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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1144

Ms GAMBARO (12:53 PM) —I rise today to speak to the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011. The coalition, which I am very proud to be a part of, will do everything necessary to rebuild our communities hit by the devastating floods and cyclone last month. Locally, in the community of Brisbane, we were very hard hit by the surge of waters that started in the Great Divide and swept through the Lockyer and eventually found their way to the Brisbane River and to my beautiful suburbs of Milton, Rosalie and New Farm and Brisbane city. Who will ever forget the images of the destruction brought by the waters to the hundreds of houses and shops in Baroona Road and Nash Street, Rosalie, and in Albion, and the restaurants and skyscrapers along the Brisbane reach of the river, or the streets and the parklands and houses in my beloved suburb of New Farm? Just as for over two decades we remembered the 1974 floods—its inundation, its slow rise, its recession and then the rebuild—I know the residents and small business owners in these area will never forget what we have just been through.

But for me it is on the basis of the vast majority of feedback that has been forwarded to me that I rise today to speak to these bills. I am certainly not of a mind to support the unfair tax grab that the Gillard government proposes to help rebuild communities in Queensland. If there is one major concern for flood affected businesses—and I have visited many over the past weeks—and residents in my seat of Brisbane, it is that they seek some improved business conditions in the Brisbane area. They need sensible answers from governments, ones that improve our national economic standing and increase the prospects for all future business success. What they do not need is an increased tax burden that cripples local economic conditions, particularly when locals are already struggling with flood affected price rises. There are very sound reasons why I and my coalition colleagues are against these bills that will result in an unnecessary flood levy being imposed in the wrong way, at the wrong time.

It is notable that the Gillard government has already received objective advice that it should dump its planned flood levy and instead fund rebuilding efforts by ditching wasteful spending programs. Members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants have also been urging the government to better plan for an increased and continuing disaster funding approach. A one-off levy will not provide a sensible conclusion to the required planning. A better funding approach would reduce the need for one-off and temporary levies to meet short-term funding shortfalls. The institute, in its own budget submission, also recommends that the government introduce a targeted investment allowance for businesses hit by the recent flood crisis. This would provide an effective kick-start to business activity when the economy needs it most.

Why will this government never consider sensible and practical solutions? It is their hallmark to embark on unpopular and very damaging programs and decisions, and the Australian public and business community are often left bewildered and appalled by government at its worst. They are taxed to the hilt and this government continues to tax them. The nation already has its hands full with increased grocery prices, increased water and electricity prices, with a proposed carbon tax and a mining tax. The result will be the same—there will be less money in people’s pockets and less spending in the community. I do not believe that is the outcome that the business community is looking for.

Recently I was in the Chermside Shopping Centre. I went to pay a bill, as you must do, and I was quite amazed—I was able to get a car park. I have been visiting that shopping centre for many, many years and I was very excited that I got a car park immediately. I went into the shopping centre and I could not believe what I saw. It was absolutely deserted. I walked into an area of Myer’s and I think I was there with about four shop assistants. I got plenty of attention, I must say. I highlight this because there is already a dampening of business conditions and consumer confidence and the last thing that we need right now is another tax in the form of a levy. Furthermore, a real consequence of the government’s new flood levy is that it will create a disincentive for people and companies to donate in the future to any other disaster relief that might come along. They will say, ‘If I donate, the government is going to tax me again. What other levy are they going to pull at the next disaster?’ and there has actually been a decline in donations as charities have been reporting since the levy was introduced. So it does have an impact on people’s ability to donate in the future.

Many people in Brisbane do not consider it fair that they were encouraged to donate, as I said. They did that so willingly, and they donated not just money. We have heard many speakers speak of the wonderful volunteer workforce that went out there and donated and worked hard, and I am very proud of my children who did the same. Many members of the Brisbane community went out there and cleaned up. But will people be willing to do this in the future if the federal government is taxing them with an extra levy instead of providing a much more considered approach and reprioritising government spending?

We in the coalition are genuinely committed to the necessary reconstruction and recovery that is required after the natural disasters of this summer period in 2010-11. We do not underestimate these requirements. But we truly believe that if you want to inspire the quickest of recoveries the best way to do that is to avoid a further tax on the community. That is absolutely imperative. It is businesses like Cuttings Wine, at Albion, who will suffer the most from this tax. They have suffered damage to the value of $100,000. Yet, because their owner’s home was fortunate to escape damage, they will have to pay the levy. At a time when they can least afford it, they will have to pay a levy. Businesses like Apex Smash Repairs, in Milton, who have lost more than $200,000 in assets and equipment, will have to pay this tax. At a time when they can least afford it, they will have to pay another new tax. Businesses like O’Brien Pizzato & Graff, chartered accountants in Newstead, lost power for 10 days and were unable to work. They are not eligible for QRAA assistance. It is people like these accountants who will have to pay the levy. The owners of ABC Printing, in Milton, will have to pay the tax. They had to lay off staff and they did not have power for 10 days but, because they do not fit the definition of a small business, they have received no help and will have to pay another tax when they can least afford it.

The costs of both repair and reconstruction should be met from consolidated revenue and the reprioritisation of spending. We are very sceptical about the political manoeuvrings that seem to underpin this decision by the Gillard government. The Gillard government have imposed a new tax on the people of Brisbane, the business owners of Brisbane, without first explaining how they will spend the money. Lord Mayor Campbell Newman is yet to receive a response from the Prime Minister as to whether or not they will assist the Brisbane City Council and its ratepayers. The rebuilding component of the council’s NDRRA funding claim includes a repair bill of over $137.3 million for the road network; $75 million for the floating river walk in New Farm; $70 million for the reconstruction and replacement of ferry terminals; and over $38 million for the rejuvenation, clean-up and repair of local parks. And the list goes on and on.

Despite this list, and even though the Prime Minister has announced yet another new tax, the Prime Minister has still not advised whether or not these assets will be covered under the NDRRA funding. It is also worth highlighting the inescapable reality that, had there not been a significant waste of taxpayers’ money on a number of government projects that have been poorly administered, including the $2.6 billion blow-out on the Building the Education Revolution, there would be no need to impose this tax on hardworking Australians. The levy does not even raise the amount of that blow-out. Quite simply, there is very little trust in the community that the Labor Party can successfully operate government programs, and one wonders whether there is any chance that the revenues raised from another levy will be spent sensibly by the government.

As the economic expert Mr Saul Eslake has already highlighted to the government, there is strong evidence that the introduction of a new flood tax represents political choices more than economic imperatives. What seems very obvious is that the coalition can highlight necessary savings so that no levy is required. But the Gillard government, and Treasurer Swan, refuse to consider these savings. They are sensible and, in many cases, important cuts that can be made to avoid the burden of higher taxes.

I do not support this levy; neither does the coalition. What we do support, however, is a change in spending decisions, not new taxes. The community demands that government increase the incentives for people to work, save and invest. Further taxes merely cripple these concepts. The people in my electorate expect governments to make the hard decisions if necessary, because they desperately seek to avoid any further hindrance to what are already very tough economic and business conditions. Businesses are already struggling to stay afloat and some have been doing it tough for a very long time. These bills represent a complete lack of interest in the business environment that currently exists for the Australian public. The flood affected businesses in Albion, Milton, New Farm, Rosalie and other areas of my electorate expect more from their government than these inhibiting legislative mistakes. The government is out of touch, and the coalition will vote against these bills.