat in WA, said she could no longer work with Ms Watson, who she claimed had pushed her into revealing the affair.

She resigned on Thursday night, saying she would sit as an independent and not rule out running for her seat again in 2013.

Ms Carles said her press secretary was told by Ms Watson that if the Fremantle MP did not go public with the affair then she would do so on the Friday before Anzac weekend.

The mother of three claims she pleaded with fellow Green Alison Xamon to call off Ms Watson, as she wanted to protect her children from a public announcement of the affair.

Ms Carles said she had no choice but to go to the media to tell her own story, and had decided to resign as a result.

“I can’t work in a team where I don’t have the support of the leader,” she said.

Ms Carles said federal Greens leader Bob Brown had supported her during the fallout over the affair, ringing her up and telling her to “hang in there”, but she did not get that support from Ms Watson.

But Ms Watson has denied Ms Carles’ claims, saying it was the Fremantle MP’s decision to go public.

She said Ms Carles was “a desperate woman looking for someone to blame”.

Ms Watson said it had been agreed Ms Carles would go public with the affair because The Sunday Times was asking questions and was going to run a story on the affair on Anzac weekend.

“I had no mandate or intention to do anything on my own ... absolutely she (Ms Carles) was the one who had to break the story.

“I’m concerned there’s some attempt to recreate history here.

“I can’t quite see how I’m the baddie here.”

Ms Watson said that, as late as Thursday, she hoped Ms Carles might continue as part of the Greens team.

After news of his affair with Ms Carles broke, Mr Buswell admitted to using his ministerial car and hotel entitlements during their liaisons.

That prompted Premier Colin Barnett to force Mr Buswell’s resignation as treasurer.

Mr Buswell later said he had received legal advice that he had not misused his entitlements but Mr Barnett declined to reinstate him and he now sits on the back bench.

Burke and Grill

FORMER WA premier Brian Burke and fellow lobbyist Julian Grill were found not guilty of corruption in the Western Australian Supreme Court this week, giving opponents of the Corruption and Crime Commission yet another weapon.

The two were accused of procuring Nathan Hondros, the chief of staff of the WA’s fisheries minister, to make unauthorised disclosures about a new pearl hatchery policy.

Mr Burke and Mr Grill were alleged to have then tried to amend the policy to benefit a client and sneak it past cabinet.

This week, Justice Michael Murray found there was no evidence they had acted corruptly and, furthermore, that the information provided was already made public.

The decision by the authorities to take the case directly to the Supreme Court has been criticised by some in the legal sector. They have argued the merits of the case ought to have first been tested in a lower court.

Mr Hondros was found not guilty of disclosing official secrets, with Justice Murray saying he was authorised by (then) fisheries minister Jon Ford to disclose the documents.

“My reputation has been terribly damaged, I don’t know exactly what is going to be there for me when I walk out of here,” he said.

Mr Hondros said he had lost his job and entitlements, and a large amount of money in legal costs.

“I think what’s happened today is that the legal system has shown itself in Western Australia to be fair and to be just.,” he said, adding that he never had a relationship with Mr Burke and Mr Grill.



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