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This article was first published in the 2011 edition of WA Mining Club‘s Minesite, an annual collection of the club’s activities as well as those of its members. Ron is an active participant of WA Mining Club and never misses an opportunity to pen a few words. 

With its mission of strengthening the Australian free market system, the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that believes ideas matter. Foundation Chairman Ron Manners has contributed regularly to Minesite, with his lively and provocative brand of observation, and this issue is no exception.

Ideas that have mattered in previous issues have ranged from the need to recognise the valuable opportunity the global financial crisis of 2009 presented everyone in terms of encouraging individual determination. Then last year, Ron reflected on the level of damage over-regulating governments imposed on Australian business, and how Thomas Jefferson could well have been right with his assertions that “a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing”.

In this year’s article, Ron is sure to continue galvanizing lively debate and discussion as he challenges what level of voice our industry leaders should use to get their opinions heard, particularly when it comes to opposition of some of the striking trials and tribulations being inflicted on the mining and exploration industry recently.

Ron concludes that there is little wonder many of our exploration dollars and so many of our skilled operators continue to depart from our shores. This has to be an idea that matters!

Why are so many of Australia’s resource industry and business leaders often disengaged from any of the political and economic issues that threaten our industry? Little wonder that our very ‘portable’ exploration funds are driven overseas, along with our most precious wealth-generating asset – our productive people.

There is no shortage of issues where our leaders have failed to show much courage:

  • ‘access to land’ issues, and land use restrictions arising from extreme environmentalism
  • the Anti Mining Tax (RSPT or MRTT, or whatever the name change brings), where success is in our industry is penalised
  • the concept that by levying yet another tax, called a ‘carbon pollution tax’, to all productive industries, it will somehow allow politicians to regulate the earth’s temperature.

All public companies have high-powered public relations departments ready to send the Chairman or CEO’s message loud and clear to millions of shareholders. These PR departments have lists of all the media outlets in the country and they have the ability to clearly tell their story, and the story of the mining and exploration industry, through their Chairman’s addresses and CEO’s reports in annual and quarterly reports.

Why, in the face of such monstrous imposts, do our leaders remain deafeningly silent and refuse to use their effective networking skills?

Two possible reasons.

Firstly, perhaps they do not understand what the ‘anti-industry’ lobby (with political guidance from the Green extremes) have in mind. A Garden of Eden with absolutely nothing happening. If this is the reason, a quick read of Ayn Rand’s book, Why Businessmen Need Philosophy, would give them a quick jolt.

Most likely it is reason number two: simple fear!

Political retribution is again at levels unseen since Prime Minister Keating, in the mid-1990s. For those of you who do not run research files, let me quote from The Australian Financial Review (December 20, 1994), which ran the following under the headline – ‘Revealed: how Keating bullies business’:

The Prime Minister, Mr Keating, has silenced influential critics in the business community by practising the politics of hate and victimising those who disagree with him, according to a prominent member of the Business Council and chairman of Du Pont, Mr Dick Warburton.

In an interview with The Australian Financial Review, Mr Warburton, who is also a member of the board of the Reserve Bank, says the vitriolic attacks by the Prime Minister on his corporate critics have resulted in a “Cold War” since the last Federal election that has only recently begun to thaw, with senior businessmen still recoiling from serious debate with the Government over public policy issues.

“We have been getting in much closer to the politics of hate,” Mr Warbuton said. “In other words: If you don’t agree with me, I’ll not only hate you, but destroy you.

“So one of the problems business has is that while an individual is prepared to stand up and say what he means, you have to run a business. And you can’t afford to have your business destroyed. So you have got to be very circumspect.”

The president of the BCA, Mr Ian Salmon, said yesterday that the organisation had refused to buckle to attacks from the Government: “At the end of the day, if Paul Keating can’t have a relationship with business which is based on reasoned argument, then the country will be poorer for it.”

Mr Warburton said the tactics had stifled debate because of the concerns of corporate leaders that the Government could target their own business for retaliation.

Mr Warburton’s comments will come as a shock to the Government, because he is widely regarded as a moderate and supportive business leader and has been appointed to a string of government boards and advisory bodies.

The Financial Review’s editorial of that same date commented as follows:

If this is true, then the Prime Minister may be his own worst enemy. If he has indeed moved against his real and imagined opponents outside Parliament, he is following the example of Richard Nixon, rather than Thomas Jefferson. An enemies list has no place in Australia.

Such a concept is based on a fundamental disrespect for dissent – a trait that in earlier times was the hallmark of Mr Keating’s party. The best parts of Labor’s heritage are firmly based on free and informed debate. If that heritage has been subsumed by a fixation on revenge, then Labor’s friends should move fast to put things right – for the sake of their party and their country.

How could Australia credibly preach to its neighbours about respect for fundamental rights and freedom if its own behaviour were deserving of censure?

Only a suitable response from strong business leaders will serve to repel rapacious and vitriolic federal governments.

Right now, in 2011, without a strong business response, Australia will continue to wallow in political mediocrity while we export our exploration dollars and personnel to countries where these contributions are appreciated.

Article published in Minesite 2011, 7th edition. WA Mining Club Inc.



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