Barnaby Joyce splits with Turnbull over controversial WA iron ore tax

The Weekend West, September 10, 2016:

Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has broken ranks with Malcolm Turnbull over WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls’ proposed iron ore tax, saying he will not “run down” a proposal designed to get a “better deal for its constituents”.

The split inside the coalition came as WA Labor ruled out supporting the $5-a-tonne impost on BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

Under Mr Grylls’ plan, the 25¢-a-tonne “production rent” on iron ore would be increased to $5 for Australia’s two biggest miners, netting $7.2 billion for State coffers over four years.

The proposal has infuriated Rio and BHP, with the companies equating the proposal to the aborted Rudd government mining super profits tax.

Speaking in Vientiane, Laos, the Prime Minister told The Weekend West this week Mr Grylls’ plan could damage investment in WA. “It obviously sends a very troubling message to mining companies and other people considering making long-term investment,” he said.

But Mr Joyce, who is PM while Mr Turnbull is overseas, refused to criticise the plan from his fellow National, Mr Grylls, even offering tacit support.

“Minister Joyce said the proposal was a matter for the State Government and that he would not run down any proposal that was designed to get a better deal for its constituents,” a spokesman for the acting PM said.

Mr Joyce also finds himself at odds with Federal Resources Minister and National Matt Canavan, who has “grave concerns” about the proposal.

Senior mining figures have questioned if the Grylls plan is more about winning the balance of power at the coming State poll than fixing the Budget.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA chief Reg Howard-Smith, who met Mr Grylls on Wednesday, questioned the motives of the plan.

“Essentially it (the meeting) confirmed our view the issue was a political issue and not purely a policy issue,” Mr Howard-Smith said. Mr Grylls said the meeting was private. “If the CME are now backgrounding on a private meeting they are clearly feeling the pressure of the WA public backing the Nationals’ plan,” Mr Grylls said.

It had been claimed Mr Grylls recently suggested to industry heads Labor was positioning to support the tax.

But State Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said he “absolutely” rejected any notion Labor would support the scheme or form government with the Nationals after the next election.