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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1226


Ms SAFFIN (6:14 PM) —I rise in support of the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011, which will introduce what we call the flood levy. I have listened carefully to the contributions of the speakers from the opposition, including the honourable member for Higgins, who spoke about why she is opposing the levy. After listening to the debate for a while, I can see that the only reason the opposition is opposing the levy is pure political opportunism on the part of the Leader of the Opposition. He saw it as an opportunity to create a wedge, further divide the parliament and promote his own personal political interests. It has backfired. Listening to this debate, one might think that levies are something new—that they were just invented last week or the week before. I can remember there being eight levies during the previous administration, when Mr Howard was Prime Minister, six of which were implemented. I remember the East Timor levy, which was popular but it was decided that it was unnecessary, and another levy that I do not recall the name of, but there were two that were not taken up for which there was widespread support. And there were six levies that were taken up.

So I find it rather incomprehensible that the Leader of the Opposition is leading the charge against a levy. It was all right to have six levies when he was a member of the government, the cabinet and the executive—there did not seem to be any problem with them. They were levies where one could have equally argued that the money should have come from consolidated revenue. One can always put up that argument, but the fact is that things happen in Australian life where we might need to raise extra money. I cannot remember many Australians opposing the gun buyback levy. Some people did not want to part with their guns, but I cannot remember a huge outcry from the parliament about that. It was seen as an expression of good leadership—and this levy, under the current Prime Minister, is no different. The natural disasters we have had, particularly the floods and particularly in Queensland, are absolutely without precedent. It is necessary to raise some extra funding fast. It will be spent where it should be in rebuilding infrastructure.

This is a bit of a digression, but I note that Major General Mick Slater is heading up the Queensland reconstruction task force. I had the privilege of working with him in different circumstances, in Timor-Leste, on an almost daily basis. I worked and liaised with him and, when I saw that he had been appointed, I thought, ‘What a good appointment.’ You could not appoint a better person—he is a really straight soldier—to work with and give confidence to the community in performing the formidable and, I would say, daunting task that he is presented with. I offered him some unsolicited advice on certain things via SMS, but I am very pleased that he is there, because he will serve Queenslanders, our nation and the community well. And he is fiercely independent, which is very reassuring.

If you look at the flood levy, about 50 per cent of taxpayers will pay nothing. My memory of the gun buyback levy is that over 80 per cent of taxpayers contributed and there were no major objections. I also heard opposition members saying that the Leader of the Opposition has offered to sit down with the Prime Minister and help find savings. What a ridiculous notion—who believes that? It is just political posturing at its worst. When I looked at the plan that the honourable Leader of the Opposition put up for flood reconstruction, none of it added up. We had weeks of him saying it would be easy to find savings and then we got deferrals, double-counts and backflips and it was all over the place, around and around. There was a double-count of around $700 million in savings. They said that they would use the savings to rebuild Queensland, but they had already earmarked those savings to fund other spending priorities. It is a bit hard to spend it twice, although I suppose it does not matter if it is just a paper and political posture exercise. They also claimed over $100 million in savings from the Building the Education Revolution that is already allocated to projects committed or underway, but 99.9 per cent of projects have been completed or commenced, which is pretty easy information to find if you look. Then the coalition reversed their position on foreign aid. I will discuss that further a little later in my speech.

I would like to read some comments from constituents in my electorate of Page. One was an email and one was a letter to the editor of the Clarence Valley Review. We had about seven floods in my area during the time that the floods were happening over the Christmas period. There were a couple of minor floods, a couple of moderate floods, two major floods and then another flood. When I was speaking to the condolence motion earlier today, I said that we did not whinge—we dare not whinge, because there was no tragic loss of life. There was certainly loss, but there was no loss of life, so we got on with the business. Thank God for our wonderful volunteers, who responded so well, so ably and so calmly and looked after us in those times.

The email says:

Today I have sent the following to the MP.

That is me. It goes on:

I am an old-age pensioner, and we have an income well below $60,000. I have recently had two metres of flood water through my house—Clarence River’s floods. I am sick and tired of Mr Abbott carping on about the flood tax, and I want you to know that I am more than happy to pay my $52 towards the rebuilding of those communities affected by the recent natural disasters in Queensland and elsewhere. Please send me an account and my cheque will be in the mail.

That man is from Brushgrove, which was cut off for quite a few days during the flood. I will not say his name because I did not seek permission to do so, but I think the message speaks for itself. I have received a lot of messages like that. There are always some people who say that they do not want to pay a levy, but they are in the minority. There are very few people who do not want to pay.

This message from Ken Crampton OAM in Maclean is a bit longer, so I will just read a few excerpts from it. He is a constituent of the honourable member for Cowper, but my electorate borders that electorate. He says:

We are on a part age pension as I still do casual work but would still be happy to pay part of the levy. Like many other families, my wife and I have made a donation to the flood appeal through our local Lions Club. This way you know there is nothing taken out in administration—

so that is a good plug for the Lions—

but I also agree with the proposed flood levy, as it is only a small price to pay.

He then continues in that vein. That message is typical of the tone and tenor of the emails and telephone calls that I have been getting and the conversations that I have been having. There is no reason not to support the levy. We have had a major natural disaster, there has been a huge loss of life and people have suffered, so why can’t the Leader of the Opposition get on with it and see that, at a time like this, the last thing we need is this division and discord in the community for nothing other than rank political opportunism?

The levy is a one-year measure—it is a one-off. I can remember some of the other levies that were introduced under the Howard government. Some of them, I have a memory, went on a lot longer than one year. In fact, I think the dairy industry levy went on for quite some time. I supported that levy, particularly given the fact that I hold a rural seat, in which there is a very good and viable dairy industry that is suffering at the moment because of the milk price issue with Coles and Woolworths. I have always given strong support to the dairy industry, and I remember that levy. I also approved of the levy for the Ansett workers. That levy was for corporate failure, yet we put our hands into our pockets across Australia in the same way to fund it.

Some people could question that. They could ask, ‘Why are we funding corporate failure?’ We did it for the workers, and we did it for exactly the same reason we are doing it here—primarily to help people in Queensland as well as in other places that have been affected by flooding. In Queensland, we need nearly $6 billion that we know of. I am sure it will be more, because when we put in the cost estimates after floods we always know that more money could be required as we go along and see the extent of the damage, particularly to the roads and bridges. I know that through experience in my electorate of Page, having lived in an area where we have had a lot of floods over many years and being involved in the recovery efforts there.

These bills will provide the government with funding to assist in rebuilding or repairing essential infrastructure that has been damaged as a result of flooding, and this funding will cover all rural and regional areas—it has to because that is where the flooding happened. Sometimes it is harder for those areas as there are a lot more roads and a lot more bridges. I have five local government areas in my seat of Page, and among them is one shire where there are about 438 bridges. During the latest floods, some of those were affected, and obviously they will need to be repaired.

So much goodwill has emerged out of these tragedies, and it would be wonderful if that goodwill could prevail in this place too. I know there are a lot of members in the opposition who do support the flood levy. They see it as being a normal and natural thing to do. So I target the Leader of the Opposition—


Mr Ciobo —Name one—go on.


Ms SAFFIN —I could, but I would not be so rude as to name them.


Mr Ciobo —You’re making it up.


Ms SAFFIN —I am not making it up. The Leader of the Opposition saw it as a political opportunity to go out and gather some support around himself, but he has not done that. It has really blown up in his face. He wanted to cut the aid funding to Indonesian schools. That funding was a great initiative of Mr Downer—I remember when it was approved—and it makes sense to have that funding go to those schools in Indonesia. We all support it, and I know the coalition do too. Their opposition to the funding was just one of those rushes of blood to the head. I commend these bills to the House. The quicker they pass, the sooner we can get the money out to Queensland and beyond. (Time expired)