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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1209


Mrs MIRABELLA (5:00 PM) —I rise to oppose the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011. I have to begin by making a curious observation for the member who has just sat down, the member for Robertson. It seems that there is an inherited disorder for Labor members for the seat of Robertson, and that is to have a nasty streak. She certainly has displayed that this afternoon. Claiming that if the shoe was on the other foot the Labor Party would support the proposals of a coalition government? What absolute rubbish. She must, sadly, have the memory of a goldfish, because I remember a long list of important reforms passed by the Hawke-Keating government that this opposition supported. I also remember that in the term of the Howard government not a single important economic reform was supported by the Labor Party—not the GST nor any other single reform. So perhaps, instead of trying to trump her other nasty newbie members who were elected at the last election, a bit of time dedicated to some political history would give her an appreciation of what has gone on in the House before, and this may prevent her from embarrassing herself in the future.

We find ourselves here today in somewhat familiar circumstances. I want to make the point from the very beginning—let’s not be conned by the tricky language, the Orwellian language, used by the Labor Party—this debate is not about flood reconstruction; this debate is about a government being incapable of managing the budget in order to provide for the much-needed reconstruction right across Australia. After the devastation of this summer I think both sides of the House are equally committed to rebuilding the lives of those who have been affected and devastated by flooding events. My electorate of Indi, in north-east Victoria, is no stranger to the devastation of natural disasters. We have had damage from successive floods from September last year right through to this month. So I do understand very well, as anyone else would, the need to roll up our sleeves and get on with the job of trying to rebuild from the ground up. This is a debate essentially about how we fund the reconstruction effort.

It is obviously no surprise to us on this side of the House that again we are arguing about a tax. I think 2011 will be the ‘year of the tax’. It is not the ‘year of the rabbit’; it is the ‘year of the tax’. Every time there is a problem, every time the government comes up with another challenge, they will try and pull another tax out of the hat. This flood tax is a tax we do not need. It is a tax that Australians cannot afford. It is certainly a tax that we can do without—if they actually do their job properly.

We have an incredible situation, where the member for Lalor, otherwise known as the Prime Minister—although she is not very prime ministerial so I will call her the member for Lalor as I am entitled to—would dare compare herself to previous coalition administrations. She would dare compare herself to the actions taken by a giant in Australian politics, the former Prime Minister Mr John Howard. What an insult. Compared to someone like John Howard, the member for Lalor is a political pygmy, and she will remain so. Every policy area she touches—and has touched both in opposition and in government—from the Medicare gold fiasco to the Building the Education Revolution has turned the opposite of gold. She has the reverse Midas touch. So let her not try and be tricky and say ‘governments have always introduced levies’. She cannot in any way whatsoever compare this administration and her own behaviour and tenure to the previous coalition administration.

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer love to stand up in this place and talk about making tough decisions in the national interest. They said it was a tough decision to throw $900 cheques in the mail. They said it was a tough decision to put free fluff in people’s roofs. They said it was a tough decision to spend $800,000 a pop on tin sheds on school grounds. They do not understand the meaning of tough decisions. That is why they need yet another tax; it is yet another opportunity to put their hands in the pockets of hardworking Australians because they cannot control themselves. They cannot make the hard decisions and reprioritise spending in order to fund very important reconstruction work, and indeed to fund any works that are unforeseen after an emergency.

Let’s look at the details of this tax. To begin with, the damage bill in Queensland is expected to top $6 billion and that figure does not even take into consideration the damage caused in other states like New South Wales and Victoria. The tax itself is actually only a percentage of the total cost. The tax itself is expected to raise $1.8 billion. So the government has quite rightly taken the axe to some of their ridiculous spending programs, programs like cash for clunkers, which was possibly one of the most embarrassing promises of the last election campaign, although there was great competition with the people’s assembly.

Cash for clunkers has now been scrapped, but when we said that it should be scrapped there was vitriol and absolute hysteria from the other side, claiming all sorts of doom and catastrophe. But guess what? In the quiet of the night, cash for clunkers has disappeared. Cash for clunkers was a scheme that would have cost $430 per tonne of C02 reduction—an extraordinary price to pay for a program that would have achieved nothing.

They have also taken the axe to the Green Car Innovation Fund, although I do not think the minister had much to do with that. This follows the hypocrisy of their criticising the coalition for saying it was an ill-devised, extraordinarily expensive program. At least I have given them a leave pass by saying, ‘We’ve criticised these programs, so you can get away without too much criticism by cutting them.’ I would like to congratulate the government for heeding my advice and my words and making cuts in these particular areas. But I think that is where the congratulations need to end.

Before I go on, it would be remiss of me to allow the earlier comments of the member for Melbourne to pass into Hansard without a reply. The member for Melbourne stood here, without shame, calling on the government to reinstate the very programs that I have just discussed. In typical fashion, the Greens have used this tragic disaster to push their own political agenda. They began by blaming the floods on climate change—a claim that scientists have refuted. They then took aim at the mining industry, an industry that actually provides enormous support and enormous funds to the coffers of the Australian government, through taxes. In typical shameless fashion they point the finger and resort to the basest of all political tactics, the politics of envy, referring to the coal barons and blaming them for the disaster and demanding that they foot the bill. What do you expect from a group of people whose ideology is to fundamentally consider human beings a disease on the earth? They are the sort of people who do not look at the realities of everyday survival, do not understand the anxiety and the concern that the increasing cost of living is having on families, on pensioners and on young people who are trying to carve a path for themselves. Their disgraceful behaviour is symptomatic of a political party that has no responsibility for the living standards of Australians, no accountability for the sort of damage they will cause. They stand in this place, wrapped head to toe in some distorted ideological purity, and expect to escape unscathed from scrutiny. But they are forming part of this government, and, come 1 July when they become melted on to the Labor brand even more, they will be held accountable for every single decision—particularly every decision that damages this country, that causes costs to go up and that leaves less and less money in the pockets of hardworking Australians. Their contribution to this debate has been nothing short of reckless and shameful.

The most concerning thing about the contribution of the Greens is that Labor has actually responded. Like a little puppy dog, Labor has responded. We have heard it before, but we need to keep repeating it: Labor may well be in government but the Greens are definitely in power and in control. When the Greens called on the government to reinstate some of these ridiculous environmental programs, the Prime Minister did not even think twice: she bent without so much as a whimper. With the swipe of a green pen, Labor made a $360 million backflip—a very concerning and very dangerous sign of things to come.

This is a debate about responsible fiscal management. It is a debate that separates the weak from the strong. This is a debate that separates the tax hikers from the tax fighters. The coalition believes that the very best way to fund disaster recovery is through a strong budget surplus. That is what we have done in the past, and that is what I would hope all governments aim to do. But that just does not happen. That requires the discipline and the ability to make hard choices over a sustained period of time.

We went to the last election with $50 billion in savings and cuts to the Rudd-Gillard government’s reckless and wasteful spending. We would have cut government advertising, reduced consultancy expenses, put a freeze on public service recruitment and cancelled the NBN. These are not popular decisions but they are responsible decisions. You cannot have everything. You need to make choices. Coalition governments have always been put in the difficult situation of fixing up the mess and trying to get the debt under control that they inherit from short-visioned, spendthrift Labor governments.

The savings that I have just mentioned would have paid for the flood levy more than 27 times over. Following the announcement of Labor’s flood tax, the coalition found a further $2 billion in savings—more than enough to cover the revenue the flood tax would raise. These cuts are not easy, and some of them were in my portfolio. They are difficult decisions. But we understand that you cannot please everyone all the time. You are elected to act in the national interest. The budget is full of fat, and you do not need to take my word for that. Just look at what the Prime Minister has said. When she used her Press Club address to announce her new tax, she was asked what the government would do if the damage bill exceeded original estimates. She conceded that, in the event that damages exceeded $5.6 billion, further savings would have to be found. Why won’t she do it now? She does not have the guts. She would prefer to hit families with yet another new tax when they can least afford it. They are totally out of touch with mainstream Australia and the issues that keep people awake at night.

But it does not stop there. This year alone Labor is planning two more taxes. There is the carbon tax. The Deputy Prime Minister called ‘hysterical’ those who claimed that the carbon tax would happen, and now he is in denial himself. We know from a recent AIG report that this measure alone will increase household energy costs by $300 per annum. All up, the government will be introducing three new taxes this year. I would hate to think what this will do to Australians right across the country. It is disgraceful that the government have used human misery and suffering for political gain and to try to force the coalition to support another tax. (Time expired)