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Thursday, 24 February 2011
Page: 1380

Mr IAN MACFARLANE (11:04 AM) —It has been now more than six weeks since the devastating floods of 10 January in Toowoomba, but the damage is still evident in my electorate. The creek beds still carry the scars of the force of the water, some businesses remain closed and will be for some time, and affected homeowners are working their way through the myriad issues that arise in repairing or rebuilding their homes. But over that period of time we have also witnessed the gradual but steady progress of the reconstruction. People are finally seeing their businesses or homes get back to normal. Though the construction tape and road diversions are likely to stay in place for some time yet, it is reassuring and heartening to see how far we have come in six weeks.

I would like to take this opportunity to put on the record my thanks to the volunteers and community leaders who have devoted so much time in our community over the last six weeks. Whilst the task that still confronts them in the Lockyer Valley, which is in the electorate of Wright, is enormous, their work in Toowoomba has been important and has played a major part in healing our city’s pain. My thoughts still go out to the people of the Lockyer Valley. I waited an appropriate time before driving through the area. Just a week ago I personally inspected the damage in Grantham. The task there remains enormous. The stories of tragedy are still raw, but as people are starting to put their lives back together they are showing the immense courage that we know all Australians have.

I urge all members of parliament to continue to keep the victims of this flood in the forefront of their minds as they go forward. These people will need our help for a long time. Our heart goes out to those people in New Zealand, who are suffering in an enormous tragedy, but when the media blaze moves away from the floods in Queensland or Victoria or the bushfires in Western Australia, we in this parliament need to keep our minds very much focused on helping these people recover.

I also record my thanks to the insurance companies who have settled claims in my electorate, and I speak only about those in my electorate. Some of them did need a little bit of encouragement, and I appreciated their willingness to engage on claims that were outstanding. By last Saturday I had settled the last of the outstanding claims in my electorate from insurance companies, and to the best of my knowledge, all insurance claims in Groom—in Toowoomba and Oakey in particular—are being settled for 100 per cent of insured value. That is a great outcome, and one which I hope is replicated, particularly in the seat of Wright. Once those claims are settled, the stress associated with the flood starts to ease because the financial burden—in one case a woman in Oakey who I helped change the insurance company’s mind was facing a loss of more than $100,000 which she had no hope of recouping over the balance of her working life; her gratitude was obvious in her eyes when I saw her on Saturday.

For people who have lost their whole lives’ work, or seen their homes ripped apart, dealing with the complexities of an insurance claim is often the last thing they have felt like doing. So it has been an honour for me, as the local member, to have been able to assist them and to use my experience—as a parliamentarian and before that as an industry leader and before that as a businessman—to be able to get a good outcome for them.

We now move to the fact that it is unthinkable that those people who are confronting this enormous challenge to rebuild their businesses are facing the prospect of a tax being imposed by this government. On top of a carbon tax, a mining tax, soon an LPG tax, followed by an ethanol tax, a compressed natural gas tax, a liquefied natural gas tax and an increase in the price of petrol and interest rates, it seems unbelievable that we have a government that now plans to put in place a flood tax on businesses who are trying to recover from the direct or indirect effects of the floods that we have experienced in Queensland.

It is simply not correct for the Prime Minister to say these people will be exempted from the tax. These people in most cases had no damage in their homes and therefore do not qualify for the exemption clause. Their businesses may have been destroyed and they may be in the process of rebuilding them, or their business may have merely—and I say ‘merely’ with a slightly ironic perspective—been out of action for two or three weeks, but the fact remains that they have faced an enormous challenge to get their businesses back on their feet. For them to now face this tax is a complete contradiction of the Australian way. We are meant to help our mates in times of trouble, we are meant to help our mates in times of disaster. We are not meant to tax our mates as this government is planning to do with this tax.

The coalition and I remain firmly of the view that the rebuilding program should not be completed at the expense of subjecting Australians to another tax. Any suggestion that this rebuilding process will not occur without a tax is a travesty and a lie. We did not need a tax to waste $2 billion on pink batts, we did not need a tax to go $2 billion over budget on the BER schools’ hall program, we did not need a new tax to pay for the interest bill on the $45 billion National Broadband Network and we do not need a new tax to rebuild Australia after this flood or fire or natural disaster. This is just a government that cannot miss an opportunity to apply a tax any time it sees the chance, any time it saves it from having to do the hard task of managing its budget properly. We think it is wrong to target people yet again just because the government has mismanaged its budget and failed to show any financial rigour. The Gillard government has said that it cannot manage its budget without this levy, but it has the ultimate responsibility as a government to manage its budget. To do anything else is an abdication of its responsibilities. We on this side of the House will not accept that proposition.

In this rebuilding process, as we look towards the future, we also need to ensure that we not only replace the damaged infrastructure as it was, but that we take the opportunity to improve on it. Of course the case in point in my electorate is to realise from this disaster that simply patching up the existing Toowoomba Range crossing is not a solution. We need to make sure that we take this time to reflect on the fact that Toowoomba was cut off by road for four days, that Toowoomba still has only one lane going east from it servicing the whole of western Queensland, and with the rail line out of action we are suffering from an extra 1,500 trucks a day travelling through the main street of Toowoomba. That is simply not acceptable, just as it is no longer acceptable for this government to ignore the need for a second range crossing in Toowoomba to bypass those trucks around the town. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has extended the invitation for me to meet with her on the matter relating to the Toowoomba Range crossing, and I hope I am able to do that before the parliament rises in the next couple of weeks.

As we rebuild Australia, as we take the opportunity to put the infrastructure back better than it was, we need to be mindful that we need to do it in a way that does not hurt businesses and does not hurt communities. And if we are going to do that, we need to do it without imposing a new tax. There is simply no justification for this tax. There is no justification on the basis that you should not impose a tax anyway. There is no justification when the people of Australia in these disaster affected regions are doing it so tough. There is no justification to say to people that without this tax we cannot rebuild Australia. Of course we can. We have done it before, we will do it again, and under a coalition government we would do it with lower taxes. This tax is an insidious tax, it shows the ill discipline and mismanagement of this government and I oppose it entirely.