The Australian today ran a big photo with its lead business story of former Rio Tinto CEO Leigh Clifford sitting next to BHP-Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers at a mining industry function in Canberra last night.
Clifford was laughing away and the lads could well have been amused to have together amassed a net worth exceeding $50 million courtesy of their exploitation of Australia’s mineral wealth during the China boom.
Indeed, even after all these claims that the proposed RSPT has smashed resource company share prices, the combined market capitalisation of BHP and Rio today is about $400 billion.
That’s more than the market capitalisation of the world’s most valuable company, Texan oil giant Exxon-Mobil, which is this morning capitalised at $US285 billion ($A341 billion).
Rio Tinto director Sir Rod Eddington last night entered the fray slamming the Rudd government’s policy-making process and failure to consult.
This was a powerful hit given Sir Rod is chairman of Infrastructure Australia and also chaired the long since disbanded business advisory council, which Kevin Rudd established when opposition leader.
However, there is one fundamental problem with the mining industry’s complaints about a lack of consultation — they would never have agreed to such a monumental tax slug anyway.
Like most democracies, a combination of unprecedented stimulus spending and plunging revenues has left Australia structurally in deficit. In our case, the debt-funded government spending by Canberra and the states exceeds revenues by about $80 billion a year, much of which is borrowed offshore.
Rather than sending more than $50 billion a year offshore to the foreign owners of more than $500 billion worth of Australian resources projects, surely it makes sense to tax more of this capital flow given that prices for commodities such as iron ore have increased six-fold over the past decade.
This would improve Australia’s current account deficit and the Budget position of the federal government, which, in turn, is the largest financier of state spending.
If you asked the community who they’d like to see a $10 billion annual tax slug imposed on, then the obvious answer is foreign mining companies, which are making out like bandits.
None of this excuses the incompetent political selling job that Kevin Rudd is doing, prompting Alan Kohler to label its spin a disgrace on Business Spectator this morning.
While Rudd should be flogged for his reckless stimulus spending, backflips and sneaky spin, commentators who are railing against the RSPT should nominate the sector they believe should instead cop a tax slug, or the proposed austerity measures that should be imposed.
Elected officials have a duty to extract maximum value for public assets. A mining concession is like one on-going privatisation program and Australia has the world’s best dowry and the world’s most foreign-owned resources sector, largely due to the incompetence of the Australian Directors Club in squandering the assets over several decades.
Look no further than MIM’s ridiculous sell out to Xstrata in 2003, something Paul Keating, MIM CEO Vince Gauci and even Robert Gottliebsen were in furious agreement about opposing at the time.
Despite what Zug-based Xstrata CEO Mick Davis might claim in his letter to the Financial Times this morning, his company has more than tripled the $18 billion it has invested in Australia over the past decade.
The same goes for Rio Tinto and BHP. When the BHP board gave away 42% of the company to Billiton in 2001, this was only worth about $25 billion at the time.
Today 42% of BHP is worth about $100 billion. No wonder former Billiton and BHP-Billiton CEO Brian Gilbertson claims that he still gets thanked by fund managers whenever he visits Cape Town for giving them exposure to such wonderful Australian assets.
Gilbertson, by the way, has so far collected more than $20 million from his exposure to Australia’s resources dowry and is on an indexed pension for life that is presently running at almost $2 million a year.
If BHP-Billiton has to pay an extra $2 billion a year in tax to Canberra, it will still be valued by the market at close to $200 billion and London-based Gilbertson will still collect his outrageously excessive pension.
Disclosure: Stephen Mayne sold 98 Rio shares this morning and retains 6.