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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 956


Mr COULTON (6:34 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011. Before he leaves, I would like to comment on the predictable speech of the member for Dobell. The Australian people, if they could go back to the days of the management of the Howard government, would gladly do so. I have been terribly concerned about the nature of this debate. The coalition oppose this legislation not because we do not want to help the people of flood affected areas or because we are not compassionate people. Our opposition to this bill is the result of an assessment of the management capabilities of the Gillard government. Rather than the rhetoric and diatribe from the member for Dobell and others, what I would like to hear is the plan for this money. How is it going to be managed? How is it going to be directed to the communities and the people that need it the most? Looking at history—looking at the last four years of the Rudd and Gillard governments—the concern for me is whether this money is going to be used correctly. Is it going to be directed through the state government, where 50 per cent will be wasted?

Of the government money that is allocated to roads in Queensland, nearly 50 per cent is used on administration and 50 per cent goes on roads. Are the people of Australia going to be levied a tax that will swell the bureaucracy of the Queensland government or will it go directly to the roads and communities that need it most? The concern I have is that the issues I have had to deal with over the last few years have been about the mismanagement of funds and the inability of the Gillard-Rudd government to manage programs. In my electorate, a disadvantaged Aboriginal community had their employment program terminated by the government and, in return, they were given a $650,000 cubbyhouse sized tuck shop. That is why the people of my electorate are very concerned about giving the government a mandate to tax them higher to fund the flood reconstruction.

The real issue here is this: how is this money going to be managed? Listening to the member for Dobell speak, it seems like this is a magic pudding levy where most people will not be paying it. So how is $1.8 billion going to be raised if most people are not going to be paying it?

There is another thing about the mismanagement of the people who are obtaining levy exceptions. One of the exceptions is that if you had received the $1,000 emergency payment from Centrelink then you would be excluded from paying the levy. Therefore, if you did not receive that payment then you would pay the levy. As I stand here tonight my electorate is still in flood. The communities of Lightning Ridge, Angledool, Goodooga and Brewarrina are suffering flooding, as they have been for the last six weeks. I have families that have come from Angledool and are paying for accommodation in Lightning Ridge. They were evacuated by helicopter to Lightning Ridge so their children can attend school, but can they obtain the Centrelink payment? Are they eligible for the $1,000 payment? It is my understanding that something like $600 million has gone towards that emergency payment and that people who merely lived in a postcode that had their electricity off for a certain number of hours obtained that payment. Yet the people who are getting flooded now and who are severely disadvantage, the people in the Aboriginal community of Goodooga who are having their supplies flown in by helicopter, are not eligible for this relief payment. So does that mean they are going to pay this levy? Are the flood affected people in my communities who are receiving no help from the government at the moment, are they going to be taxed to pay for reconstruction elsewhere? That is what I am talking about—that is, the mismanagement of this government.

I have been trying to get this rectified for some time. Just because it is not on the news every night, the flood that we all saw, that devastation we saw in Toowoomba, it does not mean that that water is not passing through my electorate now. Three weeks ago I flew with the SES from the town of Lightning Ridge into Queensland and up to Dirranbandi to inspect what was happening with the floodwater. We have an inland sea. I witnessed unharvested wheat crops sitting in water. Worse still, I saw harvested wheat crops where the grain was stored in a bulk bunker under canvas sitting in water. One year’s income totally destroyed, but is there any assistance coming to the people of that area? No. And that is why we need to have a hard look at this.

I want to know why the Prime Minister, when the rain was still falling, announced a need for a levy without first finding out some costings, without first prioritising where that expenditure would go, without first outlining a method of payment that was going to affect the victims of floods without getting eaten up by bureaucracy.

Also in my electorate, we have lost hundreds of millions of dollars through direct flooding and excessive rainfall from the middle of November until today. My electorate, in different parts at different times, has been severely disadvantaged. I was in contact with the agriculture minister, Senator Ludwig, and his office daily for days and days and days trying to get his attention. One of my constituents rang the senator’s office. This constituent was from the town of Trangie who had just lost their crop and the senator said: ‘Why are you ringing me? I’m the minister for agriculture. What have I got to do with flooding?’

But credit where credit is due, the parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Dr Kelly, in January did come to my electorate. He spent two days there and he saw for himself the devastation of the crops and the damage to infrastructure, the hundreds of kilometres of road that have been virtually destroyed by a combination of wet weather and the need to move grain during a very wet harvest period. My hope is that Dr Kelly is getting some form of support from the cabinet to organise some sort of relief for the farmers and the communities in my electorate.

The community of Dubbo, which was pretty well split in half for 10 days and where businesses were inundated, has not been able to get the payment. So while the government members are trying to portray the coalition as heartless in this, that is not the issue. No-one more than I believes that the victims of flood need a fair go, but what they expect of the government is to manage the economy so that when times like this happen there are funds there to meet their commitments. This will not be the last or the only natural disaster we are going to have. Indeed, there was flooding in Queensland in the early part of 2010, and despite the fact that disaster payments were authorised, they are only coming through now—some of them have not even got them! It has taken 16 months to get that relief through. That is the concern. We need to see a plan, we need to see a guideline, we need to see some financial responsibility from the government to take control of the economy. Do the right thing by the Australian economy so that they are in a position to help the Australian people when they are needed.

By opposing this bill, the coalition is saying to the government: ‘Stop. Consider the waste and mismanagement that you have inflicted on the Australian people and the damage you have done to the Australian economy over the last four years and put in a package that will benefit the people in the flood affected areas, but will not slug the Australian taxpayer.’ The Prime Minister was far too quick to announce a levy without giving any justification or rationale behind it.