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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 731

Senator BERNARDI (8:25 PM) —In rising to make a contribution to this debate on 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 it is wise for us all to be mindful about exactly why we have to do this. No-one can understate the devastation that has occurred in Queensland and Western Australia, and indeed other parts of Australia, due to floods and cyclones. Regrettably, these are a natural if not catastrophic part of life in Australia, given our climate and the nature of our vast continent. However, we also have to be mindful of exactly why we need to have a bill of this nature introduced into this place. The simple reason is that this government has squandered an unprecedented amount of taxpayers’ money. This government is borrowing $100 million every single day to fund irresponsible and reckless spending. That means the amount of $1.8 billion that is going to be raised by this levy is only 18 days of government borrowings.

When we put that into perspective, we think that that is going to go on for year after year. There are billions and billions of dollars that will be spent paying the interest payments and mortgaging future generations—that is why we are debating this bill today. The government has spent far more than it has earned. In fact, I would dare say that this government has not earned any money. It has only spent money, recklessly. It is taking money from taxpayers who have entrusted the government to do the right thing with that money for the long-term interest of Australia. Unfortunately for the government, its political imperatives have always been much more important than Australia’s national interest. How else can we explain the sudden urgency to go out and spend billions of dollars on a pink batts program—giving it away to people—that this government made such a mess of. Not only were billions of dollars wasted, there are also thousands of houses that are at risk of further disaster. There are hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent checking the work that the government has already paid for. Who can forget the fact that a number of young men lost their lives due to inadequate safety programs?

That was just one aspect of the waste of taxpayers’ money by this government. There were billions more dollars rorted through the Building the Education Revolution program, which is still rolling out across the country rorts and all. This government has been in denial repeatedly about its problems. Whenever it has had a bad policy and the flaws of that policy have been brought to its attention by the coalition, the government has said, ‘Please, you’re just being negative.’ Of course we have been negative, because they are such bad programs. We are being negative now not because we lack heart or compassion for the people affected by the floods in Queensland or the cyclones or those who have been affected by disasters elsewhere; we are being negative because this levy is an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers of Australia. It has only been foisted upon us because of the inadequacy of this government in managing our financial resources and its inability or unwillingness to cut its cloth to fit its budget.

What further evidence do we need of that other than the fact that not only does this government always underestimates expenditure because it does not know how to implement policies and programs but also the Prime Minister herself at the National Press Club said, ‘We will find further savings if it costs more money.’ It is a stark admission—a confession, if you will—that there is still plenty of fat to rip out of this government’s wasteful budget.

Going back to how they have managed the national finances, we have to remind ourselves that this is just another tax. It is another tax in a long line of taxes. In fact, one could say this government have never met a tax they did not like. They have put up the taxes on things that a lot of people enjoy today. Whether it be a tax on a ready-made drink which actually supports responsible mixing of alcohol or on cigarettes, which are unfortunately still quite popular in our society, or imposing a mining tax to stifle investment and put Australia at a competitive disadvantage, they have never met a tax they did not like.

The role of government is not to put free pink batts in people’s roofs, imperilling their lives and their properties. That is not the role of government. It is not the role of government to send out $900 cheques to dead people and people living overseas. That is not the responsibility of government. The responsibility of government is to invest taxpayers’ money prudently for the future. That means sometimes setting it aside for a rainy day. By goodness, didn’t the rainy days come in Queensland? But if you do not save for a rainy day you cannot then provide the resources that are necessary. This is the tragedy of this government’s mismanagement and fiscal ineptitude.

We have a circumstance where there is a legitimate role for government to assist in the rebuilding and provision of public infrastructure in Queensland and around the country. Yet we have the government ignoring so many aspects of where help is really needed because they simply are not prepared to save the money in areas where they have their pet hobbyhorses. There are any number of areas in which we could save money. The coalition has identified quite a number of them in our finding of $1.8 billion to assist in the rebuilding of Queensland and the other states. But the government are unwilling to make those tough choices. They think that it is easier to play the wealth redistribution game, attack taxpayers and say: ‘Please just give more. We know you have a little bit left in you.’

The taxpayers and families of Australia are already suffering. They are suffering because this government has injected too much money into the money supply. It is fuelling inflation. It does not show up in the government’s figures because the government can manipulate those, but it shows up in the everyday lives of ordinary Australians. It shows up in the cost of utility bills, food, interest rates and mortgages, which would be much lower today if this government had not injected nearly $100 billion of borrowed money into our economy. There is no question about that, and we do not expect to hear much about it from the other side.

One of the interesting things that has given me an insight into the inability of the other side—the Labor Party and government—to come to terms with what they are creating is their great spinmeistering in saying, ‘Electricity price rises are nothing to do with us,’ even though they are going to be impacted by their proposed carbon tax. Their justification for future price increases is that prices have increased in the past. Quite frankly, we know why prices of electricity have increased in the past. It is because there is $1.1 billion of renewable energy imposts on Australian consumers at the moment. It is an interesting thing when you look at your bill and you see that the costs have gone up, your electricity consumption has gone down but apparently your greenhouse gas emissions remain the same. It is such a fraud.

This government is blaming everyone else for its policy failings. This is just another example. It might seem quite small. The taxpayers of Australia are going to be asked to pay $300, $400, $500, $1,000 or whatever it is a year in additional tax. The total sum of $1.8 billion may not seem so significant but it is like straws that are piled onto a camel’s back. Families of Australia are already struggling, and this is another impost on them, another levy in the face of the taxes that have already been enacted and the rises in cost-of-living pressures, including health insurance and a number of necessities. The fact that this government is prepared to pile straw upon straw on the good people of Australia, who are only interested in making this a better country, means eventually their backs are going to break. This is my great concern. Eventually, if governments borrow too much money and they put too many demands on taxpayers, their will, resilience and ability to make additional contributions stops. It stifles creativity; it stifles investment. What worse message can there be when Australians rally to the aid of their fellow man and say, ‘I will reach into my pocket voluntarily to support those who are in trouble and struggling or for charities,’ than to be encouraged to do so disingenuously by the government that all the time had in mind for them not only to give voluntarily but also to be forced to give through a tax or a levy. That is exactly what happened.

The Australian people will naturally be dubious about future demands on their charity dollars. I do not want that to happen because I think personal charity and the willingness of Australians and many other people in the world to give to good causes is so important to the culture and the camaraderie of our society. It builds cohesiveness and it builds that elusive Australian quality which some would refer to as mateship—that is, looking after others. But the Australian people will be right to question next time demands are forced upon them, next time they are asked to reach into their pockets voluntarily and give $5, $50, $500 or whatever they can afford, whether it be for disaster relief, for a humanitarian mission or just to help someone who is in need. They are going to be right to ask, ‘What if I give all I can afford to now and then the government, because of their own ineptitude and financial mismanagement, say they are going to force us to give that little bit more through a “temporary” levy?’ I put quotation marks around ‘temporary’ because that is always the question. How can we plan for certainty when the government are prepared to change the rules on a whim?

I regret to say it looks like this levy will get through the parliament. I regret to say that because I think it sends a very bad message. This is not about restoring goodwill. It is not about restoring the budget to surplus, because you and I know, Madam Acting Deputy President, and everyone else in this chamber knows except those who publicly will not advocate it, that this government will never ever deliver a surplus. It will not deliver a surplus, so it is not about that; it is just about saying, ‘How can we scramble together more money so that we can throw it into silly and ridiculous programs?’

I stand opposed to this levy because I am opposed to new taxes of any sort. If there should be an admirable aim of this government, of this parliament, it is to reduce the burden on taxpayers, promote more self-reliance, promote the freedom of willing giving. We should be looking at reducing our tax requirements by cutting the unnecessary fat from the budget. The coalition has found some unnecessary fat and I can tell you there is plenty more out there. Even the government acknowledge that they can find further savings if they are required to do so. Why don’t they do it, rather than slug the Australian people with something they can ill afford? No matter how well intentioned, they can ill afford it. Why wouldn’t the government just say, ‘Let’s cut back a little bit’? It would not be hard. Every family in Australia has to do it on occasions when the electricity bill comes in and it has gone up 16 per cent. But of course it is not the government’s fault, only that small $1.1 billion through the renewable energy targets. When the bills come in and the food prices have gone up by 16 or 20 per cent or when interest rates have gone up by four per cent and the government have lured the first home buyers into the market with some incentives and never any warning about being prudent about the future and that they are risking financial ruin, what do the government do? They just apply another tax. It is easier for the Australian people to have to wear it than for the government to make a difficult decision. I regret it has come to this.

I know the other side, the government, has referred to some levies and things that have taken place under previous governments and I regret that there have been times when they were needed in order to overcome budget black holes that were left to us as a legacy, kind of like a nasty present for an incoming government, such as the $96 billion debt that we inherited in 1996. That is $96,000 million. The difficult thing is that it does not sound that much money when you compare it with what this government has run up in only the last three years. It took them 10 or 12 or 13 years to run up that much debt and in only three years we are now $150 billion underwater, so $150,000 million underwater, and there is not a prospect, not a hope, not a snowball’s chance of them ever repaying that debt. That is a burden that will be left to successive generations in this country. It is a burden that no Labor government has ever undertaken. The Labor governments in my memory and in my research have never ever repaid the debts that they have accumulated.

Unfortunately it is going to fall in this instance on the Australian people to shoulder this burden, but at least it has been done, I would guess, in an upfront way. What the government has not done at any stage is acknowledge that the Australian people are going to have to wear this yoke around their neck for the next 20 or 30 years repaying such reckless ineptitude. That is going to put pressure on all of us in the future. As we earn our money, as we try and take care of our families, as we look to increase self-reliance, it is going to put increased pressure on all of us when surely disaster will strike this nation again. I hope it is a long way away, I sincerely do, but rest assured that it will take place again. The only hope we have, the only prospect we have, is that we will have a government that is actually prepared to invest for the future, to prepare for the unforeseen but the all too expected. This is not a burden. This is not an onerous obligation. It is common sense. It is something that every family does and every individual does and it is something that successful governments do. Unfortunately this is not a successful government. It is successfully getting itself re-elected and we know why and how they got themselves re-elected: because they have no regard for the truth. They only have regard for spin and swindle. This is a government built on spin and swindle. They are swindling the Australian people, they are spinning to their heart’s content, and fortunately they are now being exposed by it.

In conclusion, I do not support this levy. I stand very firmly with the coalition. I do not support additional imposts on the Australian taxpayers because they can ill afford it. It is time for the government to get real, to take some responsibility for their own actions and look at how they can cut their cloth to fit the taxpayer budget.