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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1128

Mr RANDALL (11:48 AM) —I am very pleased to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and related bill, because there are some local implications for my electorate and I want to reveal to the House the feedback from my electorate. I have great admiration for the member for Canberra, who spoke previously, but I wish to comment on the Orwellian speak that the others are using on this issue about a ‘temporary’ levy—the same as their ‘temporary’ budget deficit. There is nothing temporary about this. The history of these sorts of levies is that they continue and that they will be morphed into something else at some time in the future.

What we are dealing with here is one of the worst governments ever in Australia’s history to be in this House. It is probably not quite as bad as the Whitlam government, but it is a mess. When I outline some examples in my speech you will see how this government is mismanaging this economy and why this levy is turning into a mess for this government. The problem is that the government does not know how many people are involved. It is drunk on taxes. As a Western Australian I object to the fact that this year this government wants to impose a carbon tax—when Julie Gillard said before the election that she would not have a tax—and it wants to impose a mining tax on Western Australia, and now we have got another tax.

I have constituents contacting me about this. Steven Pin, from my electorate, from Buckingham Road in Kelmscott—where houses were burnt down—rang about the Queensland levy. Mr Pin’s home was badly affected by the Kelmscott fires and is facing huge costs to rebuild parts of his house et cetera. He feels that he should not have to pay the levy. Michael King, from Mount Richon, said: ‘I really don’t support this levy.’ Dave Gossage says: ‘As a volunteer firefighter, I have an issue with being taxed again by this government.’ I could go on and on but, because of time constraints, I will limit it. At the end of the day, this is a bad tax.

Mr Gray interjecting

Mr RANDALL —Absolutely. There are misguided people all around Australia on this issue. At the end of the day, this tax is misdirected and misguided. The number of people to be affected is not known and the amount is not known. The problem is that the Prime Minister is not even sure who should be paying the tax.

My electorate has been affected by bushfires on two occasions recently. In the Lake Clifton bushfires, 11 houses were burnt and there were 72 houses burnt in the recent Roleystone-Kelmscott fires. Interestingly—to show you just what a mess this is—Senator Cormann in estimates yesterday asked Treasury official, Mr David Tune—

Mr Gray —Finance official.

Mr RANDALL —I appreciate your help—Finance official, Mr David Tune.

Mr Gray interjecting

Mr RANDALL —If I can continue—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—The minister will desist so that the member can be heard in peace. Do not respond to interjections. The member for Canning has the call.

Mr RANDALL —In estimates yesterday, the finance official, Mr David Tune, was asked a question regarding natural disaster relief payments to disaster declared areas. He was asked whether people in those areas would be paying the levy. His answer was quite interesting. Senator Cormann asked:

People like those in Kelmscott that was subject to those bushfires will be exempt from the flood tax?

The finance official answered:

No, no. Not necessarily, no.

Senator Cormann: Why is that?

The official answered:

Well, the government’s decision at the moment is that those who are subject to the floods are exempt from the levy. It would require another decision for that.

In other words, whether or not people affected by fires would be paying the levy. Senator Cormann continued:

So … if the natural disaster you are subject to was a flood you will be exempt from the flat tax. If it is any other natural disaster you are not exempt from the tax?

The official answered:

That is the situation at the moment.

Let’s talk about real, live action on this issue. This is what I am asking: how many people are going to be exempt, how many people will not be exempt?

I put out a press release, which was picked up by the West Australian newspaper, saying that people in my electorate would be hit with this tax, as per the description from the finance official. Interestingly, by the time the West Australian had finished talking to the Prime Minister’s office, things had changed. A spokesman was reported in the West Australian:

A spokesman for Ms Gillard said victims of this year’s WA bushfires would be exempted.

“As the Prime Minister has made clear, if people have been hit hard by natural disasters in the last few weeks, then it’s only fair that they do not pay the levy …

Well, they were going to pay the levy yesterday, but they are not going to pay the levy today? What a mess. The official declared to Senator Cormann in estimates—

Mr Gray interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—The minister has had his fun.

Mr RANDALL —I have great regard for the member opposite, but I would hate to have to call a quorum on the next speaker from the Labor Party because of time taken. So, people who were going to be hit yesterday are not going to be hit today. That is all I am saying. But it goes further. This sort of ad hoc decision about those who are going to pay the levy is further exemplified in the article by Andrew Probyn in today’s West Australian:

Discrepancies in the treatment of WA disaster victims emerged … this month when the West Australian revealed Gascoyne flood victims were denied emergency relief payments from Centrelink …

After the West reported, Ms Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McClelland announced those affected by the Gascoyne flood would be eligible for payments.

Here are two occasions when those who were affected by natural disasters were going to be left high and dry—that is probably not the right term for people in the Gascoyne, because they now have their third flood coming through, and I understand that Cyclone Carlos is hanging off Carnarvon today—but, when the media gets on to the Prime Minister when she feels some sort of sensitivity towards this, she changes her mind. Is this how decisions are being made by this terrible government that is going to impose another tax on us—ad hoc decisions? If you go to the media and make a fuss about it, the Prime Minister backflips.

We have seen her backflips in this place. She announced that she was going to cancel several green programs. We know there is a green alliance with the government in this House, and the tail is wagging the dog. Along comes Senator Brown, some of the Greens say they have some leverage over the Prime Minister and they reintroduce some of the green initiatives that she had already cancelled. So, cancel it one day and reinstate it the next. Along comes the member for Denison—the same thing: lean on the Prime Minister, she changes her mind and reinstates it. Is this how we have government in this country? Is this how this levy will be applied, depending on who makes the most noise and who does not? Will it apply to people affected previously? Will it apply to any future disaster in Australia? God forbid we have another event—another cyclone. The member for Paterson is sitting here—there was the Newcastle earthquake. Will those people be exempt? Is it going to be months ahead or years ahead? It is so sloppy and out of control that we have a situation where we are governed by press release and media embarrassment of the Prime Minister.

In the short time allotted to me, I am pleased to say that I wrote to the Prime Minister previously—certainly well before yesterday—on this issue, and that saved some of the 72 people who lost their homes in my electorate and some of the 30-odd people whose homes were partially damaged from having to pay this levy. As I said, the problem is that the government have decided that they will find $1.2 billion from a levy and the rest from cuts. The cuts have been reversed and they do not know how much it will actually cost. They then say, ‘We’ll find some further budget cuts.’ Government has the capacity to pay for and deal with natural disasters. This government should do that. They should talk about spending priorities. For example, the $960 billion spent on illegal arrivals to this country over one year is the amount that was spent by the Howard government over its entire term. If you stopped the boats, you could find most of your spending from the illegal migration program, yet as a priority they still allow illegal arrivals to come. There is no hesitation in paying all the costs associated with those arrivals, yet they are willing to tax the Australian people with another levy because they do not want to attack some of their sacred cows, like the illegal migration program.