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Australia opposition says top priority to dump mine, carbon taxes

By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's conservative opposition said its top priority if it wins elections in September will be to repeal taxes on mining profits and carbon, blaming both policies for stopping fresh investment in the vital resources sector.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Labor government introduced a fixed carbon price about a year ago in a country with one of the world's highest per capita levels of carbon emissions, with plans to transition to emissions trading from 2015.

The carbon scheme, along with a 30 percent tax on iron ore and coal mining profits, have been criticized by miners, who say it damages competitiveness and employment as Australia's AAA-rated economy slows and China's demand for minerals cools.

"Both the carbon tax and the mining tax are a drag on Australia's energy and resources sector and make investments less attractive than investments in other countries," opposition resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane told a mining conference.

Australian government data published last month said that A$150 billion ($139 billion) in planned resource projects had been delayed or cancelled since April 2012, as China's economic slowdown weighs on decade-long mining boom.

But a new government forecast on Wednesday predicted the world's biggest producer of iron ore would see a 14 percent rise in exports in the 2013/14 fiscal year as the country's big miners press ahead with multi-billion dollar expansions.

"There can be no return to Australians on minerals and energy assets that remain locked in the ground. That is why the (opposition) coalition believes the carbon tax and the mining tax should be repealed as a priority," Macfarlane said.

At the same mining conference in Canberra, Anglo American Chief Executive Mark Cutifani said that Australia had "wasted its mining boom" with ill-thought out taxes.

A combination of falling commodity prices and lower mining profits has forced the government to slash its projected mining tax revenue to A$3.3 billion over the next four years, down on forecasts of A$13.4 billion made last year.

The opposition looks certain to win the next election, polls show, in part due to perceptions of policy bungling by the Labor government over the mining tax, which has raised only A$126 million in its first six months.

But the opposition face obstacles in trying to repeal the carbon and mining taxes in the upper house of parliament.

The influential Australian Greens, who wield the balance of power in the senate and who will remain a force as only half the upper house is up for re-election, have threatened to oppose attempts to repeal the carbon and mining taxes.

Macfarlane said the coming election would deliver a mandate on both issues, and the conservatives would not hesitate to trigger fresh elections in both houses of parliament.

"That's not to say that we will be gung-ho about it. But we won't rule out the opportunity under the constitution to go back to the people if we find that we are not being given the right to govern Australia," he said.($1 = 1.0818 Australian dollars) ($1 = 1.0818 Australian dollars)

(Editing by Ed Davies)

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