Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has thrown down the gauntlet to mining bosses, telling them face-to-face that they don’t own the nation’s mineral resources and the Australian people deserve their share.
Watch the video on the ABC website
Ms Gillard delivered a feisty speech to the Minerals Council last night, one month out from the introduction of the carbon tax, telling them she is determined to stick to Labor’s plan to share the benefits of the boom.
Her frank challenge to the industry came after Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told mining bosses that she had caved in to union pressure to water down a deal to allow foreign labourers to build new mines.
Ms Gillard told her audience that she knew they would not like what she was telling them.
“I know that not all of you in this room are in love with the language of ‘spreading the benefits of the boom’,” she said.
But she said that with more than $500 billion of investment in the pipeline, there was no better place in the world to invest than Australia.
She told some of the industry’s major players that Australians did not begrudge them their success.
“But I know this too: they work pretty hard in car factories and panel beaters and in police stations and hospitals. And here’s the rub: you don’t own the minerals; they own it and they deserve their share,” she said.
“Governments only sell you the right to mine the resource.
“A resource we hold in trust for a sovereign people.”
But the mining industry warned the Prime Minister her plan to spread the benefits of the boom may not be sustainable.
Minerals Council president Peter Johnston called it the wrong approach, criticising the “endless dialogue about redistribution”.
“All governments need to shift gears from spreading the benefits of the boom through higher taxes, ad hoc spending and increased regulation to tackling the real challenges of fiscal sustainability productivity growth,” he said.
The Prime Minister made just the briefest mention of her controversial plan to allow mining companies to import foreign workers to help build new mines.
“For projects where there’s a real need for some temporary overseas workers, we will support that, we will join with you in making sure our first priority is to secure jobs and training for Australian workers,” she said.
Ms Gillard’s frank challenge to the industry came after Mr Abbott also addressed the Minerals Council.
He seized on Labor’s decision to form a new Caucus subcommittee to oversee future foreign worker deals.
“The unions spooked the Prime Minister and now the Caucus has rolled the Cabinet on these matters,” he said.
“You can be absolutely confident that as time goes by, these enterprise migration agreements will be more difficult to negotiate.”