Appointing Don Argus to a small group to work out the final details of a new tax on the mining industry might have seemed like a clever thing to do at the time. For the Labor government, as it struggled to get the subject off the pre-election agenda, it was a way of showing BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xtrata that it wanted their views to be incorporated in the final proposal. But for those mining companies outside the tent there could not have been a more provocative appointment. With the best will in the world by Argus, there was no way that those who felt hard done by the agreement with the three majors to change the initial super profits tax would believe that the just retired chairman of BHP Billiton would have the best interests of small and medium-sized mining companies at heart. And so it is now proving as miner Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, of Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, starts complaining that there is nothing fair about the government’s Mining Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) Policy Transition Group with Argus on it.
Forrest said said he had quizzed a senior Labor leader about the selection process that led to the appointment of Argus and “I was told ‘well, he’s independent, he’s no longer in the mining industry serving on the board of BHP’,” Forrest said at a media conference in Perth on Thursday. “I answered ‘well, that’s fine. Would you kindly appoint John Howard — he’s not in parliament either, he’s as independent as Don Argus is from BHP — appoint John Howard to be your campaign director and then you’ll know exactly how we feel’. The reply was ‘yes, that’s a point well taken’.”