March 2, 2012

Editor’s Note

March 2012 Editor's Note

By John van Tiggelen

In May 2010 the country's treasurer, Wayne Swan, proposed a tax on mining super profits that, according to Treasury estimates, would have netted Australian taxpayers $15 billion per year. It was a tax that should have made eminent sense to Australians – it was time to share, and stow away, the immense profits of the boom.

Predictably, the proposed tax unleashed a grotesque wailing from the biggest miners, who had already been crying poor over the proposed emissions trading scheme. Gina Rinehart will be remembered, in particular, for bellowing "Axe the Tax!" on the back of a truck – or maybe not, if she succeeds in manoeuvring herself into a position to decide what we will and won't recall. As Swan writes in this issue, such billionaire activism would have been "laughed out of town" in the Queensland he grew up in.

And yet, in Australia anno 2010, the tax proved an incredibly hard sell. Instead, the Queenslander with the last and loudest laugh was the coal baron and archetypal fat cat, Clive Palmer. Intertwined with the media interests of Murdochs senior and junior (see Paola Totaro's excellent profile, 'The Reluctant Son'), Rinehart, Palmer and co. smashed the public relations battle with a shock-and-awe campaign.

The federal government capitulated, and the super profits tax became the rather watery resource rent tax, negotiated with the big three: not Clive, Twiggy and Gina, but Xstrata, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Rhys Muldoon touches on this deal, and the role it likely played in Kevin Rudd's downfall, in his rollicking recollection of his friend's 'deletion' as prime minister.

Of course, as the Labor Party has been stricken to find out, and as George Megalogenis reiterates in The Nation Reviewed, there's no deleting a former PM's bitterness, narcissism and underlying insecurity. Rudd's venomous feelings towards Gillard ('Lady Macbeth' among his friends), Swan and others who turned on him will poison this government for some time yet, despite their recent lancing.

Swan's essay, 'The 0.01 Per Cent', should very much be seen in this context. Suddenly, curiously, the treasurer appears to have regained the appetite for a fight. His essay on the way that vested interests – and he names names – are harming this country's long-term wellbeing is a rousing attempt to establish this government's social democratic bona fides.

Pity he didn't do it two years ago.

John van Tiggelen

John van Tiggelen is a freelance writer and the author of Mango Country.

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