July 13 (Reuters) – Australia’s watered down tax on mining profits favours multi-nationals and diversified commodity producers at the expense of smaller companies, iron ore miner Fortescue Metals (FMG.AX) told a government hearing on Tuesday.
Australia’s initial 40 percent profits tax proposed for the mining sector was changed to 30 percent and exempted all but coal and iron ore miners earning more than A$50 million ($43.82 million) a year.
With profits last year of $508 million, Fortescue is almost certain to pay what’s now called the minerals resource rent tax (MRRT) if it is introduced July 1, 2012 as scheduled.
“Compared to the multi-commodity, multi-national companies which negotiated the MRRT, we have no other minerals to offset the costs associated with the MRRT,” Fortescue Chief Financial Officer Stephen Pearce said in a presentation to the Senate Select Committee on Fuel and Energy.
“The proposed MRRT does not seem fair and, on face value, appears to favour the bigger companies, which have assets that sit outside the MRRT.”
The government sought to end the damaging dispute with mining executives and investors by dumping the far-reaching “super profits” tax, clearing a major hurdle to call an early election, which polls suggest Prime Minister Julia Gillard can win. Three of the world’s biggest mining houses, BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) (BLT.L), Rio Tinto (RIO.AX) (RIO.L) and Xstrata (XTA.L), met privately with Gillard and members of her cabinet to hammer out a compromise.
Under the new tax, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton will liable on iron ore and coal mining in Australia, while base and precious metals businesses would fall outside the tax. Likewise, Xstrata would only face a tax bill on coal mining.
Pearce said Fortescue was unable to determine the full impact of the proposed new tax as it had not seen the details of the confidential heads of agreement signed by the government and BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata.
He also raised doubts about the government’s ability to raise a targeted A$10.5 billion from the tax by 2014. (Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Ed Davies)