THE Government has rammed through the Lower House a controversial new oil excise, which the Opposition has branded a "grubby tax grab".
The measure, which has upset Woodside Petroleum and other North-West Shelf joint venturers, ends a 31-year-old excise exemption on condensate.
Condensate, light crude oil extracted from natural gas, will now be taxed in the same way as crude oil, with a top rate of 30 per cent when production exceeds five million barrels a year.
The measure, announced in last month's Budget, is expected to raise $2.5 billion during the next four years.
Neither Prime Minister Kevin Rudd nor Treasury could promise the impost would not raise gas prices.
Queensland Labor backbencher Bernie Ripoll said it was not a tax take from taxpayers, but a return from oil companies for what rightly belonged to the Australian people.
"It isn't a new tax," Mr Ripoll said. "It's an equalisation of a tax. It's an adjustment, about fairness to Australian taxpayers for the use of their resources."
However, the Opposition's assistant treasury spokesman Michael Keenan said imposing the excise would put upward pressure on inflation and interest rates.
The exemption was not a tax loophole, as the Government claimed, but an agreement between the Government and the joint venturers, designed to encourage exploration and development, he said.
"What sort of message does this send to investors about their ability to operate in Australia with confidence when the Government can, at a whim and without consulting, change the goal posts?" Mr Keenan asked.
The Opposition's trade spokesman Ian Macfarlane said the measure was not about fairness, but a "grubby tax grab".
"It's inherent in Labor philosophy, as soon as someone has something, they grab," he said.
Halfway through Mr Macfarlane's speech, with several more opposition MPs listed to speak, house leader Anthony Albanese gagged the debate.
The Opposition, despite its attacks, did not vote against the Bills.
However, it tried unsuccessfully to have them referred to the Senate economics committee.
The Excise Tariff Amendment (Condensate) Bill 2008 and the Excise Legislation Amendment (Condensate) Bill 2008 now go to the Senate.