Welcome to the final sitting week for parliament in 2011. But just because it’s the last week doesn’t mean it’ll be a quiet one. The mining tax, a tax that helped bring down the Rudd government, is likely to pass the House of Representatives this week, capping off a busy year of legislation for Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Andrew Wilkie, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott — the three independent amigos who support a Labor goverment — have yet to sign off on Labor’s mining tax, but all are expected to reach a deal (including some concessions from the government for their support). Greens MP Adam Bandt has already pledged his support.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott promises to “axe the tax” if he is elected prime minister. But since agreeing to honour the planned superannuation rise from 9-12%, several in the Coalition now back a form of mining tax as the best way of funding the super hike, writes Phillip Coorey in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“However, a small but growing group in the Coalition is urging a rethink. One MP, who comes from a mining state and who was vehemently opposed to the tax when it was announced a year ago, told this column the group believes the threshold should be lifted to give smaller miners a break but the tax retained to ensure the bigger miners contribute.

Such a policy about-face would be a humiliation for Tony Abbott, who has vowed to fight the tax to his last political breath and, for this reason, it is unlikely he will flip.”

In an interesting move by the Coalition, it has offered to support amendements to the Minerals Resources Rent Tax likely to be proposed by Tony Crook in support of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, the industry group for smaller miners. As Lauren Wilson reports in The Australian:

“AMEC has proposed the $50 million profit threshold — the point at which the tax kicks in — should be maintained but a clause added so the tax applies only to companies that mine more than 10 million tonnes of coal or iron ore.”

As Opposition resources minister Ian MacFarlane explained: “The less impact this tax can have on the mining industry between now and then the better, so that’s why we’re prepared to look at amendments.”

Expect this week’s parliamentary fight over the mining tax to be “an eye-gouging, rolling-in-the-red-dust, steel-capped boots affair,” says Malcolm Farr at The Punch. But don’t go pitying the “smaller” mining companies like Fortescue that are claiming the tax will destroy their business, says Farr:

“Let’s be clear on this: Fortescue isn’t a tiddler.

It is in the process of tripling its Pilbara operations with facilities worth $8.5 billion, and hopes to get around $5 billion of that from its own liquidity rather than borrow it.

This is not a mum-and-dad corner shop.”

There are problems with this mining tax, but there’ll be major budgetary problems if the Coalition rolls it back if elected, argues The Australian‘s editorial:

“Labor mishandled its original super profits tax proposal last year. But given Australia’s record terms of trade and the mining industry’s willingness to pay more it is reasonable that a greater share of a once-in-a-century bounty is set aside in the national interest. Preferably, that process should involve a more efficient, streamlined system than the current state-based royalties scheme. In promising to repeal the tax, the opposition has set itself up for budgetary problems. The MRRT ticks important boxes, but a constructive parliamentary debate might produce worthwhile amendments.”

This week is also the four year anniversary of a Labor government (Kevin07 does seem so long ago…). But while Gillard is likely to get the mining tax passed with minor bending, the ALP national conference is just around the corner and the Labor Left voted yesterday to oppose Gillard’s personal stance on gay marriage, the sale of uranium to India and the Malaysia Solution.

Senator John Faulkner is one of the party elders calling for party reform: “We are a small party getting smaller, we are an old party getting older,” said Faulker at a Labor Left faction meeting yesterday. “We have lost some of our base and could lose more. We are facing our first electoral challenge in history from the left, in the Greens. And we are a declining political force. It’s time to act. It’s time to reform.”

Leadership always turns a socialist into a conservative and that’s exactly what’s happened to our PM, declares Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun:

“If I’d asked you even a month ago to name a Prime Minister who wanted to ship boat people overseas, ban gay marriage, sell uranium to India and station US marines in Darwin, you’d have said, easy.

John Howard.

But not even Howard turned over a military base to American soldiers, or literally draped himself over a US President as though he were lovesick.

That took Gillard, last week.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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