Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Gillard mining deal betrays the common good


After he'd previously declared climate change 'the greatest moral challenge of our time', former prime minister Kevin Rudd was rightly punished for his decision to put it second to political expedience. He was left with no moral authority, and little support from electors, who demonstrated in the opinion polls that they value moral leadership.

Julia Gillard learned a great deal from her predecessor's mistakes, and it's hard to imagine  she would ever describe a particular policy vision as 'moral'. Of course it's up to her to choose which adjectives to use in enunciating her government's policies.  But there will remain an expectation that she exercise moral authority, because she was chosen by her party to work for the common good of the nation. By definition, 'good' is a moral value, and consequently her leadership comes with moral obligations.

Friday morning's news that she had reached an agreement with the three miners BHP, Rio and Xstrata to take the sting out of the mining tax suggests she's made a poor start. She sold out the common good of the nation to the sectional interests of the three miners. It does not bode well for the treatment of asylum seekers and other policy sticking points that she plans to resolve before the coming election.

With the miners, the Government was comprehensively outgunned by their advertising blitz. The change of plans for the tax represented a truce, which was designed to keep the damaging ads out of sight in the lead up to the election. It does not have much to do with the common good, unlike the perfectly sound moral reasoning we were hearing until less than two weeks ago. That included the argument that the people of Australia own what's in the ground, and therefore have a right to fair compensation from those who dig it up for their own profit. It's unlikely we will hear that one again.

Also in the news on Friday was the revelation that Australia's World Cup bid team has used the nation's foreign aid budget to win support for its campaign. Fairfax reported that the federal aid agency AusAID agreed to help Football Federation Australia's bid to host the World Cup and has accordingly increased funding for particular aid programs in Asia and Oceania, where the Football Federation of Australia is trying to win support from FIFA representatives.

Australian aid is supposed to go where it can be used for maximum effect in reducing poverty and promoting development. We would expect that a prime minister exercising moral authority would have something to say on this disturbing development.

It is especially poignant at a time when there is community outrage at the rejection of former prime minister John Howard's bid to become the next vice president of the International Cricket Council. While there was no reason given, the consensus of opinion was that he would increase moral scrutiny on the governance of cricket, and that this would frustrate corrupt officials not focused on the common good.

Whether or not Howard was the right man for the job, the concern for good governance that looks beyond sectional and party interests was right. We have a right to expect it also of Australian governments. Julia Gillard's credibility as Prime Minister will ultimately depend on it.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Julia Gillard, mining tax, resources super profits tax



submit a comment

Existing comments

Actually in my section of the community there was rejoicing that Howard didn't get the cricket job. What about the New Zealander, John Anderson, who was already experienced and well-respected as a cricket administrator? I know plenty of 'cricket tragics' - that is not a good enough qualification for the job. And Howard is hardly one who can take the moral high ground after running a government that would accept no scrutiny of its outrageous lies and broken promises.

Bill | 04 July 2010  

"Julia Gillard's credibility as Prime Minister will ultimately depend on it."

What credibility!

Gillard and Wayne Swan both articulated the same policies with Rudd. Go back over their speeches and newspaper and television and you'll see they were 100% committed as was Rudd.

I always remember when Rudd and Gillard were first raised to the Labor party leadership over the political corpse of Kim Beazley, a cartoon appeared in the newspaper with Rudd standing up front with Gillard standing just back from him with a bloody dagger in her hand poised to strike him in the back, while the background showed her previous victims.

That about says it all!

Not credibilty

Trent | 04 July 2010  

At least Julia Gillard does what the people want. If our leader listen more to the people instead of a bunch of ideological theorists, then Australia will prosper. I am very impressed with the first moves by Julia Gillard. She reminds me of Keating, pragmatic and strong.

Beat Odermatt | 04 July 2010  

I have a real problem with arbitrarily targeting certain industries for tax just because they happen to be making big profits, irrespective of the social "benefits" that flow from such Hooded Robbing. If anything, it is reminescent of Roman-era tax collectors, who were nothing more than State-sanctioned thieves.

With just a smidgin of intellectual endeavour, it should be possible to decrease the discrepant favouritism by which the Australian tax system favours mining.

1. Eliminate the Fuel Excise Rebate Scheme under which miners get a kickback of 38c for every litre of diesel fuel that the mining industry splurges. That would save $1.7 billion per year, and cause even miners to focus their attention on reducing fuel use.

2. Introduce a Raw Material Export Tax, payable by miners who export iron ore, and not payable by miners who sell their iron ore to Australian iron and steel makers. It would be payable on bauxite and alumina exports, not payable on exports of aluminium metal, and so on. You get the drift.

If we do this, then Australia gets jobs and taxable industry. CO2 emissions due to shipping decrease because we export 1 shipload of metal, not 2 shiploads of dirt.

David Arthur | 04 July 2010  

John Howard did not have the common good in mind when he put asylum seekers in detention centres and Peter Reith deceived the Australian people and locked the media out. John Howard had no heart and showed no mercy. He was a good accountant that's all. During his term in government asylum seekers sewed their lips together in protest at their non status as people languishing in detention centres. This was morally wrong as was the whole waterfront debacle and having dogs in amongst the people protesting. He turned us into a population of accountants all doing our own bas!

Marcia | 04 July 2010  

I studied Political Science at Melbourne University from 1963-1967. Our lecturers and turors, whether socialistor conservative told us we were not to be concerned with morality. Leave that to the Philosophers and the Ethicists. We were dealing with Realpolitik
Michael Mullins says: "By definition, 'good' is a moral value."

I beg to differ. For the practising politician or party apparatchik 'good' is what helps them win power and hang on to power. Of course they will at times claim the moral high ground on issues such as capital punishment and condemn it because of "every human being's inherent dignity.". At another time they will defend sending refugees back to their homeland (and almost certain death, torture, imprisonment or ostracism) because of "every nation's moral right to maintain the integrity of its borders."

Surely Michael can see the irony in the consensus (Whose consensus? I wonder) of opinion that John Howard would increase moral scrutiny on the governance of cricket. If ever one was looking for a PM who couldn't look beyond sectional and party interests John Howard would top the list. In that respect I agree with Bill whose comment opened the batting against Howard's pathetic bowling.

Uncle Pat | 04 July 2010  

All the discussion over Gillard's approach to the mining tax seems to overlook her background as an industrial lawyer, well experienced in adversarial negotiations. In those terms, the government put forward an ambit claim for a 40% tax etc. The miners resisted strongly and negotiation began. They settled on a 30% tax and other agreements. The revenue will be some $10.5 billion instead of $12 billion. I see that as a successful negotiation, not a failure of moral authority. There is not much point in losing government and its power to do good things just so you can say "We never budged an inch and our moral authority is intact".

Richard Johnson | 04 July 2010  

Personally, I reckon John Howard would make an excellent cricket administrator.

We would all be much better off had he sought that role a decade ago.

Back then, he would still have had sufficient moral authority for his candidacy to be widely applauded in Australia.

David Arthur | 04 July 2010  

This article raises as many questions as it purports to settle. There's a missing sentence surely:

"The position of Tony Abbott on all of these questions is so obviously immoral as not to require further comment."

Jim Jones | 04 July 2010  

I suspect that our new PM has no real sense of morality...but in view of the experience of Rudd, Abbott and Howard who definitley do/did, I am not certain if the vacuousness and utilitarianism of Gillard is good or bad for Australia but perhaps at least a break from hypocrisy will be relief of sorts. I am happy to give the PM the benefit of the doubt at the moment as she is sandwiched between the incompetence of Rudd in being unable to explain even his good policies to the people, and the obnoxious populist dog-whistle politics of Abbott which largely undid Rudd. Abbott makes me feel ashamed.

eugene | 04 July 2010  

The facts are that if mining investment is to continue in australia the government had to change their proposition. From a financial feasibility aspect they had got it wrong. What we have now is about right. Ask any business person with any knowledge of financing long term risk projects!!!

Brian | 04 July 2010  

I think Michael is wrong on the mining tax. The original proposal was poorly conceived and done without consultation. It had to be changed for practical, policy and political reasons, and I don't blame Julia Gillard for that. However over and above this is Michael's line that "the people of Australia own what's in the ground" as the rationale for this tax. The Government and he are confusing Commonwealth with State. Minerals are owned by the Crown, which on land is the State Govt, as Barnett has been saying. The royalty is the charge for extraction of the mineral. So that rationale ("minerals belong to the Crown") would be ok for the States if they chose to renegotiate royalties along such lines (or any other) as Canberra has done, but not the Commonwealth. So there is a serious question whether the Commonwealth should be in this in the first place.

I agree with his comments on foreign aid. It should be directed on the basis of need - not sporting expediency.

Bill Frilay | 05 July 2010  

Kevin Rudd most probably was prepared to make the same type of agreement with the miners.
There was no community outrage re John Howard and the Cricket Council appointment. there was however media hype.
We cannot afford the world cup Soccer- we are still in debt for the Olympic Games.

Bev Smith | 05 July 2010  

If you're looking for morals and heart in politics please consider voting for The Greens. Their policies are available for scrutiny on their website and they shine with compassion and concern for the common good. The Greens decision to not accept donations from companies ensures that the morals are not compromised.

Paul | 05 July 2010  

If some reports in the paper are to be believed, Julia Gillard urged Kevin Rudd to put the ETS on the backburner. If this is true, her credibility should already be shot.

Joseph Lanigan | 05 July 2010  

Pragmatic, euphemism for unprincipled.

concerned | 05 July 2010  

Let's give the Politicians credit when it is due. Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and their colleagues, had the courage to support the rights of the owners of the minerals to ask for a fairer price. They did it authoritatively and demonstrated clearly that Australia is not governed by big business but by an elected Government with a policy about how resources can be more fairly distributed.

Even if we do want businesses to thrive in Australia we are not prepared to let them drive all agendas and that is worth admiring. So many countries in the world have lost that level of control over their resources only to find their people worse off.

We have much to thank the Labor Party for at this time in history instead of being continuously critical. To have kept their courage in the middle of a storm is a good sign of moral strength.

Leonie | 08 July 2010  

Similar Articles

Nauru solution a dodgy deal

  • Susan Metcalfe
  • 14 July 2010

While many are concerned about returning to processing asylum seekers in poor Pacific countries, Nauru's caretaker president is eager to be involved. Australia should never again be engaged in dodgy deals with this Pacific neighbour. For Nauru, it's all about the money.


MySuper's justified paternalism

  • Michael Mullins
  • 11 July 2010

Channelling people into a default superannuation fund could be compared with the indignity of income management. But MySuper is geared to protect the human dignity of Australians in retirement against their own indifference, and also commercial exploitation.