Prime Minister backs calls for iron ore competition inquiry

Senator Nick Xenophon is working with the government to establish a one-off joint selection committee inquiry which will probe the iron ore strategies of Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.

Questions surrounding the actions of the major miners have been publicly pushed by FMG’s chairman and founder Andrew Forrest in recent weeks.

Forrest is blaming the majors for the bearish sentiment which has befallen the iron ore industry and went as far as to urge the public to “stand up” and ask if the multi-national miners have a social licence to operate.

Forrest claims the major miners have made a deliberate play to keep prices down by flooding the market and making statements about the future increases in production.

On Thursday Xenophon tried to set up a Senate inquiry into the iron ore industry players.

However the bill failed to gain enough support, with Xenophon accusing the big miners of conducting a "furious campaign" against it.

“They say it is a commercial matter and that it should not be the subject of a public inquiry,” Xenophon said.

"But the minerals of this country are owned by the people of Australia and there are huge public policy interests at stake.”

But it is believed a joint select committee will go ahead.

“I'm confident of a good outcome that will see the issues raised in my terms of reference dealt with robustly by an alternative inquiry," Xenophon said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has backed calls for the inquiry.

“We do need to know the facts … what we don’t want to see is predator behaviour by any company,” Mr Abbott told 2GB Radio.

Abbott’s support comes after the falling iron ore price put a massive hole in the most recent budget.

The 2015-16 budget has predicted a price average of $US48 per tonne for 2015-16.

The price cut is expected to slash around $A20 billion in tax receipts from forward estimates.

Since the last budget, the value of forecast iron ore exports has been downgraded by around $90 billion.

Minerals Council of Australia chief Brendan Pearson said an inquiry is unnecessary.

"We don't think it is a very productive use of the Senate's time," Pearson said.

 "The ACCC has said there's nothing other than normal behaviour happening in the iron ore trade.

"If the regulator believes we're just seeing normal supply and demand shifts, then I'm not sure what a new inquiry might offer in terms of new information."

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