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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 589

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (11:10 AM) —The Australian Greens support the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood and Cyclone Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood and Cyclone Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011. In the work that was done by the government in arranging for more than $5 billion to go to relieving the suffering of people as a result of the extraordinary flood events that we have seen so far this summer, the Greens fed a series of proposals into how that money might best be found. Amongst the proposals that we accepted from government was this levy, which will raise $1.7 billion. It is notable that the levy will not be raised on people who have suffered as a result of the floods. It is very progressive in that it puts a 0.5 per cent impost on people who earn between $50,000 and $100,000 in the coming financial year. That increases for people earning more than $100,000 to an extra 0.5 per cent—that is, one per cent of their income over $100,000. It is very progressive and the majority of money here will be raised from high-income earners like us senators, who take home in excess of $100,000 per annum.

Senator Ian Macdonald —All leaders get a lot more.

Senator BOB BROWN —The very observant senator from Queensland notes that leaders get more money—I think he is referring to me. Unlike him, I support this legislation because I am very willing to contribute this part of my income to the victims of the floods whereas he is not, even though he is from Queensland and I am not. That is the difference between Senator Macdonald and me. That having been said, the Greens negotiated also to ensure that, as part of this prescription, $100 million would be returned to the Solar Flagships program in the forward estimates and a proper consultation then undertaken to develop long-term policy for large-scale solar power. In doing so, we have saved a possible cut in that important program. Many jobs, including in rural and regional Australia, will also be created by that program. We also secured the restoration of the National Rental Affordability Scheme, which aims to have 50,000 new homes provided in the out-years from 2014-15. We also secured—along with Independent members of these houses—ongoing commitments to provide the key functions of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council, including the provision of awards, citations for excellence in teaching and peer reviews and acknowledgment. It is a good outcome and the government has very wisely accommodated the views of Independents and Greens in coming to that outcome, though the matter is not finally settled. It is unfortunate that the intransigence and the unhelpfulness of the opposition, led by Mr Abbott, has taken the view that there should not be—

Senator Ian Macdonald —The government should pay as it has for every other cyclone and flood.

Senator BOB BROWN —We have just got it from the Queensland senator that the government should pay—which means in effect that taxpayers should generally pay anyway—and this levy, which is aimed at better off taxpayers, ought not be implemented. He is saying, in effect, that he wants to burden middle- and low-income earners with the payment of help—

Senator Ian Macdonald —That is an outright lie.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Boyce)—Senator Macdonald!

Senator BOB BROWN —He should withdraw that, Madam Acting Deputy President. But I am not responsible for him—the opposition is. You can see the sensitivity and the vulnerability of the opposition through these interjections. What he is saying is that the impost of helping people who have been through these awesome circumstances, including the loss of many lives, ought to be put onto the shoulders of middle- and low-income earners in Australia.

Senator Ian Macdonald —That’s an outright lie.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Macdonald, if you have a point of order you should raise it through the proper channels.

Senator BOB BROWN —What a poor performance from this Queensland senator in this important discussion. Senator Williams spoke of the concern he had about the comments I and my colleague Senator Milne, who I am sure will speak on this matter, made about the predictions from scientists that we would see worse and more destructive flood events, as well as heat, bushfire and drought events, as a result of climate change. I do not subscribe to this new political correctness which comes from the opposition implying that one ought not to speak about the generator of climate change, which is the burning of fossil fuels. I have not subscribed to it, and nor will I, because I believe that the evidence is in and is compelling—the scientists tell us it is more than 90 per cent the case that human generated fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere are causing increased temperatures around the globe, including in the ocean, and one of the outcomes of that is the warmest oceans around northern Australia in recorded history. With La Nina, this is leading to the greater likelihood of greater precipitation events just as we have seen recently.

Senator Williams —It was going to be all drought for years; it was never going to rain again.

Senator BOB BROWN —It maybe difficult for Senator Williams to get his mind around this, but the predictions have been around for decades that not only would there be greater droughts—

Senator Williams —You said it was never going to rain again.

Senator BOB BROWN —I never said it would never rain again. You have had your opportunity to speak and tell it as you see it. The fact is that scientists are predicting not only greater heat events but greater freezing events as well. It is hard for some people to get their minds around that. It is a challenge for all of us. I accept that these predictions are being borne out. What we have seen is the equal warmest year, globally, in recorded history, the hottest oceans of northern Australia in recorded history, some of the most devastating floods in recorded history and one of the most violent and destructive cyclones in recorded history. These fit into a pattern of prediction which has been developing in the scientific community.

The opposition says discussing this matter is out of place, yet it was okay for the Leader of the National Party to be condemning the failure to build more dams, which is a very political question, as early as 2 or 3 January and to be wading into the causative factors of the magnitude of floods. When it comes to talking about climate change, because of the vulnerability of the coal industry in particular, you must not talk about it. The opposition can play out their own fears and be self-censoring on this, but this is a matter for responsible and mature debate—and that debate will be had.

The Greens position is that the mining industry superprofits tax, as outlined by Treasury, ought to have been applied. We disagree with the government reducing that superprofits tax to the point where, according to evidence to Senate estimates last week, as much as $10 billion per annum will be lost to public expenditure. The opposition obviously thinks that the average taxpayer in Australia should make up the shortfall in funding for programs rather than the big iron ore and coal corporations—which by the way export a great deal of their profits overseas—paying to assist this nation to deal with its need for infrastructure and services in the future as well as the unforeseens, which I thinks are foreseens, although we cannot specify them, of the huge cost impacts of climate change. At the end of that spectrum we come to Sir Nicholas Stern’s projection that before the end of this century the impact of climate change on economies may be seen to be between five per cent and 20 per cent loss of gross national wealth, or productivity.

This will have a huge economic impact. The opposition may care to put its head in the coal pit on the matter, but the Greens will not, because it is responsible to be dealing now with this extraordinary projection of threat to the wellbeing of Australians and not leave it to our children or grandchildren to do that. Mr Abbott would not collect $1 from the miners through a reasonable tax on superprofits from the ore, which belongs to the Australian people. He would expect the Australian people to forgo the benefits of that arrangement, recommended by Treasury, which the Greens endorse. An amount of $148 billion over the coming 10 years may well be lost to Australians, to pay for such things as flood, cyclone, bushfire, hailstorm and sea level rise damage. That is the opposition’s choice, but it is not one that the Greens will subscribe to. We believe that the polluters should pay and we believe that those who cause the damage, with eyes wide open, should pay. We have known about this for decades. Indeed, I saw former Senator Richardson saying, quite rightly, on Q&A the other night that he first brought a bill on climate change before cabinet in 1988. Everybody has their eyes open on this issue and it is not responsible for us to say that, because the coal industry has not made provision for the damage it will do to the rest of society anymore than the tobacco industry did, it should now escape a reasonable tax which may help the country to adjust to the impact of climate change. That is not responsible.

Yesterday we saw Mr Abbott at a petrol station, talking about how he is going to create a popular revolt against the potential for fossil fuel emissions to impact on the economy, suggesting that it be ignored. That is basically what he is about: take no action. But what it is really about is Mr Abbott saying about the causers, the big polluters: ‘I am going to let them off the hook. Neither will we have a mining tax, to reasonably share with the Australian people the extraordinary profits they’re getting’—and I think they export 70 per cent of their profits overseas—‘nor will we ask them to be responsible for their part and pay a fair share for the damage as a result of climate change enhanced destructive weather events in Australia.’ Mr Abbott can shield the big coal corporations against the interests of the average Australian, low-income and middle-income earners in particular, but the Greens do not agree with that. This will be part of the debate about economic responsibility over the next century.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order on relevance. I have been listening to Senator Brown for the last 10 minutes and he has been talking about a carbon tax. Could you draw his attention to the fact that this bill that we are debating is about a flood levy and a flood tax. Whilst I appreciate that we allow a lot of latitude in these things, we are interested in Senator Brown’s views on a flood tax and on why he is supporting the Labor government on yet another new tax, rather than talking about some tax which has not yet been introduced.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Boyce)—Thank you, Senator Macdonald. That is not a point of order.

Senator BOB BROWN —A very wise ruling, Acting Deputy President. That is an example of Senator Macdonald’s inability to know, after many years, the rules of the Senate and about proper debate. Of course, what he does not like to hear is my contention that if we had a proper superprofits tax on the coal industry and other miners who are digging up the ores, which belong to the Australian people, we may not even have to be debating a levy here today. But that is the way it goes. Poor Senator Macdonald, who is not standing up for his Queensland constituency in this debate, can argue his own case. I do not accept it. I endorse this levy, which not only has the government put to the Australian people but the polls show the majority of the Australian people support. I look forward to it passing the Senate.