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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1217

Mrs PRENTICE (5:37 PM) —It is a sad day when human tragedy is used to cover up a government’s failure to properly manage the finances of our country. That is what the Gillard government’s opportunistic proposal to impose yet another tax on Australians, in the form of a so-called flood levy through the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011, represents. Simply put, it is a disgrace. It is a tax without fairness or equity. Large parts of my electorate of Ryan were flooded. I have seen the devastation the floods caused and the toll it is continuing to take on my constituents—all of my constituents. When an area is flooded it is not only those who lose their homes and possessions that are affected but also their families, friends and colleagues.

When the Prime Minister and the Treasurer claim that those affected by the floods will not pay the flood tax it simply shows how little they understand the depth of this disaster. I challenge the Prime Minister and Treasurer to find a resident of the Ryan electorate who has not been affected in some way. It is beyond doubt that Ryan residents lent a hand in any way they could. Countless residents donned their gumboots and gloves to help clean up strangers’ houses. Households took in families of flooded friends who needed a safe refuge. Thousands donated to the flood appeal and all who saw the devastating images on the news and in the papers felt their heartache.

The Prime Minister and Treasurer will not find anyone in Ryan who has not been affected by these floods. There is no doubt that this help was given in good faith. However, I have a great concern that our Australian community now has a reason to be cynical, after giving so much assistance and responding so generously to calls for donations—monetary and in kind—only to have the government turn around and impose a tax. When people are in need Australians always give generously. They give all they can. Invariably they are the first to respond, both at home and abroad. We do not need to be commanded through legislation to help our mates. What faith can Australians now have, when we face the next disaster, that the government will not use it as leverage to impose yet another opportunistic tax?

Even more telling of the lack of understanding shown by the government is the sheer number of people who are already struggling to recover financially from the floods and who will now be slugged by the Gillard government’s flood tax. They are the small business owners of Bellbowrie who were inundated, the small business owners of St Lucia who lost all of their goods, who lost the structural integrity of their buildings. They are the small businesses such as Simon’s Gourmet Gallery, just across the road from my electorate office, who lost power for five days, or even longer in some cases, and could not operate and lost thousands of dollars worth of refrigerated produce. They are the small business owners who cannot yet go back to work and have no income and revenue yet are still trying to support their staff. They are property owners, small investors who have lost tenants out of their rental properties, yet do not get to stop their mortgage payments. They are members of the body corporate for the unit blocks around the University of Queensland who now face tens of thousands of dollars in electrical repair costs yet are not eligible for compensation. They were all flood affected but, because their homes were left unaffected, they will all pay the government’s flood tax.

There was money in the bank when this Labor government took office. This government was left a legacy—one that it did nothing to earn—that would have been enough to cover the reconstruction of vital infrastructure destroyed by floods, cyclones and bushfires. This Labor government has destroyed that legacy. There is now nothing but a black hole of debt left in the coffers. Not only are there no funds to cover the reconstruction costs but also there are mountains of irresponsible spending and the consequential interest repayments we now have to make. In fact, the interest paid on Labor created debt in the 2010-11 financial year alone was $4.38 billion—2½ times what the flood tax will raise to rebuild Queensland and Australia.

This Labor government has misspent taxpayers’ money—misspent your money. It has treated public funds with absolute irresponsibility, and now it is asking for more. Why should taxpayers have any faith or trust that, should the government get its hands on more of our money through this flood tax, it will suddenly start spending responsibly? Why should we have any faith that the extra funds will not simply be wasted again, just as they were wasted with Building the Education Revolution, pink batts, GroceryWatch, Fuelwatch and the proposed cash-for-clunkers scheme—yet another program scrapped; another promise broken. How can this Labor government expect Australians to trust its economic credentials when it does not even trust itself? To find someone capable it has had to appoint a Liberal, John Fahey, to head up its reconstruction spending decisions.

It is clear that this Labor government does not understand responsibility; neither, it seems, does it recognise it. I have a copy of correspondence written back in 2005 by the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman. This correspondence concerns a report undertaken by the Brisbane City Council’s suburban flooding task force and recommends actions that should be taken to mitigate the severe effects of flooding that Brisbane faced. The lord mayor understood the serious risk of creek and localised flooding. The lord mayor also understood that such a mitigation effort could not take place without the cooperation of all three levels of government. So he wrote to representative members to seek their support for action or, at the very least, their recognition of flood risks in their electorates. The lord mayor never received a response to this correspondence, which was sent to the member for Griffith, the Hon. Kevin Rudd.

It seems that the member for Griffith is not alone in behaving this way. His old school mate also appears to like shirking responsibility. In fact, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, held a press conference on 16 February this year and tried to apportion all the blame for failing to provide flood reconstruction relief for Brisbane to Lord Mayor Campbell Newman. In true ALP style, when they get it wrong they shoot the messenger. The Treasurer claimed that, before the lord mayor had submitted projects to the federal government for assistance, he went to the media demanding a payment be made. This simply is not true.

On 19 January, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane met with Prime Minister Gillard to seek financial assistance for flood damage. The lord mayor then wrote to the Prime Minister on 4 February with the costs of flood damage to vital infrastructure and asked for assistance through the natural disaster relief and recovery arrangements grants. On 10 February, the lord mayor repeated this request for assistance, with detailed costings of damage caused by floods. Once again, the Treasurer has got it wrong—although perhaps the Prime Minister only consults the Treasurer on matters of leadership spills rather than matters of national policy.

Many members opposite have accused Queensland MPs of abandoning their state. I was told to hang my head in shame by the member for Blair for not supporting a raid on the wallets of my constituents—my constituents, who are already paying out for their own recovery—and for standing up for their right to donate through goodwill, not because of a legislative obligation. I believe that other Queenslanders have abandoned their state: the member for Griffith, for ignoring the lord mayor’s early warnings; and the member for Lilley, for refusing to commit support for Brisbane and then falsely laying the blame with the local government.

It seems that this Labor government is happy to point the finger of blame at anyone but themselves when, in reality, there is no passing the buck for the budget being in such a disgraceful position that there are simply no funds available for urgently required reconstruction without imposing yet another tax. When is this government going to learn that you cannot solve every problem by simply imposing a new tax on Australians? The alcopops tax, the luxury car tax, increasing the tobacco tax, a carbon tax—the government is simply taking more money from taxpayers, rather than reflecting on their own policy and taking measures to be more responsible with public policy.

Yet another tax will raise the cost of living for households. The devastation caused by these natural disasters—the increased produce prices, the hit taken by the mining industry, the dip in savings that individuals and businesses will have to take as they reconstruct—will already affect the economy, making times just that much harder for Australians. Despite all this, the government is still taking steps to increase costs even more through this flood tax. To those opposite claiming that previous levies justify this tax hike, I say: this flood tax proposal takes more money from taxpayers in one year than any previous levy took in three.

Perhaps if members of this Labor government—the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the former Prime Minister—recognised responsibility, understood responsibility and took responsibility we would not be here today debating an unfair and opportunistic burden on the Australian taxpayer, there would still be money in the budget for emergency reconstruction, there would not have been billions of dollars wasted and there would be no need for Australians to bear the burden of this Labor government’s incompetent management.