BHP boss threatens to invest offshore
"I cannot overstate how the level of uncertainty about Australia's tax system is generating negative investor reaction. People don't know where it's going" ... Jac Nasser. Photo: Josh Robenstone
AUSTRALIA'S most influential businessman, Jac Nasser, has slammed the Gillard government's record on tax and industrial relations, saying that unpredictability is undermining investment and could push BHP Billiton offshore.
Addressing the Australian Institute of Company Directors yesterday, the chairman of BHP Billiton demanded the government deregulate the industrial relations system and stop targeting the minerals sector with taxes. ''I cannot overstate how the level of uncertainty about Australia's tax system is generating negative investor reaction. People don't know where it's going,'' he said.
Mr Nasser also had a shot at the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, who has declared war on mining magnates Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest, claiming they are using their wealth to shape public policy for their own betterment.
''Attacking individuals and specific industries doesn't build confidence in our country, nothing good comes of this,'' he said.
Mr Nasser said that given the uncertain global outlook and the fact that some domestic leading indicators were not encouraging, the government needs to get the two key levers of tax and industrial relations right to boost sentiment and confidence.
He was critical of the federal budget for axing a promised 1 percentage point cut to company tax because it would not pass Parliament and instead spending the money on family payments. Mr Nasser said it put wealth distribution ahead of wealth creation.
Mr Swan hit back, saying ''we understand the frustration that the Liberal Party blocked a company tax cut and are instead increasing the company tax rate'' to fund its paid parental leave scheme.
The most recent tax changes affecting the mining industry are the minerals resource rent tax - which BHP helped design - and the carbon tax.
Mr Nasser's comments suggest the mining industry is delivering a warning to the government against any additional tax imposts to capture further revenue from the mining boom, especially if the mining tax fails to raise the forecast revenue - as the miners and the opposition are claiming.
Mr Nasser said BHP, like many in the resources industry, was feeling the pressure from increased costs, increased taxes and royalties from state and federal governments, continuing global volatility and ''a much more difficult industrial relations environment''.
''In recent years, it's hard not to feel as if our industrial relations system has been like a pendulum swinging from one approach to another,'' he said, adding it should be swung back towards the interests of employers.
He warned BHP had a ''diversified portfolio'' of countries and products in which it could invest. ''Given our range of options, if we can't meet our criteria in any one project, product or geography, we will redirect our capital somewhere else or we simply won't invest at all,'' he said.
The Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, said people such as Mr Nasser needed to move beyond threatening to go elsewhere unless they received favourable tax treatment and the workplace was deregulated. ''There's more to public policy than that,'' Mr Shorten said.
He said it was unfair to blame labour laws on low productivity without looking at internal practices as well and he would be happy to meet Mr Nasser.
Mr Nasser joins a growing chorus of business leaders arguing the government is anti-business and engaged in short-term policy making.
Last week, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, received a welcome word of public support from the Westpac boss, Gail Kelly, who urged her industry colleagues to set aside their combative stance with the Labor government.
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