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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1123

Mr CRAIG KELLY (11:27 AM) —I rise today in this debate on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the cognate bill to voice my opposition to this unnecessary temporary flood reconstruction levy. But before I do, on indulgence, I would like to reflect on the earthquake in New Zealand. I have many friends in the great city of Christchurch and as we stand here today many of our Kiwi cousins lie trapped under rubble and in buildings, with rescue teams battling for their survival. We pray for their rescuers; we pray for those trapped in buildings and our thoughts are with them.

There are many reasons why the government’s latest raid on the taxpayers’ wallets and purses, through this so-called flood levy or ‘mateship tax’ as the Prime Minister likes to call it, is misguided and should be opposed, but I would like to concentrate on the damage that this tax will do to the tradition of Australian mateship. Mateship is an Australian and New Zealand tradition that makes us great nations. It involves the deepest bonds of generosity, sacrifice, community spirit and the ability to deal with hardship in the face of adversity. It is an ethos that pre-dates Gallipoli and the Kokoda Track. As the recent Victoria Cross recipient Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith said when asked what triggered the action that led to his decoration:

Mateship. I think the biggest sin in life is to let your mates down.

There are some in our society today that seek to reject, ignore, denigrate and deny our Australian tradition of mateship. To those people I would like to quote from a letter I received only yesterday from a constituent from the suburb of Engadine in my electorate:

Being from a European background and arriving in Australia 8 years ago, two things impressed us greatly: Australian ‘mateship’ and volunteers.

I’ve visited quite a few countries, throughout Europe and the USA for study and work, but not one has these two things.

They continue:

They are unique to Australia and touch everybody’s heart. In these 8 years we became Australians with the same beliefs and lifestyle. My husband and I both obtained local education, are working full-time, paying a mortgage and with our kids enrolled in local primary and high schools.

To tell the truth, the ‘flood levy’ upsets us greatly.

Everybody gave generously to the Flood appeal. We are also regular donors to the Cancer Council and the Stroke Foundation.

But it is very different when it becomes obligation rather than good will.

They say they already see one-third to one half of their salary taken by this government, “which cannot manage its funds”. They go on to say:

And yet again the same working people will be punished for the fact that this Government has spent billions on failing projects and didn’t make a decent reservefor emergency situations like the Queensland floods.

I could not have said it better. The community spirit in the aftermath of the recent flooding in Brisbane, compared with that during the flooding in New Orleans, further demonstrates that the Australian ethos of mateship is alive and well. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, the city plunged into lawlessness. Anarchy and chaos reigned as armed gangs roamed the streets, preying on the helpless, pillaging and looting homes, committing murder and rape. In the aftermath of the flooding in New Orleans, a tourist asked a police officer for help and reportedly got the reply: ‘Go to hell. It’s everyone for himself.’ In contrast, following the recent floods in Queensland and Victoria there were armed gangs roaming the streets but these gangs were made up of thousands of ordinary mums and dads and volunteers from all walks of life. They were armed with mops and buckets and brooms, but most of all they were armed with their Australian ethos of mateship. It made you proud to be an Aussie.

But now, the very concept of mateship is being shamelessly exploited by this government as a smokescreen to slug Australian families with a new tax to prop up a budget bleeding red ink for reckless and extravagant spending, with billions wasted on misguided schemes such as GroceryWatch, the pink batts fiasco, the BER and a list that is too long to mention here.

The real danger of this unnecessary flood tax—or ‘mateship tax’ as the Prime Minister likes to call it—is the harmful effect it will have on the Australian tradition of mateship. Millions of Australians have donated generously to assist victims of the floods, simply because they did not want to let their mates down. Now they feel doublecrossed, with this government saying they will be forced to pay an additional, compulsory donation in the form of a new tax.

If this new flood levy goes ahead, next time a major disaster happens—and history tells us it will—many other generous people will simply say to themselves, ‘Why should I give voluntarily when the government is going to make it compulsory for me to give?’ Therefore, next time we face a major disaster, the memory of this unnecessary flood levy will weaken our Australian spirit of generosity and mateship, and that is why I oppose it. It is understandable that those who sit opposite, who have witnessed the Sussex Street death squads executing no fewer than two New South Wales premiers and a Prime Minister in less than two short years, have not got a clue about mateship.

Further, and what is very concerning, is that this government do not have a clue about fundamental economic principles. Earlier this week we heard the Assistant Treasurer claim that adding a new tax to electricity would somehow make electricity cheaper. Now we have them failing to understand a second fundamental economic principle: if you tax something you get less of it. Therefore this unnecessary mateship tax will simply result in less mateship and will thereby undermine one of the building blocks that makes Australia the great nation it is.

On the other side, speakers have made the point that the previous Howard government imposed several levies. That is correct. But they conveniently forgot to mention that these levies helped pay off $96,000 million worth of debt that the previous Labor government left, which the Howard government turned into a $20 billion surplus, every cent of which has already been spent by those on the other side. These are all facts conveniently overlooked by speakers on the other side. However, the big difference is that none of the levies under the previous Howard government were for causes that the general public had already donated generously for, like they did for the Queensland floods. That is my point and that is why I object to this levy.

I am not against the concept of levies in general; I am against this particular one being imposed when there is so much reckless spending going on and when it is for a cause that the Australian people have already so generously donated for. In an attempt to justify this new tax, I have heard speakers from the government claim that the recent floods were the biggest economic disaster ever. But they are wrong. The biggest economic disaster that this country has experienced is the waste, mismanagement and incompetence of this government. It is only slightly ahead of the previous high-water mark for waste, mismanagement and incompetence set by the Whitlam government.

This is not the time to introduce a new tax. Small businesses throughout Australia are doing it very tough. I have heard government speakers say that it is only a cup of coffee a week. I would like them to go and say to the thousands of small-cafe owners throughout Australia and the tens of thousands of employees that those cafes rely on that it is ‘only one cup of coffee a week’, because those cups of coffee create thousands of jobs throughout the economy which small businesses rely on.

Mr Perrett —We meant money not actually coffee, you know.

Mr CRAIG KELLY —You have no idea about small business.

Here is my suggestion: if the government is not willing to show some discipline and rein in their reckless spending, let’s simply change the name of this levy. Rather than call it a flood levy, let’s name it after one of the many other disasters that this country has suffered in recent times. How about the ‘pink batts fiasco’ levy? Or the ‘glorious revolution in education’ levy? How about the ‘green loans debacle’ levy? Or even, to borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister, the ‘we have lost our way’ levy?

My suggestion is simply to call it the ‘Labor waste and mismanagement levy’, because the waste and mismanagement of this government has caused far more economic damage to this nation than any flood possibly could. After all, but for a range of government debacles and waste—a list too long to mention here—we would have the funds, and more, for all the reconstruction work needed in Queensland, Victoria and elsewhere throughout Australia.

In conclusion, if the government are determined to go ahead with this new tax, I would ask them to simply have the honesty to rename it. Change the name. Do not call it a flood levy tax; let’s just call it the ‘Labor waste and mismanagement levy’. You may get some more acceptance from the public if you do that.