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Last week, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was ousted from office after attempting to implement a 40% tax on the profits of mining companies. Yesterday, I wrote about the fierce opposition he faced from companies like Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU ) and Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP ) and the ramifications the tax could have on the industry worldwide.
Today, we asked four of our Motley Fool experts what they think about the Resource Super Profit Tax (RSPT) and how it could potentially affect investors.
Here's what they had to say.
David Williamson, Fool Editor
The RSPT is dead. It was a gross political miscalculation by deposed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He thought it would be popular measure to bring in extra government revenue and shore up budgets from Australia's booming commodity sector. Oops. A brutal and expensive PR war with the mining industry, one which claimed the tax would cost 100,000 jobs over the next 10 years, upset enough of the population and eroded Mr. Rudd's support base.
The lesson here, as always, is not to take on a powerful industry unless you have nothing to lose. Sure, a 40% tax would have hurt internal rates of return and perhaps made some projects questionable, but let's be honest -- it wouldn't have crippled the industry to the degree that Rio Tinto's and BHP Billiton's (NYSE: BHP ) bellyaching suggested. China is still growing rapidly, Posco (NYSE: PKX ) and other Asian steel makers need resources, and Australia's location is ideal.
New Prime Minister Julia Gillard will likely come to an agreement with the mining titans that adjusts what they pay but is nowhere near the RSPT. If the industry beats back this not-too-distant relative of resource nationalism and is allowed to keep their "super profits," then the best chance Australian citizens have of benefiting from their country's abundant commodities is investing in a basket of their favorite domestic mining stocks.
Nate Weisshaar, Analyst, Global Gains
Although with the ousting of Kevin Rudd it appears the mining tax will be watered down or killed altogether, this incident should register with investors. Australia is fiscally one of the fittest developed economies in the world, and its government was willing to threaten the very industry that arguably pulled it through the global downturn.
What does that mean for companies in the U.S., U.K., and Western Europe? None of the countries in this group expects to see a balanced budget for several years, and stimulating their economies has caused debt-to-GDP ratios to swell dangerously.
Similar to the major miners in Australia, Big Oil is a popular scapegoat here in the U.S. Unfortunately, BP's disaster in the Gulf has made the target on Big Oil's back even bigger. On top of tighter regulation, I can envision ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) facing higher permitting fees as well as some sort of disaster prevention tax.
Ivan Martchev, Fool contributor
It is clear now that the new Australian tax proposal has cost Prime Minister Rudd his career, as such an expeditious sacking has never before happened in Australian politics. Politicians are eager to tax a resource industry when it is booming, forgetting that boom times do not last forever. Mongolia tried a much larger 68% windfall profits tax in 2006, which miserably failed as it stopped mining development in the country. The Mongolian government had to remove the tax in 2009 when it became clear that the global mining boom can have crude interruptions.
When you tax something, you have less of it. Australia has a much more developed mining sector than Mongolia, but new taxes curb new development. Capital will flow toward less-taxed jurisdictions. Both Australian megacap miners -- BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto -- have global operations and a pipeline of global projects for development. How hard do you think it is to rearrange the development of those projects according to the most friendly tax jurisdictions?
Christopher Barker, Fool contributor
A politician can walk either of two fine lines: Promote a populist agenda, or safeguard the interests of powerful corporations and lobby groups. Ousted Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ensured his political demise by blazing a third trail with an egregious tax proposal that alienated both sources of power.
Bowing to both political expediency and economic reality, I fully expect that incoming Prime Minister Julia Gillard will strike a heavily diluted compromise with the mining industry.
As I have said before, I am sympathetic to the notion of securing just compensation for the astounding pace of resource extraction that underpins Australia's relatively strong economy. The endless mounds of coal steaming toward China from key export facilities like Queensland's Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal -- in which Brookfield Infrastructure Partners holds an attractive stake -- are gone for good.
Although the millions of Australians invested in the nation's mining sector may share in the wealth to some degree, recent takeover target Macarthur Coal exhibits the international character of mining investment in Australia. Steelmaker ArcelorMittal (NYSE: MT ) holds a 19.9% stake in Macarthur, while China's Citic Resource Holdings maintains 22.4% of the shares. Australian coal magnate Clive Palmer is calling his $60 billion coal project China First, but I submit that a much-reduced version of the proposed tax regime could mean Australia is putting Australia first.
The foolish bottom line
It seems as though our Motley Fool experts anticipate a much different RSPT to emerge from new Prime Minister Julia Gillard -- a lighter, more industry-friendly version than the one proposed by Kevin Rudd. Investors probably won't have to wait too long for a resolution, as Gillard is likely to meet with miners this Friday in hopes of reaching a pre-election resolution.
So be sure to stay tuned as we keep investors up to date on the topic. Have an opinion on Australia's super tax or the future of big-time miners? Sound off in the comments box below!