Sarah Burnside

National Archives of Australia/Australian Historical Association postgraduate scholar, 2012-13

Topic: Mineral Booms, Taxation and the National Interest: the 1974 Fitzgerald report

Biographical note

Sarah Burnside is a Senior Policy Officer at the Department of the Attorney General of Western Australia and has previously worked as a solicitor at a native title representative body. She is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Crikey, New Matilda, The Age, The National Times, Australian Policy and History, Eureka Street and On Line Opinion, as well as in several refereed journals. She writes in a personal capacity and opinions expressed in her published work should not be attributed to past or present employers.

Project summary

Although in a resource-hungry world mineral endowments have traditionally been seen as an asset for nation states, their presence poses challenges. In particular, national and sub-national governments have long grappled with the strategic challenges of the taxation of resource extraction companies.

Sarah Burnside's research project closely examined policy debates within a specific context: the mineral resources boom from late 1960s to early 1970s in Australia. In particular, it analysed the 1974 Fitzgerald Report on 'The contribution of the mineral industry to Australian welfare'and the responses to it.

Although the mineral boom was mostly welcomed, concerns included the distribution of its benefits, particularly a relatively high degree of foreign ownership and control of the mining industry. These issues, and a lack of data on the mineral sector, led Rex Connor, Minister for Minerals and Energy in the Whitlam government, to commission economist, former journalist and public servant Thomas Fitzgerald in 1973 to report on the mining industry's contribution to Australia.

The Fitzgerald Report was controversial. It concluded that as a result of generous tax concessions, 'the Australian Government ha[d] finished in the red from its relations with the nation's most profitable and heavily foreign-owned industrial sector'. Its much-contested findings resulted in debate as well as amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936, most of which were later reversed by the Fraser government.

Since the mid-1970s, the report has had little academic attention, and the research project revisited Fitzgerald's findings, seeking to quantify their impacts on political attitudes towards taxation of resource extraction companies in Australia.

The project concluded that the report's content and reception demonstrate the ways in which issues connected with resource dependence, tax and the national interest were framed during a critical period of political and economic change.

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