Hockey finally lands a punch

The revelation that the MRRT has not raised a cent in tax has given Joe Hockey some real ammunition to attack Wayne Swan.

It's taken too long, but Joe Hockey has finally landed a punch.

What with cash rates going down, the stock market going up 14 per cent since June and unemployment holding below 6 per cent, the opposition treasury spokesman has been politically invisible in recent weeks.

Even with MYFEO's excessively politicised objective of attaining a microscopic budget surplus, Hockey has struggled to find a way onto the national agenda.

MYEFO's deft swathe of low-key but lucrative snips left Hockey punching at shadows: How to criticise a business tax administration bill that business itself could not estimate? Who feels sorry for levy-hit DIY funds when their fund values are multiples of the average superannuation account...? And as for cutting the baby bonus, removing a sliver of Costello-era vote buying was never going to rattle the majority.

But on taxation policy, Hockey has finally hit the Treasurer squarely on the chin: Wayne Swan has presided over not one, but two, politically dumb taxes and Hockey can now milk this mess for all its worth.

We knew already the carbon tax with its myriad of exceptions and compensations was never going to be significant. This week's CPI figures showed the carbon tax impact coming in at 4 percentage points rather than the 7 percentage points Treasury had estimated: Proof, if it was needed, that the Gillard regime has endured enormous political damage for a tiny tax.

The mining tax, however, was meant to 'spread the benefits of the mining boom'. Yes only a handful of miners were to pay it, but the tax was theoretically sound and after five versions it would have been reasonable to presume cheques from BHP, Rio and Xstrata would have been handed over.

But, as The Australian newspaper revealed, the MRRT has returned zero in its first quarter. And as Hockey gleefully pointed out yesterday, according to the explanatory memorandum of the legislation, miners are expected to estimate their annual liability and then pay it quarterly.

According to Hockey, if mining companies do not properly fulfil their payment duties in relation to the tax they will be fined. On that basis it's not just that the mining tax brought in no money in its first quarter... but it's not going to bring in any in its first year. (Though a close look at the 'core rules' outlined in the legislation reveals quarterly bills may not apply in all cases).

Either way, the point stands. No miner paid any money in mining tax in the first three months of this financial year. As Hockey told Perth's 6PR radio station yesterday: "I have never heard of a government that announced a tax that doesn't raise a dollar'

It's a powerful line and one that will haunt Wayne Swan in days to come.

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