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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1137

Mr CHRISTENSEN (12:25 PM) —I rise to join the condemnation of this bill, the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011, and I also join in the condemnation of this flood tax that the Gillard Labor government is going to slug many Australians and Queenslanders with. I have said it before in this chamber, but I will say it again: in the wake of this massive flood disaster and cyclone disaster that we have had in my home state of Queensland, which has impacted or will impact on just about every Queenslander in one way, shape or form, the answer that this government has given is an answer that only a Labor government could give—‘Let’s bring in a new tax.’

When people are doing it tough in the community with the rising cost of living, these guys are going to slug them again. Make no mistake: it will hurt everyday people in my electorate of Dawson. The other side seem to think that anyone earning $50,000 or over is on a good wicket and so they should pay through the nose. The reality is something altogether different. Just in case they haven’t got out into the real world lately, outside caucus, let me give an illustration of an average young couple from my electorate. This is a real couple from my electorate, Matt and Casey. He is a miner; she is a counsellor at a crisis centre. The flood tax to be taken from them is literally hundreds of dollars, roughly a bit over $550.

All the Labor spin doctors and apologists are coming out with these cheap lines about the levy being just the cost of a tin of beans, a cup of coffee or a piece of cake. A piece of cake? Get real! This young couple that I mentioned, Matt and Casey, have a large mortgage, costing them about $700 a week—but they should not worry; it is just a tin of beans extra! Their grocery bill is $200 a week and rising—but do not worry; it is just a cup of coffee extra! Matt and Casey’s electricity bill is nearly $300 a quarter and rising, and Labor are going to add to it with their carbon tax—but it is just a piece of cake extra! Their rates are nearly $3,500 a year, their phone bill is $200 a month, their fuel bill is $150 a week and rising, their home insurance and car insurance are nudging $3,500 a year, and their private health cover is $2,000 a year—and Labor are going to get rid of their rebate—but it is just a cup of coffee more, they say. Each month, Matt and Casey pay a combined $4,000-plus in tax to the federal government already. It is just a piece of cake, isn’t it? And now you guys want more. What has made it even worse is that they want more when these people have already given. Like many others who may soon find themselves having to put their hand in their pocket to pay this flood tax, Matt and Casey have actually already donated to flood relief efforts. And guess what: they actually went through Cyclone Yasi. They had to have their yard cleared of branches, debris and rubbish that were blown about from the cyclone, yet they are still going to have to pay. That is what is so bad about this flood tax. It hits those who have already suffered. As I said before, the floods and cyclone have impacted on nearly every Queenslander in some way, shape or form and now the Gillard Labor government is going to tax them in order to somehow help them out.

I want to refer to Mitch Clarke, a Proserpine local who owns Fresh Network Whitsunday, a fruit and vegetable company that sells its produce at the Brisbane markets. Mitch had tens of thousands of dollars worth of stock wiped out in Rocklea at the markets and he had equipment completely ruined, all a direct result of flooding, and yet he still has to pay the flood tax. I also want to refer to Bowen residents Rob and Cheryl Vennard, mango farmers, who had their entire year’s produce destroyed, also at the Brisbane markets. They lost $400,000 in produce when the markets at Rocklea were flooded, and because they go to the effort to process their mangoes, the government classifies them as manufacturers and so they miss out on any assistance provided to primary producers. That loss caused these hardworking farmers to deregister vehicles and, unfortunately, lay off staff. And yet it seems Rob and Cheryl are still going to have to pay this flood tax.

Then there are the many tourism operators throughout the Whitsundays—motel owners, charter boat operators and restaurateurs—who have suffered from record cancellations over the Christmas holiday period and record low numbers of tourists. These people have felt the brunt of the indirect impact of the floods. At a time when they should have had a massive influx of tourists, a time that should have been the best for the tourism industry in the Whitsundays, they have had record losses. These people have felt the effects of the flood, indirectly, and yet they will still be slugged with Labor’s flood tax.

There are the commercial fishermen from Bowen. These guys may not have had boats destroyed or equipment ruined, but they have had their fishing waters from Cairns through to Mackay all churned up. They tell me that there are sand and coral islands out there that a few weeks ago did not exist. That shows the level of disturbance Cyclone Yasi caused to their fishery. But more concerning is the fact that there is now next to no catch of consequence between the bottom end of Cairns and the top end of Mackay and yet, while they have had their crop per se ruined, they are not eligible for any assistance either through a grant or a concessional loan under the current arrangements. What some of them do find themselves eligible for is the flood tax. These are salt of the earth people, cut down by Mother Nature, and now the government wants to get in a free kick. These are but a handful of examples of this disgraceful situation. There are many families in Dawson and elsewhere in Queensland who are struggling in the wake of the economic effects of the floods and Cyclone Yasi.

The other side talk about ‘mateship’ when they talk about this tax. All through this debate and in the media, members of the government have been selling this flood tax as if it is going to somehow rebuild people’s homes and livelihoods. In fact it was the Treasurer who deceptively tried to tie this new tax to the rebuilding of Queenslanders’ homes. The flood tax is not for rebuilding homes; the reality is that the money collected from the flood tax is going to be used for things which would normally be funded through contingency funds that are available when governments have a budget surplus.

The problem is the cupboard is bare. Labor destroyed that budget surplus through the disastrous pink batts program and other failed schemes, not to forget their $900 cash giveaway. Most disturbing to me is the fact that people who, according to the government, earned too much to receive one of those $900 cheques—people like Matt and his partner, Casey, from my electorate that I mentioned earlier—now have to fork out hundreds of dollars a year in ‘flood tax’. The last Liberal-National coalition government had billions of dollars in the kitty for rebuilding after events such as the Queensland flood disaster and Cyclone Yasi. Now, because of Labor’s short-sightedness and lack of ticker to make the hard decisions, we, the people, have to pay once again.

There is no way you can say this tax is about mateship. You do not tax your mate when he is down. It is not mateship at all; it is bastardry—an act of bastardry. The argument we are having here today is not about whether we should rebuild Queensland or not. Of course it needs to be rebuilt. The Liberal-National coalition is committed to the rebuilding of Queensland’s infrastructure. The argument we are having here today is whether you tax people when they are already doing it tough, when they are already struggling with the rising costs of living and when they are suffering the indirect and in some cases—as I have outlined—direct effects of Cyclone Yasi and the floods.

Sadly, those opposite are trying as much as they can to deceive the electorate into thinking the only way that Queensland can be rebuilt is by this tax. The bile that has been spewing from some of those opposite, particularly the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, against those of us on this side of the House about that point has been absolutely disgraceful. To claim that we do not care about Queenslanders because we oppose their tax that is going to hurt Queenslanders and to claim that we want to leave things the way they are in Queensland because we do not support a new tax on families—and they have all made these kinds of claims—is dishonest and unethical. To be honest, it sticks in my craw, because I was there, like so many other representatives on this side of the House. I was there in Brisbane when the floods hit. I joined ‘Can Do’ Campbell Newman’s 20,000-strong volunteer army and helped people clean up their yards. I was there in North Queensland, in Bowen, when Cyclone Anthony hit. And when Cyclone Yasi hit I was there helping out my constituents to get the SES to fix a tarp on a roof. I was there in the Burdekin and in Townsville, going door to door, street by street, talking with residents whose homes were damaged or whose yards had become an absolute mess because of the cyclone.

I dipped into my pocket to help out with the relief efforts. I would be interested to see how many on the other side did likewise. They claim we have no compassion for Queensland victims of the floods and cyclone disasters because we do not support this tax. You could not get any more dedicated to the cause of flood victims than the member for Wright has been. This guy worked his guts out day and night. He was at the evacuation centres, he helped organise relief efforts and fundraisers and he was there with the family members of those who did not make it. He was typical of many on this side of the House—working with their local residents who were hurting from this disaster, working on the ground. He was not coming into this place crying crocodile tears one minute and spewing venom at us for apparently being heartless the next.

The thing is we do not need a tax in order to rebuild communities throughout Queensland and elsewhere in the nation that have had to suffer natural disasters. Don’t take it from me; take it from Saul Eslake, former chief economist with the ANZ, who told a committee of this House that this tax was a political decision rather than an economic one and this could be done another way. Take it from economist Professor Warwick McKibbin of the ANU, who also said this decision for a flood tax was of ‘a political nature, not of an economic nature’ and could be done another way. Take it from the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry or the Australian Retailers’ Association.

We in the Liberal-National coalition have outlined more than $2 billion in further savings that the Gillard government could adopt instead of its flood tax. We have a plan they could adopt which would pay for the $5.6 billion cost of rebuilding Queensland without this tax. We start with saving the funding that Australia sends overseas to Islamic schools in Indonesia. I mean, half of this Labor lot and its Green cohorts do not even want money spent on private schools here in Australia, but they get their backs up when we talk about cutting funding to private schools in Indonesia. We have savings from pulling back on the Murray-Darling Basin water buybacks and from lowering welfare to the motor industry. These are sensible budget cuts at a time when so many people have been affected by these disasters. I say ‘sensible’ particularly because we in the Liberal-National coalition would not cut funding of flood-proofing projects on the Bruce Highway in North Queensland as Labor has proposed to do to fund the recovery. How stupid. How ironic. How short-sighted is it to cut funding to flood-proofing projects in North Queensland—two in my electorate of Dawson and one in Kennedy? You not only want to tax us up in the north but want to hold us down by allowing a situation to continue where the artery of North Queensland towns, the Bruce Highway, is cut off whenever there is a greater than average rain event.

The Prime Minister had the gall to get up and say in this House a week or so ago when moving this bill that her flood tax was going to repair the Bruce Highway between Brisbane and Cairns. Her plan involves cutting funding to flood-proofing projects on the Bruce Highway. North Queenslanders will not tolerate this. We in the Liberal-National coalition had managed to find the savings without making a savage cut, without the need for a tax, and so Labor should be able to as well.

This is all just a sign of a government that is out of touch, has lost its way and just wants to tax more and more. It thinks it can peddle a tax when the price of everything is increasing. It thinks it can get away with making false claims—that this tax is going to help rebuild people’s homes and lives. It thinks that it can continue to screw people down time and again with tax after tax—a carbon tax, a mining tax and now this flood tax. It had better think again. Australians will not wear this for much longer. We will not tolerate it on this side of the House and we can only hope that when this bill goes to the vote we jettison this flood tax and adopt sensible savings measures to deal with this natural disaster crisis, as a decent government would.