So in the end a deal on the mining tax wasn’t that hard. The Government just had to cave in on pretty much everything the miners wanted. And most of all on slashing the tax rate to an effective level of 22.5%, rather than 40%.

But because the Government hadn’t allocated all of the original RSPT funding, the damage to the rest of the package could be contained. The resource exploration rebate was dumped, with the ready agreement of the miners, meaning exploration costs will just have to be offset against tax like normal expenses.

And the rest of the business sector will only get a 1% tax cut, rather than 2%. The other goodies funded by the tax — and most of all the hugely popular increase in the superannuation guarantee — remain.

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Business groups are already bleating about the smaller corporate tax cut but the Government will, rightly, have precisely zero sympathy for them. It wasn’t the BCA or ACCI or AIG that was copping a battering over the tax. No CEOs got sacked over this. They instead stood mutely by while some of the biggest companies in the world mugged the Government. In fact, you got the impression they were only too happy to see a Labor Government getting beaten up.

Now they’ve paid a price for their silence. Enjoy. They can send a bill to BHP and Rio and Xstrata and Mitch Hooke and see how far they get.

The revenue changes mean it’s hard to portray this as a spectacular backflip. The big miners will, according to Swan’s calculations, hand over more revenue pa than they currently pay, and it will go to much the same reforms that it would have before.

But the real calculation here is the simple political one, that Julia Gillard committed herself to fixing this the moment she became Prime Minister, and she’s delivered. And she’s delivered at the expense, ultimately, of Kevin Rudd, who might have got to the verge of a deal with the industry last week but who was implicitly damned this morning by Wayne Swan.

Julia Gillard’s “intervention”, as Swan put it — that would be the “intervention” that cost Rudd his job — “changed the tone of the debate… made a great difference.” Neither Gillard, Swan or Ferguson commented on how Rudd had gone about trying to achieve a deal, but the message was clear — sensible people had sat down and negotiated a sensible, balanced outcome. Not like that other bloke.

There’ll still be sections of the mining industry that will complain about the MRRT (naturally we got a new acronym — not all habits of the Rudd era have yet been conquered). Clive Palmer has already launched an attack on the new arrangements — but then Palmer’s interest was always in pushing a political agenda, and Labor will always be happy to see him adopting a high profile, especially if he continues to make claims that are patently untrue.

But in doing a deal with three of the most powerful companies, and managing to get the Minerals Council onside, the Government has squared off its four most powerful enemies, at least until after the election. That should guarantee there’ll be no more ads, no mailout to marginal seats, no constant criticism in the media except from partisans like Palmer.

The numbers suggest the national interest hasn’t wholly been ignored. But it’s now clear — to the extent that it wasn’t before — that this Labor Government can be pushed around by powerful corporate interests, if they’re wealthy enough to run a concerted campaign and can line up the media against it. The rest of corporate Australia will have taken note.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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