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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1243

Mr HUSIC (7:31 PM) —It gives me pleasure to contribute to the debate on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and related bill. At the outset, I want to acknowledge that I, along with other Australians, had the opportunity to hear reports directly from the member for Leichhardt at the onset of Cyclone Yasi. I was very pleased to hear that he, his family and his community were able to come through that safely—and I note that he had the benefit of the stabilising and calming effects of red grape juice. It was enormously heartening to hear that he and his community pulled through. We had the opportunity through the condolence motion led by the Prime Minister and followed up by the Leader of the Opposition to hear firsthand the impacts on local communities and we were able to appreciate the depth of the human cost that these terrible natural events had on Queensland.

We have had reason to reflect in the past 24 hours on how harsh Mother Nature has been on both sides of the Tasman—to both Australians and New Zealanders. I was moved by the words of the Prime Minister today when she rightly remarked that New Zealanders are our family and that we should provide them with support in this difficult time. I certainly extend to New Zealand our best wishes during what is truly a terrible and burdensome event.

The Treasurer detailed quite graphically the impact of these natural events on Queensland, with three-quarters of Queensland declared a disaster area and floods covering an area five times the state of Victoria. When we take a look beyond the immediate to what the impact will be, we see that it will take about half a percentage point of growth in the 2010-11 financial year. That is the equivalent of about $6 billion stripped out of the real economy. Clearly, Queensland’s key economic sectors have been dealt a significant and massive blow. As you can imagine, the infrastructure has been severely impacted—rail lines, ports, roads, schools and community infrastructure. I remarked upon this during the condolence motion. From the stories my friends the member for Blair and the member for Oxley have recounted to the House and also individually, you can tell that a massive rebuilding effort is required.

The cost of repairs to public infrastructure and the disaster recovery payments for individuals tally up to around $5.6 billion. Importantly, under our natural disaster relief arrangements the Commonwealth rightly picks up about 70 per cent of the cost of the rebuild. It is rightly a major responsibility for the Commonwealth. These two bills, the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011, are critical in helping us engage in the massive task of rebuilding essential public infrastructure. I am proud to say that the levy has been constructed with a progressive element at its core. When you look at the way it is structured, you see that people with a taxable income under $50,000 a year pay absolutely nothing, recognising that those on higher incomes have a greater ability and capacity to assist in terms of this temporary level. I think it is important to emphasise that it is a temporary levy that sits for one year only. For those people on taxable incomes of $55,000 pay less than 50c a week. Those on $60,000 a year pay less than $1.

I got the updated figures today from the Parliamentary Library in terms of the impact this may have on the electorate that I am proud to represent—the electorate of Chifley. The median annual income in Chifley is a shade over $61,000 and close to $66,000 for families. So families will be contributing between $1 to $1.50 per week to assist those people to the north of them, in the state of Queensland, who have lost so much. As I previously commented, we are obliged nationally to do what we can to ensure that Queensland can get back on its feet and become the great state that it was and that it should be.

I believe many in the community have donated generously. Again, it is indicated that $200 million has been raised through the fundraising efforts of people in communities across the country. I was proud to see the fundraising drives in the Chifley electorate by local Rotary clubs, like the ones in Mount Druitt, through to the massive Filipino community fundraising effort that took place in Blacktown recently which managed to raise $15,000 in one day to be directed towards Queensland. People are chipping in of the own accord. I got a cheque this week for $10,000, which we will be presenting to the Queensland government, from another group in the Chifley electorate, the Ahmadiyya group from Marsden Park. They financially chipped in themselves. Members travelled to Queensland, provided their own labour and, importantly, consoled people and provided support to people greatly in need during that time. The way that Australians joined together in a combined task in order to help was a truly great thing to watch. As much as we are able to reflect positively on that, we note yet again that the opposition have been unable to bring themselves to the national task of unifying for the purpose of rebuilding Queensland. I have no problem with alternatives. I actively seek other ideas because, frankly, we have a responsibility within this chamber to tease out alternative options to be able to determine the best course of action in deploying government funds or making savings and then using those savings for the purpose that has brought us here this evening.

After beating their chests continually, saying that they would be able to come up with a package that is an alternative to what the government has put forward, and after saying, before parliament resumed, ‘We will be able to define in our own way a savings package free of a flood levy but that can meet the $5.6 billion repair bill to help get Queensland back on its feet,’ they were unable to meet their own deadline. I note, for example, that the member for Wentworth was going around the country indicating that they would be able to find a way to save money by deferring the NBN, which neatly fit within the political agenda of the opposition, which is to do whatever they can to delay the NBN. When it came down to it, they were not even able to put forward the savings task. They did not do anything about the NBN. There are no savings to come out of altering the NBN and they were not able to save a single dollar from deferring any spending on the NBN.

When they were unable to find their own savings, they effectively outsourced policy. They were unable to detect the savings themselves. They basically outsourced their policy ideas to One Nation. We all got those emails going around suggesting that foreign aid be cut or that we cut back the programs that are designed to provide support and provide development of education in Indonesia—something that was started by the Howard government and rightly supported by this government, and it is still supported by previous members of the Howard government. The current opposition, in its recklessness, basically figured, ‘If this is the base level of argument that exists out there and we know it will get support, and we are unable to find the savings ourselves, we will just go ahead and promote that as policy.’ Frankly, it is a disgraceful position and a slight on the opposition that they would have to rely upon those so-called savings efforts with the consequences that flow from it.

In terms of the opposition’s performance, it has been reflected on by many of my colleagues and by others that the Liberal and National parties have used levies as a feature of raising funds from time to time. In particular, I make reference to an article that Peter Hartcher penned back in late January. I think some of his remarks are noteworthy. He rightly points out that the Liberals and the Nationals have had no problem in using a standard tool for managing all sorts of demands and exigencies. Tony Abbott proposed, as has been remarked upon by the Treasurer, a levy to fund his program for paid parental leave. Peter Hartcher reported:

The opposition says it wants the Gillard government to instead pay for the flood damage by making cuts to other government spending. In other words, the opposition is trying to force the government into a difficult position. It has urged Gillard to dump the national broadband network to find the savings, for instance.

Peter Hartcher then makes the point:

The opposition, in short, is playing pure, unadulterated, 100 per cent politics with the recovery from a national, natural disaster. This is an error of judgment.

A number of remarks have been made that, frankly, need to be taken on. There is the idea of a contingency fund. We had some comment from members opposite about a contingency fund. They propose that we lock up billions of dollars. Instead of spending it on need, they propose that we lock up billions of dollars and use that for, effectively, a rainy day. Regarding the billions of dollars that could be used on vital infrastructure, health programs, schools, roads and whatever the government believes is reflective of the demands of communities, those opposite believe we should lock it up and not touch it at all.

One of the good things as a member is that you get good analysis provided from time to time. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in its February 2011 issue of Special report, said this on the front page, headed ‘Sharing risk—financing Australia’s disaster resilience’:

On average, the Australian community spends $1.58 billion each year in recovering from natural disasters …

Effectively, they want us to lock up $1.58 billion every year, but they have a problem with us raising, for one year alone, $1.8 billion from a flood levy.

The other thing that is supposed to count as analysis by the other side is this idea, put forward earlier in the debate, that a government budget is like a household budget. It is simplistic in the extreme when you consider that governments fund roads, schools, hospitals, research and the Defence Force. The types of responsibilities placed on government that require us to be able to step forward and fund programs, with the complexity involved, cannot be likened in any way, shape or form to a household budget. These are tough decisions that need to be made but that the opposition were unable to make, even when they set their own deadlines, and yet they come in here and spout this type of stuff.

Similarly, they lectured us about fiscal responsibility while going into a federal election campaign knowing that they had an $11 billion hole in their own costings. I am sorry, I am never going to be lectured by the opposition about fiscal responsibility when they propose a series of programs to win office and know in their heart of hearts that they cannot even fund them properly. By the way, if the opposition has a problem with the BER, as I have heard a number of members say here and in other places, why don’t they hand back the BER spending that took place in their own electorates? They do not, they cannot and they are not up to the task that is required of this legislation. (Time expired)