Mining tax has ups and downs with voters

Divided ... the mining tax is more popular with big miners than with Australian voters.
Divided ... the mining tax is more popular with big miners than with Australian voters.

THE minerals resource rent tax is more popular with the big miners, who have largely escaped liability, than it is with Australian voters.

Many, it seems, agree with the Greens: it's a dud.

The latest Herald/Nielsen poll has revealed the underperforming tax, which has attracted little money but a lot of political heat, has left voters decidedly cold.

Indeed, fewer than one in four, according to the survey of 1400 respondents taken between Thursday and Saturday, have bought the government's line that the tax is effective in ''spreading the benefits of the resources boom''.

According to the poll, a mere 23 per cent of voters believe the tax should be retained as is, while 36 per cent believe it should abolished and 37 per cent said it should be strengthened to raise more revenue.

The tax has emerged as one of the government's signature failures this year after it was revealed it had raised a slim $126 million in its first six months of operation.

That was well short of the rate needed to raise $2 billion over a year, as projected by the government.

Rio Tinto has defended the tax's structure but has also acknowledged it has paid nothing in tax liability so far.

Last week in Parliament, the opposition claimed its revenue pool amounted to just $5.50 per Australian citizen.

However, the pollster John Stirton said the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, who has promised to scrap the tax, should be careful how he reads the numbers.

''I think the fact that the government has announced the tax is raising far less than anticipated suggests that there is something wrong with it; whether that's fair or not doesn't matter because the perception is, there's something wrong with the mining tax,'' he said.

''But it was interesting that if you take the proportion that want to leave it as it is, or want it to be amended so that it gets more revenue, that's a clear majority who would either keep it or amend it.'' Mr Stirton said this finding was ''broadly consistent with the fact that it had majority support when it was last put to voters, a year or so back''.

The government has struggled to explain its low returns, blaming a raft of external factors from irresponsibility of state governments raising royalty fees, to low iron-ore prices and the high dollar.

But the Greens, and many within Labor's caucus, believe its failure stems from bungled negotiations conducted between the government and the big miners after Labor's 2010 leadership coup.

On Sunday, Kevin Rudd took responsibility for the original version of the tax - when he was prime minister - which led to a brutal public relations war with the mining sector and a $22 million TV advertising campaign.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has refused to consider any re-design but wants to push the states to limit their royalty increases.

This story Mining tax has ups and downs with voters first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.