Time to put the miners in charge?

Whichever way you look at it, it is difficult to avoid the fact that the Rudd Government’s botched framing of the Resource Super Profits Tax (RSPT) was one of the key factors behind both the Gillard “putsch” and Labor’s poor result at the polls on Saturday August 21. The Minerals Council of Australia, with the help of some of the deepest pockets in Australian business, rivalled the success of the union movement’s anti-WorkChoices advertising during the 2007 federal election campaign. In terms of opinion-making, one could even argue that the mining lobby’s campaign was more singularly effective than that run by either the ALP or the Coalition during the election campaign proper.

Immediately after dethroning Rudd, Julia Gillard was compelled to seek a temporary advertising “truce” with the mining industry, which is testament to the brutal impact the campaign was having on Labor. She then wasted little time brokering an agreement with the big miners on a watered down regime, carving up the RSPT into a 30% Mineral Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) for iron ore and coal projects, and a proposed addendum to the existing 40% Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT) for oil and gas projects. This deal “stopped the rot” politically and placated the most vocal amongst the mining lobby, but realistically, a lot of damage had already been sustained to Labor’s credibility in the minds of voters. Furthermore, vocal billionaires Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest and LNP backer Clive Palmer continued to publicly attack the government, and the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, representing many smaller mining companies, quite vocally (and rightly) criticised Labor for not inviting it to the negotiating table for the revised regime.

So with the miners having pretty much dictated play on one of the most hotly contested political issues of 2010, its rather interesting that BHP Biliton CEO Marius Kloppers is evidently now seeking to do the same on climate change. Kloppers, strangely enough, is now making the case for unilateral climate action independent of other countries, and for a local carbon price to be established. It is quite a remarkable intervention, particularly when one considers that previously the mining industry had by and large toed the conservative line on climate change, at best recommending that Australia only act on climate change as part of a binding multilateral agreement.

Given the pussy-footing and focus-group gabbling generally favoured by the major parties with respect to climate change policy during the past year, it really does make you wonder whether we should just cut out the middlemen and middlewomen in parliament altogether, and let the mining industry run the country? When one considers the influential interventions made by the miners during the last six months of politricking and electioneering, once gets the sense they already do, at least in a de facto sense. Perhaps it is time to end the charade and install Mr. Kloppers, Mr. Palmer or Mr. Forrest as our “Prime Miner” in chief?

At least we know they’ll run some killer ads come 2013.