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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1149


Mr EWEN JONES (1:13 PM) —Before I address the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 I want to associate myself with the words of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in relation to our New Zealand friends, particularly those in Christchurch. That is the home of the mighty Canterbury Crusaders. I come from a state in which rugby is very important. I have played against a number of junior All Blacks trialists. To a man they have been good blokes, but please do not misunderstand me: when it comes to the Bledisloe this year, there will be no excuses. We will be up you. You would expect nothing more of us and we expect nothing more of you. Our hearts go out to you.

When the Victorian bushfires hit, the Townsville firm for which I was working, Ferry Property, had a young girl working for them called Jaime Skiller. She came from a Victorian town that was affected by the bushfires. She got everyone at work together, we all brought in a plate of food and we paid for the privilege of eating it. We raised in excess of $500 and we put together care packages to send down to those Victorians. We got a letter back from Jaime’s aunt which expressed her heartfelt thanks that someone so far away from Victoria would care what was happening to them. She also told us of the trouble her chooks were having getting back on the lay and that made the letter even more special. You see, they did not ask for it, we gave it. They did not expect it, but they received it with a deflected smile of thanks. And they would do the same for us.

So when the floods and Cyclone Yasi hit Queensland, people like Jaime in offices across Australia did exactly that. They gave. The Prime Minister asked them to give and they gave nearly $200 million to help out. Now they are being taxed as well. My problem with this is: what happens next time? Do we jump in, do what Australians do in times of need and help with the heavy lifting or do we wait until we find out whether or not we are going to be taxed to make it happen?

I am from Queensland and we have a state government which has squandered all the money from the GST, introduced by the Howard government, as well as all the money from the greatest mining royalty boom of all time. This Queensland government has done such a poor job with the state’s finances that not only have they lost their AAA credit rating but they have no infrastructure insurance at all. What amazes me even further is that the Queensland Minister for Main Roads was incensed that insurance companies would not take calls from people chasing policies as the cyclone was hitting that afternoon. This was in the full knowledge that his government had no insurance on his state’s infrastructure whatsoever. I could just see the minister at the TAB on a Saturday afternoon trying to get a bet on as the horses hit the 100-metre mark, trying to bring it in. He would be climbing out of a wreck and ringing Suncorp Insurance to say: ‘Can I get the cover? I’ll pay for anything, I’ll take the lot. Give it all to me. Just bring it on in because I need some insurance and I need it now. Can you backdate the policy about 15 minutes?’ He was very quick to kowtow to the wishes of his Prime Minister and he let the federal government pull flood mitigation work on the Bruce Highway in North Queensland to aid flood mitigation work on the Bruce Highway in the south-east corner. I suppose it was the only option that he had to take. I mean, the Queensland government is so broke, it could hardly say it would stand on its own feet and do the right thing.

But that is not the cruellest irony. That belongs to the Prime Minister herself. When she stood there and implored all Australians to share the load and look for extra money to assist with the crisis, some would have been left with the impression that our own Prime Minister would do her bit. But our Prime Minister’s first response was to tax. She said, ‘Oh, if it cost more than that, then we would have to look for savings in the budget.’ My problem is that we would probably not even be discussing this tax or levy if those budget cuts had been visited as a first option. The Prime Minister’s second option was to deal with the Greens and the Independents to buy her way forward with the levy. Looking inward at savings came a long way third.

The savings can and should be found. I challenge every member in this House to find a saving of some kind in their electorate and make this happen. In my own electorate of Herbert, both sides promised a PET/CT scanner in the 2007 and 2010 election campaigns. The Labor government has promised one at the Townsville General Hospital by the end of 2012 at a cost of nearly $9 million. We, the coalition, in a public-private partnership with Queensland X-Ray would have had our PET/CT scanner up and running now, today, at a cost to the government of $2.5 million. That is a saving of $6.5 million with an increase in service level, bringing the product to the market sooner, and spending less. This would also result in reduced airfares and accommodation into the future as people needing PET/CT scans have to travel to Brisbane sometimes immediately after radiation, which requires them to travel with a partner and thus doubling the costs. I know it is simplistic to say it, but it does hold water that if we found $6.5 million in each and every seat in this House, that would result in a $975 million saving across the country—without a drop in service. That is without a budget cut. It can be done.

Whether you call it a tax or a levy, I am so over the talk about how righteous we all are on each side of this argument. We rail at the tax and you call it a levy. We say it is wrong and you say we have done it before a number of times. You quote the guns buyback and the Ansett workers levy as examples of why we should support this tax. You cannot see the difference. Well, in my electorate office, I have one person consistently supporting this tax—mind you, he would probably support a buyback of Mars from the Greens if the Labor Party proposed it. Almost to a person, the feedback to my office has been consistent. This tax of a taxing government comes on top of a charity supported by and called for by big-spending governments. Never before has a government proposed a tax or levy after already calling for the rest of the country to give generously to support our fellow Australians, and that is my problem. It is un-Australian to ask a mate for help and then send him a bill for your time. It is un-Australian to tell your mates that you will be there with them and then leave them alone with the bill. This levy is akin to skipping out on a shout in a pub. You just do not do it, and those who do end up friendless and shift from group to group trying to find a new mark—but once bitten, twice shy.

Again, if this government stood side by side with all Australians and said, ‘We will also help with the heavy lifting; we will do our bit because we are in there with you,’ we would not be having this argument. If this government stood in front of all Australians and said, ‘Look, we can find two-thirds in budget cuts but we want to do this properly, so we are asking for you to help some more,’ then we would probably not be having this debate. If the government did it this way then they would not have to skulk down the halls to the Independents and Greens to buy support, and the money they have had to expend to secure that support could have gone toward the recovery effort. They could have been straight with the people of Australia at this time, but the government just could not do it.

I spend a lot of time talking to my children about the unintended consequences of their actions. I tell them that what looks like something that may cause no harm may have implications down the track that they could not have foreseen. So I say to the government, ‘Go and pass this legislation, but you will be setting a precedent for which the consequences may be that the next time a disaster hits, a levy may be the only way to get Australians to give.’ I just hope that that is not the case and that the goodwill of all Australians toward each other is not affected.