Australian Treasurer lashes out at mining magnates

CANBERRA,  (Reuters) – Australia’s treasurer lashed out at some of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful mining executives yesterday, accusing them of using their power and influence to threaten democracy and undermine good policy.

Treasurer Wayne Swan’s attacks were directed at mining billionaires Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest and Clive Palmer, who have all been outspoken critics of the government’s new 30 percent tax on iron ore and coal mines, due to start in July.

Over the past two years, the minority Labor government has also been fighting with the gambling industry over slot-machine reforms, international tobacco companies over plain packaging for cigarettes, and big business over a new carbon tax.

“I think the fair go that we all cherish, the fair go that we nurture, is at grave risk today because vested interests are on the march,” Swan told Australian radio.

“We’ve seen this just not through our debate on resource taxation. We’ve seen it through carbon pricing and we’ve seen it through the debate about plain packaging of tobacco.”

The mining industry, gambling industry and tobacco industry have all funded television advertisements critical of the centre-left government’s policies.

Rinehart, with an $18 billion mining fortune, holds a 10 percent stake in Australian television company Ten Network , and recently became a major shareholder in publisher Fairfax Media in a move seen as trying to influence news coverage.

Australia’s economy avoided recession after the global financial crisis and continues to grow strongly, with low unemployment, due to a mining boom fuelled by China’s demand for mineral resources.

Swan ratcheted up his attack in an essay published in current affairs magazine The Monthly, in which he said vested interests feel they have a right to shape Australia’s future for their own purposes.

He told Australian radio Australia needed a new debate about the nature of political power in the country.

“I think when a few individuals decide to try and monopolise the public debate, to deploy their vast resources, to employ an army of lobbyists, to engage in corporate manoeuvring, what they seek to do is to distort public policy,” Swan said.

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