Subjects: Mining industry, LNG, WA royalties, foreign investment, political donations, Sam Dastyari
I’m joined by the Federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Nationals Senator Matt Canavan. Thank you very much for joining us tonight. A lot of people there early tonight? All ready, going to be on time?
Thanks Janine, well better to get here early and not leave early I suppose Janine, that’s my plan this week.
Now, speaking of travel, you’ve just come back from your first trip as a Minister, in your ministry, to Western Australia which you could call the centre of our mining industry. As Minister for Resources, how are we looking post mining boom out there?
Well the key thing to point out first and foremost is we really still have a mining boom. It’s a production boom now, it’s not an investment boom so it’s different, there’s not the level of capital investment, the employment figures are lower than what was there at the height of the boom if you like.
But we’re exporting record amounts of iron ore, record amounts of coal, we’re about to be the world’s largest LNG exporter and I was having a look at the Karratha gas plant and the Pluto LNG plant up there as well while I was there, so there is still enormous opportunities.
Mining is now bigger than it was before the boom in terms of our GDP and it employs double the number of people it did before the boom as well. It’ll be permanently bigger now thanks to all those investments, I mean the iron ore investments alone are stunning.
We were exporting 300 odd million tonnes before the boom and now we’re well over 500-600 million tonnes so it’s an amazing transformation in the industry over there and really opening up areas that weren’t thought would be possible after the initial boom in the 60s and 70s.
And yet if you talk to the state leaders there, they would have you believe they need more GST capital because things are so tough and your own Nationals leader there Brendon Grylls has called for a mining tax which I gather you weren’t as – you were more outspoken about it than your current leader Mr Joyce and Minister Nash?
Well look, there’s a couple of things in that question Janine. I mean the first point is that while there has been a mining boom and obviously a lot more royalty revenue for the West Australian government, they have lost a lot of that revenue thanks to the way the GST is redistributed in this country. And the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull did say the other week that WA has the right to feel aggrieved over it. And I agree with that that the current system has not been overly fair to Western Australia and we are looking at how we can make sure that doesn’t happen again.
On Brendon’s proposal, look Brendon is a real fighter for Western Australia. For those who don’t know he was the author of the Royalties for Regions program which has been hugely successful over there and rolled out in other states in the country.
He’s come forward with this idea, it is a state issue, it’s a state matter and that’s what my leader Barnaby and Fiona have said but as the Resources Minister I’ve been talking to the industry and I can see and understand their concerns about this proposal and have expressed those. Particularly in the way it increases tax and it’s also on a per-tonne basis so it’s not particularly calibrated to the profitability of individual mines.
Well given the outcry from your side of politics when a mining tax was proposed in 2010, we know about the screaming and what that did for confidence and investment in it. Surely it would do the same damage if Brendon Grylls keeps talking about this mining tax? Wouldn’t you be better to say this is not helpful to our industry?
Well look it’s a different proposal than what was there a few years ago. It’s not the super profits tax that was proposed…
Is that because they’re not making any profits anymore? It’d be a bit hard to put one on it?
Yeah, yeah, look and they’re also not trying to take a 40% equity stake in people’s businesses without sitting down with their shareholders, which is what Kevin Rudd was trying to do.
So this is a completely different approach, it is well within the West Australian government’s rights to change the royalty regime. It’s their asset, they own it, there have been changes to their royalties even over the past 10 years, they increased their [interruption]
But as Federal Minister would you say that it would not be helpful in the current climate?
Well as I said I have grave concerns about the proposal. And I said that this week while I was over there speaking to the industry. I do think it would be a harmful step, I don’t think higher taxes are normally the answer to issues.
I understand though Western Australia’s frustration with the current system and Brendon in particular’s attempt to find a solution for it. But look it is a state matter and I’m not going to – it’s not a matter of fight for the Federal Government per se, except for the fact that it’s a policy or proposal that I think is quite concerning and could have some harmful impact.
Okay, wearing your other hat as Minister for Northern Australia, that brings us to another thorny issue this week and one the Nationals have been concerned about, cattle properties, about agricultural land about other land going to foreign investors – namely Chinese. We saw that controversial decision on the Kidman sale, what is the position of the Nationals now that we have seen that register come out this week which you fought for, which shows that only 13.6% of Australian agricultural land is owned by foreigners and I think the Chinese are less than half a percent.
Well I mean I think the key thing here Janine is not to just focus on total numbers because then you get yourself into a position of saying where how much is too much? Is 20%, 30%, 40% - when is it too much?
The key thing to look at is the individual deals and arrangements and some of those are concerning and have been concerning enough for the government to say no to them. Of course the high profile Kidman one recently, there was also a couple of years ago Treasurer Hockey said no to the Australian Wheat Board sale as well.
I think there are key concerns about some of those particular deals and that’s why we want to have the ability to scrutinise those, to make sure they’re in the national interest. And the key thing we have done since we got in Government is to reduce the threshold for review from over $250m to $15m cumulative now.
So what that meant is before we came into Government, unless you were buying a farm over $250m you weren’t even reviewed. You didn’t even have to ask. You just got to come in and say thank you very much, I’ll have that.
I don’t think that’s what the Australian people expect or want. They want a review system, they want to make sure things are in the national interest. If you come here – and just around the corner here in Canberra you can’t buy an established home basically – you have to get approval for every established dwelling you want to buy if you’re a foreigner and many of them are rejected. I don’t see why it should be a completely different story when you go 50km down the road to Cooma and want to buy a farm.
Well as I said it was something the Nationals pushed for, this register, but not everyone was happy. Can I just play just a little bit of the snippet from the Alan Jones radio show this week and this is what he told the Treasurer about the register.
ALAN JONES EXCERPT:
This is the greatest piece of unadulterated cop-out the Government could issue. We were promised a national agricultural land register. All we’ve got is a travesty. Now if Scott Morrison and the Government believe this sort of bland white wash will satisfy public concerns, then they’re kidding themselves. What you’re being told today is an utter betrayal of public trust. Scott Morrison you’re again on notice.
Oh well he wasn’t happy. Is there any truth to that? Do you think the register was what people expected? Were you happy with it or should it go further?
Well what we did promise to do was to outline to people exactly what is owned by foreign interests and what is owned by Australians. That’s what this register has done and before that we were relying on surveys from the Australian Bureau of Statistics which were not complete and were not always filled out.
This is the first time everyone who owns land or is a foreigner who owns land is asked to make that clear. Before that only Queensland had a proper register, so this is a huge step forward.
And I think the key thing here Janine, is not so much what is in this particular report, it’s actually what the Government does and what we do from day-to-day. So I would respectfully disagree with Alan, we’re the first Government in history, in history, to have said no to agricultural deals. No to AWB. No to Kidman. We’ve proven our credibility that we will stand up for the national interest.
Now in saying that, the vast majority of foreign investment in agricultural does get approval. We do need foreign investment. It’s only going to be under particular circumstances where we have to say no. We’re the first Government to have done that and I think that’s what the Australian people expect and I think we deserve credit for it.
Well just finally, obviously wearing your resources hat, the mining industry has a lot of foreign investment. Northern Australia as we know is getting or wants a lot of foreign investment. Which brings us to campaign donation reform.
Obviously the interests who are buying into those industries and those areas should feel they have a say, but the mood at the moment is to try and limit foreign donations, presumably from foreign corporations, foreign entities, state-run governments, where do you stand on the donation issue, foreign money in donations?
Well I think it’s something that has to be stepped through very carefully Janine, because there is the potential for serious perverse outcomes. I find it interesting that in the week that there was a major issue with a Labor Senator taking money for a personal expense – not a donation – then suddenly the Labor Party found that they wanted to talk about foreign donation reform.
This is clearly a distraction attempt from the Labor Party, to distract attention away from what was massive, a massive failure in their governance arrangements. A senior Senator in their party, someone in their ministry, that is of great concern to the Australian people.
It’s right that Sam Dastyari has resigned but I think Bill Shorten still has a lot of questions to answer about why he didn’t ask Sam to step aside in the first place and what he was told by Sam. They had a full and frank discussion apparently – what was he told by Sam about how this came to be? Because we’re none the wiser after the press conferences Sam has done. Why has he taken this money? Why did he suddenly come out with a position on the South China Sea, completely at odds with the Labor Party and the Australian Government’s position, just after he had taken seemingly a donation to cover personal expenses – not to the party – not registered through the proper processes. That’s wrong.
Now on foreign donations, look we’ve got to be very careful here because they’ve tried this in the US, they tried to clamp down on donation reform and then of course what ends up happening is you’re playing whack-a-mole. The donations go somewhere else over there, to Political Action Committees, the money still gets spent it just goes in the black sphere, we’ve just got to be very, very careful with how we do this to make sure that we don’t skew or bias our system one way or another.
Okay well thank you very much for your time, I’ll let you go early so that you’re bright and early for school tomorrow and nobody can get in trouble. I think there’s a party room meeting. Thank you very much for your time Senator Matt Canavan.
Thanks Janine, have a good night.