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Australian treasurer's billionaire battle heats up

06 march 2012, 10:15
Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan. ©REUTERS/Jim Young
Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan. ©REUTERS/Jim Young
The war of words between Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan and the country's richest mining chiefs escalated Monday, with one billionaire's company taking out full-page advertisements to rebut his claims, AFP reports.

Swan provoked a storm last week when he singled out Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart, claiming in an essay that "vested interests" were trying to influence political policy for their own purposes.

Forrest's company Fortescue Metals hit back with full-page advertisements in major newspapers Monday, describing Swan's article in influential magazine The Monthly as an "irrational outburst" and "unfair, untrue and divisive".

"For Mr Swan to demonise Andrew Forrest... for not paying taxes where there was no taxable income -- is an act of cynical hypocrisy," Fortescue's chairman Herb Elliott said in the advert.

"Mr Swan knows better. Certainly he understands that years of investment and losses precede any taxable income and without such far-sighted investment, Australia could not grow."

The politician's stance, Elliott said, seemed to be an attempt to incite resentment within the community and negate Forrest's efforts to help thousands of Australians into meaningful work with his iron ore operations.

Swan continued the argument on Monday, telling the National Press Club that for "every Andrew Forrest who complains about high company taxes and then admits to not paying any" there were a hundred more constructive employers.

"There has been a perceptible shift in this country over the past few years towards a stronger and stronger influence being wielded by a smaller and smaller minority, and more and more plainly expressed in their own private interests," Swan said.

In his essay, Swan argued that a minority of the country's wealthiest were using their power and money to oppose good public policy and economic reforms designed to benefit the majority.

It followed what Swan said were "ferocious and highly misleading" campaigns waged against the government's mining and pollution taxes, both opposed by the powerful and wealthy mining industry.

Clive Palmer, Australia's fifth-richest person and a billionaire from his coal businesses, has also rejected Swan's criticism, saying he should focus on learning more about how an economy worked.

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