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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 742

Senator BOYCE (9:15 PM) —I am proud to stand here today as a senator representing the people of Queensland, who are a proud people. I was reduced to tears listening to a number of people in Grantham, one of the towns that was most affected by the floods, saying to me, ‘I hate to say this, but we need help; we really need help.’ But they were not looking for the sort of help that is being suggested by this … government. I was searching for a term there, but I am not sure what it is—the Labor-Greens alliance. The Labor-Greens alliance has tried to characterise opposition to the flood levy which would be imposed by the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood and Cyclone Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood and Cyclone Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 as not standing up for the Queensland constituency. I am sorry, but I represent a large portion of the Queensland constituency. I was driven recently in a taxi by a man whose main occupation is growing vegetables in the Lockyer Valley. He lost his house, he lost his crop—a pumpkin crop that was 90 per cent ready to go—and he said to me, ‘This flood levy is BS.’ That is not the sort of help that Queenslanders want. They are appalled by the suggestion that this is the way to fix it; they look at the record of this government.

If we go back to previous Premier’s relief appeals, established by and named after the current Premier, I contributed to the last one. But where was the governance? Where was the accountability? It did not exist. There is still $700,000 sitting unspent in the Cyclone Larry Premier’s appeal. Why would anyone in their right mind contribute to this appeal? Well, they would contribute to this appeal, as thousands and thousands of people throughout Australia have, because they think it is designed to help all those who were affected by the floods. Sorry, but a little while later you find out that in fact it is means-tested, it is income tested, it is only available for personal loss. Then we discover that the rate at which this is being pushed out is pathetic—less than 20 per cent of the over-$200 million that has been contributed to the Premier’s flood relief appeal has so far been distributed.

Once again we are looking at incompetence by this government. Not only are we looking at incompetence; we are looking at what is to me a very frightening ignorance. Senators on the other side have over and over spoken about ‘flood affected’ people. I am sorry, but there was almost no-one in Queensland who was not flood affected. I spoke to a woman in Rocklea, whose business had not been flooded. She told me about having a visit from her local member, who just kept walking when he discovered that she had not had water through the premises. But her business was a fireworks events business. She had had 39 cancellations between Christmas and early January. So you tell me she was not flood affected. There was a business on the Sunshine Coast. There was no flooding whatsoever on the Sunshine Coast, but one of their major customers went into liquidation, owing them over $160,000, because of the flood effects on that customer.

The list goes on and on: ‘flood affected’ means almost everyone in Queensland—and yet the flood levy, were it to be passed, will be available to those who were ‘damaged’ by the floods. I am sorry, but practically every business, practically every individual, in Queensland has somehow been affected by the floods—often, people who were simply not able to get home for 24 hours, or did not have power for 48 hours. A lot of companies, businesses and individuals did not actually have water through their premises, but if you could not get to work for three days, and your employer chose to see that as leave without pay, you were affected. If your customers could not order because they had no ability to sell, if your suppliers could not supply, if the freight companies that deliver your products could not deliver, if you had nothing for those freight companies to deliver, you were affected. It is ridiculous, absolutely crazy, for this government to talk about individuals who were affected by the floods. It is not just individuals who were affected by the floods, and it will not be by just assisting individuals that we will solve this problem. We will solve this problem by assisting individuals and by assisting companies, the job creators of Queensland. It goes on and on.

I was interested to hear Senator Milne refer to the fact that this levy was a one-off event, yet that climate change meant that there would be more and more extreme weather events. She asked, ‘What are we going to do next summer?’ I ask the Labor government the same question. Right now we have a 12-month ‘temporary’ levy. There was nothing in the bank from this government for the future. This is not the first and last time that extreme weather events will happen and yet this government had absolutely nothing in the back pocket for it.

In Queensland we are talking of needing $5.6 billion for the rebuilding of infrastructure in flood affected regions. Yet up until last Saturday the Prime Minister and others were not even in the slightest interested in assisting local government with their infrastructure. There was the crazy situation where if employed council workers undertook flood reparation work they were not covered by federal government support. As one mayor said to me, ‘We should send the council workers off to repaint the library, even though it does not need it, and put subcontractors in to fix the roads and bridges.’ How ridiculous. In a lot of cases councils just went ahead, as they do in Queensland, because they are sensible people representing their local ratepayers. They have roots in the area and they understand their ratepayers. They went ahead and used their council workers to undertake the desperately urgent work that needed to be done, with their fingers crossed that they could persuade the federal government to fund that. How ridiculous that this went on for six weeks before some agreement was dragged out of this government for the funding to take place.

An even more vulnerable group is the not-for-profits. There was an opportunity for Premier Bligh, when she wrote to the federal government on 10 January telling them that she wanted to invoke the national disaster relief agreement, to say, ‘Let’s include the not-for-profits in this group.’ She did not. From conversations I have had, it would appear that leaving them out was a complete oversight of hers. It took five weeks for Premier Bligh to ask the federal government to provide some sort of emergency funding to the thousands and thousands of community groups that are the backbone of our community. This is something that was acknowledged even by Premier Bligh when she was involved in the pre-18-February announcement on this. These are the organisations that keep people going. Riding for the Disabled, near Caboolture, lost everything except their horses. They lost their saddles and everything else. What they lost was probably the result of hundreds and hundreds of hours of volunteer fundraising, raffles and the like. We all know what goes into getting $10,000 or so of resources for a not-for-profit organisation—I hope we all know what goes into getting $10,000 worth of resources for a not-for-profit organisation. Yet it apparently had not occurred to the Premier what sorts of organisations had to be rebuilt in order to maintain communities and community spirit in those areas.

Even worse, the Queensland Alliance, which is the peak body for the mental health organisations of Queensland, supplied to the Premier and to others at the end of January a survey of the capacity of mental health organisations in Queensland to meet the needs from the floods. They pointed out that 30 per cent of their organisations had damage to premises. They pointed out that the ability of the organisations surveyed to deliver mental health services was reduced by about one-third state wide. Most of these organisations are not-for-profit ones. Yet where was the quick emergency reaction to these groups? It did not exist. It was not until 18 February, after vast amounts of advocacy and lobbying, that the not-for-profit organisations finally got some assistance.

Looking now at the criteria for paying the flood levy: people who earn under $50,000 do not pay anything, people who earn between $50,000 and $100,000 pay 0.5 per cent and people who earn over $100,000 will pay one per cent—0.5 per cent plus 0.5 per cent. That is fine. I want to look at some of the groups who are going to be seriously affected by this decision. I would like to talk about a family that have farmed near Esk on the Brisbane River for well over 100 years. They have done the sorts of things that farmers have needed to do to survive. They have planted trees so that they have a timber component. They have leased land to a quarry so that they have another income stream. And guess what. The paulownia plantation that they had has been destroyed. Their farm has been destroyed. But, because they will earn income because they have a quarrying business occupying some of their site, they will pay the flood levy. I am sorry, but we are still back to that ‘What is flood damaged and what is flood affected?’ dichotomy. It is ridiculous that there are thousands of businesses that are required to pay the flood levy because a person is only exempt from the flood levy if they get the $1,000 payment.

We believe that there has already been a huge influx of people. Many people who were inconvenienced in a minor way, such as by having to stay with friends overnight. That means they meet the criteria for not being able to get home for 24 hours. Or they might not have had power for two days—they might have had a generator, but they did not have mains power for two days. These people had not done anything about getting flood compensation. If they claim that flood compensation now, they will be exempted from the flood levy. And yet that only applies to a personal levy. We have many people who are very deserving of that flood compensation. But others who had a minor inconvenience did not claim it or, as someone earlier said, claimed it and donated it because they did not feel that they needed that money or that they were entitled it. Like many proud Queenslanders, they did not want the help unless they desperately needed it.

But now we have businesses in many rural areas in which people have diversified where the income of the company will be such that these people will have to pay the flood levy, irrespective of the fact that their major source of income has been completely destroyed. There is no heart and there is no shame in this government in terms of the way that it attacks commerce and enterprise. You cannot live in most parts of Queensland right now and not be flood affected. Lots of places were not flood or cyclone damaged, but the damage that was done by the floods and the cyclones was not just to property or lifestyle. Damage was done to business and chains of supply. This is about people going about being part of a community and earning a living within a community. This levy as proposed by the Labor government has absolutely nothing to do with reality in Queensland. It ignores the fact that people in Queensland do not want help on this basis. They want personal help. It ignores the fact that vast numbers of people in Queensland who have been hurt are not in any way assisted by this attempt at a levy.