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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 586

Senator WILLIAMS (10:55 AM) —I wish to contribute some of my thoughts to this debate on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood and Cyclone Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood and Cyclone Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011. This is effectively another new tax. When I look back on the brief 2½ or so years I have been in this Senate chamber I have seen the alcopops tax and the car tax. We have the debate on the mining tax and also the tax that was never going to be under Prime Minister Gillard—the carbon tax is now well and truly on the agenda with the big announcement last week. In the photograph that accompanied the announcement were Greens leader, Bob Brown, and Greens deputy leader, Senator Milne, along with Rob Oakeshott, who will vote for the carbon tax tomorrow if he gets the opportunity, and Mr Combet and Mr Windsor. This is a tax that was never going to happen under a Gillard-led government, but that is now another reversal.

I want to highlight one simple fact. There are two sides to a budget: income and expenditure. The fact is that we live in a free enterprise economy and the more governments take out of the private sector the more they shrink the real money-earning sector of our nation, the private sector. That is what the government are doing. They have their hands in the pockets of business and workers all the time. They then wonder why business will not grow. Hang on—how can we have the money to grow when we have given it to the government? That is the bottom line of this issue.

As I have said, we have seen all the new and proposed taxes. I just want to take you back to those spending issues under the Rudd-Gillard government. The Building the Education Revolution program had a $1.7 billion blowout and up to $8 billion of waste. This levy—this tax—is set to raise $1.8 billion. It is there in the blowout of the Building the Education Revolution alone. There is a saying: save some money for a rainy day. That is what the government has not done. Unfortunately, we have had too many rainy days, especially in Queensland and Victoria, and hence the tremendous damage to business, infrastructure, houses et cetera.

We are looking for $1.8 billion here. The Home Insulation Program had $2.4 billion wasted and mismanaged. Of course, there was the five per cent increase in the Medicare levy for those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 a year and a one per cent increase for those earning above $100,000 a year. We have $2.4 billion wasted and mismanaged in the pink batts program. The laptops in schools program had a $1.2 billion blowout and less than half have been delivered. The solar homes program had $850 million in blowouts and the program was cancelled. And what a fiasco the Green Loans Program was! All of those people put in their own money to be trained to go out and assess homes to help them save electricity and the whole program collapsed. There was $300 million wasted on that program.

They spent $50 million advertising the stimulus package, they wasted $40 million on climate change advertising—with no action—and they employed 150 public servants to implement the emissions trading scheme that never was—$81.9 million wasted. There were 150 public servants employed to do nothing, yet the government bring this bill into the Senate looking for more money from the Australian people. Surely the thoughts of Australian people are justified when they say, ‘Hang on, government, how much have you wasted now?’

More was wasted on the UN Security Council bid—$35 million to advance the career of none other than Mr Rudd—and the 2020 summit that Mr Rudd held here soon after being elected into government was $2 million, for a great big talkfest. Then there are consultancies—$1.3 billion in contracts for consultancies—and now they are looking for $1.8 billion to give to the people affected by the floods. I support assistance for all those people who have been wiped out by the floods. I have been to the Mingoola-Tenterfield-Bonshaw area on the northern borders of New South Wales adjoining Queensland and I have seen the devastation for myself. I have seen the massive crop loss. I saw one farmer who had had 200 tonnes of pumpkins literally washed away. In fact the pumpkins were hanging off the centre pivot irrigators like Christmas decorations—a sad thing to see. There were 2,000-litre fuel tanks five metres up in the trees and hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of fencing simply destroyed. I have seen the damage and I know that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ludwig, has also been there recently and seen it as well. We need to help these people get back on their feet—but another tax?

The point I make is that there are two sides to a budget. This government, and the Labor Party in general, have to learn about the expenditure side. All my life I have seen it—as soon as the Labor Party get into government and get control of the chequebook, what do they do? They send us broke. That is just common knowledge and it has been the common experience all of my life. I take you back to the late 80s and early 90s—whether it was Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia or Tasmania—when the so-called world’s greatest Treasurer, Paul Keating, was in this parliament sending us broke and once again calling for tax—more levies, more taxes, more money off the people. As I have said, we have already seen the taxes—the alcopops tax, the luxury car tax, the mining tax, the carbon tax and now the flood tax. It goes on and on. But the thing that annoys the Australian people most of all is when they see taxpayers’ money wasted. I have just highlighted many of those issues—billions and billions of dollars of wasted money that could have been saved for this rainy day. That money could have been available now, but instead it is a matter of: ‘Let’s get more off the Australian people.’

My colleague Senator Cormann raised issues about those who have been burnt out in Western Australia—are they going to be exempt from this levy? Who knows? We do not know if they will be. We know that those affected by the cyclone and the floods in Queensland certainly will be. If you had your power off for more than two days, you qualify for an exemption. I am sure Mr Warren Entsch, the MP up there in Cairns, qualifies; Senator Boswell probably qualifies; and I know my son David, with his wife Tammy and their little baby boy of just a few weeks—they had the power off for two and a half days—qualifies. They had no damage to the house—they might have lost a bit of food when the fridge went off—but they qualify. Who qualifies and who does not?

One of the big concerns I have is the volunteers who have helped to clean up this mess. I refer to the New South Wales State Emergency Services Volunteers Association. I received a letter from a friend, Charlie Moir, who says:

Volunteers of the State Emergency Service spend many hours training for and then performing their duties, which include flood and storm events. They give freely of their time to help their community’s respond to and then recover from natural disasters including the recent floods. They do this without seeking any remuneration for their time or efforts. If the Australian government were forced to provide a paid fulltime disaster commitment, it would certainly cost many hundreds of millions of dollars per year to staff. Volunteer emergency service workers thereby save the government and tax payers of Australia huge amounts in dollar terms every year.

So will those volunteers be exempt from this tax? If this tax is to go through the Senate—if Senator Xenophon is to capitulate and vote in favour of it—then I think they should be. These people should be exempt. If my son and members of parliament can be exempt because they had a couple of days with the electricity off at their residence, why cannot the volunteers who do so much work and training and put so much energy and effort into helping people recover from disasters be excluded as well?

If this levy goes through the Senate, I want to you to consider those who, during the next 12 months, may be retiring and claiming their superannuation. They will be on the one per cent. They will be paying, maybe, $6,000 or $7,000 if they take a lump sum payout. This is surely wrong and I would hope that, if this legislation does happen to go through the Senate, this is amended for a start. I oppose the levy as a whole because of the government waste and the increases in tax they have already inflicted on the Australian people but, if it were to pass, surely there would be some consideration for those who have worked all their life and saved their super in conjunction with their employers? Surely they will not be simply ripped off if they happen to retire in the next 12 months? Who knows? The government says the levy will be temporary, that it will be for 12 months. Who would trust them? Who would say it is only going to be for 12 months? It is like those famous words: ‘There will be no carbon tax under a Gillard-led government.’ Those famous words are now part of the propaganda history of our nation.

What about those people who have already donated? We know Australia is a generous country and a caring country. We know that more than $200 million was donated to and raised for the flood victims, especially for those in Queensland. We also know that, when the government announced this new levy, those donations dried up. People are saying: ‘Hang on, I volunteered my money. I have given generously and now the government is going to tax us more.’ That is what angers people. It is so annoying when people donate so much only to find the government hitting them with a double whammy.

There has been a lot said about the natural disasters in our country. For example, the Leader of the Greens, Senator Bob Brown, said on 16 January in Hobart—we are talking about climate change now:

It’s the single biggest cause—burning coal—for climate change and it must take its major share of responsibility for the weather events we are seeing unfolding now.

So it is coal-fired generators causing the floods. He was referring to the Brisbane floods. He also said:

There’s very little doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for the hottest oceans we’ve ever seen off Australia ...

Then we had Senator Milne, Deputy Leader of the Greens, on 1 February saying that Cyclone Yasi ‘is a tragedy of climate change’. What about the cyclones that my leader Warren Truss was telling me about? Sixty or 70 years ago a cyclone hit Cooktown where some 400 people were injured or killed. What caused that? What about the floods of the late 1800s? We certainly did not have the level of burning of fossil fuels in those days but we still had the natural disasters. To somehow suggest that a carbon tax should be put on or that industry should be taxed because it is industry that causes the floods and the cyclones is simply outrageous, and history will prove that.

The Australian people are annoyed about the fact that they have donated generously with their money and their time and now are facing another levy. They are annoyed about the government increasing taxes here, there and everywhere and then wasting the money—and I have gone through the list of waste. They are annoyed that those volunteers, who do so much, who happen to earn more than $50,000 gross income a year will be hit again after they have given up their time and their energy and effort after all the training they have done.

The coalition has identified more than $2 billion in savings. As I said, I support every bit of help we can give these people to get back on their feet. Some houses were not insured for flood. We know that is a very controversial issue, and we have seen it over many years, right back to 7 February 1991 when my home town of Inverell was flooded out. The argument is that the water did not come through the roof but came up through the lower level of the floor; hence, it was not storm and tempest but flood. We have heard those arguments for many years. But the big issue here is more robbing of the private sector. The more the government takes off the people in a levy or a tax, the less disposable income they have to spend each week to stimulate their local businesses, especially the small businesses. This is about the government taking another grab and not about showing any proper fiscal constraint and responsibility, which is typical when Labor gets control of the chequebook. That is why I oppose this levy. The government needs to learn to control and manage money properly, not to waste it, be responsible with it and show proper respect to the Australian people.