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Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Page: 807

Senator RONALDSON (1:29 PM) —First of all, I would like to place on the public record my condolences to those who lost family and to those who had family who were injured and express my sympathy for the enormous amount of property damage that was done. In so doing, I of course speak for those in my own home state of Victoria who are also still suffering from the impact of the devastating floods. I think many of us will remember well January this year and everything that flowed from it.

I take issue with my friend and colleague Senator Ludwig. He said that government assistance was required. Yes, I agree with that aspect of his contribution to the debate on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood and Cyclone Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and related bill. I vehemently disagree with him that it has to be done by way of a tax. In the last 48 hours we have seen a relationship between the Prime Minister and Senator Bob Brown, which is now to be known as the Gillard-Brown government. Indeed, it is a partnership which has been conceived on earth but which will be delivering from hell. I cannot imagine a more dangerous group to be running this country than Ms Gillard and, effectively, her de facto, fellow Prime Minister Bob Brown—a very dangerous outcome.

I want to talk about the ramifications of this levy and, indeed, the ramifications of the government’s carbon tax, which was announced a couple of days ago. But, firstly, I want to refer to those who have actually been concerned about the government’s levy. I note with some interest that on 29 January, under the headline ‘ALP’s flood tax revolt’, the Daily Telegraph said, ‘Furious, unnamed Labor MPs could not wait to tell the national correspondent Steve Lewis that they were opposed to this.’ One of them even said it was one of the ‘dumbest decisions’ made by the Prime Minister—

Senator Joyce —That’s saying something!

Senator RONALDSON —It is indeed—and a decision that left senior Labor figures shaking their heads at the lack of cabinet consultation. Of course, there was no cabinet consultation in relation to this matter. We now know full well that there was no cabinet consultation in relation to the carbon tax. So Labor got rid of one Prime Minister because he refused to engage cabinet or the backbench and they have now replaced Kevin Rudd with another Prime Minister, who also refuses to consult. So what was it all about? The micromanager Kevin Rudd has been replaced by the micromanager Julia Gillard. I suppose the big difference between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard is that he did not form this unholy alliance with Senator Bob Brown and the other Greens. That is the big difference between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

Even Kristina Keneally, the Premier of New South Wales—for about another three weeks!—expressed concern about the impact of this tax. Can we please, during the rest of this debate and during the summing-up, refer to this as a flood tax? The use of this word ‘levy’ is totally inappropriate; it is a flood tax.

Government senators interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —Clearly, having sat there quietly for a couple of minutes, they have arced up across the other side because they know, I know, we know and everyone listening to this knows that this is not a levy, it is a tax.

Senator Polley interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —And do you know, Senator Polley, it is a tax that you can run from but most certainly cannot hide from. Those opposite have imposed another tax on the Australian people and they did not spend one nanosecond looking at other options. Senator Ludwig, as I said, was right: everyone in Queensland, Victoria and elsewhere who suffered from these floods needs government assistance. What they do not need is another tax. The interesting part about this, in my view, is that I think the Australian Labor Party—not you, Madam Acting Deputy President—in one fell swoop has sent a very dangerous message to the Australian people. There is anecdotal evidence, which I believe is correct from feedback that I have had, of the damage done by going to the Australian people and pleading for them to support the flood victims—which they did and which they have always been happy to do, as they did in Victoria two years ago—and then imposing a tax on top of that. You have destroyed the giving nature in this country. This will be the legacy: you will have single-handedly, potentially destroyed the giving culture in this country and you will pay an enormous penalty for that stupidity.

The coalition’s response to this matter was the appropriate response. On the back of the need for the Australian community and the Australian taxpayer to support the people of Queensland and elsewhere with financial assistance, we actually went down an entirely different path to that of the Australian Labor Party. We looked at where there may be savings to be made, where there may be government waste that could be set aside and put towards the flood victims. The Australian Labor Party just lives on taxes. If it is a problem, you tax it. We have said, quite clearly, that there are other options in relation to finding the money, the government assistance, that should be provided.

I will go very quickly through the list again. We would partially defer water buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin and delay funding under the so-called Building the Education Revolution program. We have seen more money wasted on this program than I think we have ever seen in this country’s history. You will waste that amount of money on the Green Loans and the Home Insulation programs but you will not give $5 million to our national icon down the road—the Australian War Memorial. I ask: what are your priorities? We would redirect the remaining funds from the Building Better Regional Cities program. We would reduce spending on the Automotive Transformation Scheme. There would be further cuts in funding to the GP Super Clinics Program—another farce. We would defer funding from the Australia Indonesia Education Partnership and discontinue funding to the National Solar Schools program and others. We sat down and looked at where the savings might be, because we acknowledge that the communities who suffered from the floods deserve this country and the government to put in for their reconstruction—but not by way of a tax.

When you look around this country, you will see whether there is fire or flood that the one thing that brings people together—the people in my state of Victoria, the people in New South Wales, Queensland and throughout the country, particularly country people—is their ability to respond quickly to changed circumstances, and especially when those changed circumstances relate to their neighbour or the person living down the road from them. What Australians are very quick to do in these times of trouble is to change their priorities. They will change their priorities in a nanosecond, and those priorities will be changed to ensure that they provide assistance to their neighbour in the widest possible sense. It begs the question: if people in that situation can change their priorities quickly, why is it impossible for the Gillard-Brown government to change its priorities? Why didn’t they do what that magnificent army of volunteers around this country did when they changed their priorities overnight to address the situation they were confronted with and respond accordingly? When you look at those who have been involved in these events, such as the SES, the farmers, the people in the towns and the cities—the sand baggers; those who dropped everything to help—you see that they changed their priorities and went to help their neighbour. The Australian community is quite capable of changing its priorities. It is extraordinary to me that this government is unable to do likewise.

I want to talk about the latest product of the Gillard-Brown government—the big new tax that is going to be delivered. My fear is that, when push comes to shove downstairs, the Independents will be so scared of taking on this government that they will roll over again. And when legislation comes back up here, the other part of the Gillard government will ensure that this country has a carbon tax.

Senator Joyce —The torture of Hamlet: will I or won’t I?

Senator RONALDSON —Absolutely. I want to repeat the words, because the words have been repeated ad nauseam and the words will be repeated again after this. I just want to read them out. On 16 August last year, on Channel 10, Ms Gillard said:

There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.

Senator Sherry interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —I will take the interjection from the minister because I am absolutely gobsmacked at the stupidity of the Labor Party to talk about the GST. What political party took this tax to an election? The coalition government took the GST to an election. You bald-faced lied before the election about a carbon tax. You have not taken it to the people, and you refuse to do so. I refer to the words of Andrew Bolt, who said recently—

Senator Bilyk interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —Now, Andrew Bolt, if I remember correctly, actually used to work for a Labor minister. Is my recollection correct? I think he might have.

Government senators interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —Correct me if I am wrong, but I think Andrew Bolt—the man whom you now choose to abuse—might have just worked for the Australian Labor Party. But I might be wrong about that. Correct me if I am, please. No-one is jumping to their feet. Andrew Bolt said:

The public has been deceived, and an election stolen with a false promise.

The Australian people, as Senator Williams said, know this absolutely. I now turn to the front page of the Australian—oh, no noise. Normally those on the other side arc up when the Australian’s name is mentioned—of course, unless there is a favourable article and then it is one of their favourite newspapers. On the front page there is again a quotation from the Prime Minister herself—the one person in this country that the Australian people should be able to take the word of. If she says something, the Australian people should be entitled to rely on that. Again I will quote:

I rule out a carbon tax.

Then, on 15 August, the Treasurer —

Senator Bilyk interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —I thought you might say ‘It’s all right.’ I like you, Senator Bilyk, otherwise I would pursue this a bit harder, but I am not going to. On Meet the Press on 15 August the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said:

... what we rejected is this hysterical allegation that somehow we are moving towards a carbon tax ...

‘Hysterical allegation’ is right. On 12 August, on the 7.30 report, Mr Swan said:

We have made our position very clear. We have ruled it out.

As soon as the election is over, the deceit starts. I suspect that Ms Gillard and her now comrade-in arms, Senator Brown, had actually had these discussions before the election. I rather suspect—

Senator Williams interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —Call me cynical, Senator Williams—but I would not be surprised if indeed this formed part of the agreement in relation to the allocation of preferences. I reckon this was an absolute done deal two months before the election. But the Prime Minister and the Treasurer of this country went to the people and told a bald-faced untruth.

Those quotes will come back to haunt the Australian Labor Party, and they will come back to haunt this government and the Prime Minister. I know, and we on this side know, that there are plenty on the other side of the chamber who are absolutely appalled and embarrassed that there will now be a carbon tax. There are some sensible people on the other side. I am the first to admit that there are some sensible people on the other side but this—

Senator Polley —You can’t even say it without laughing.

Senator RONALDSON —I know. You are absolutely right. I do not think there are very many. You have caught me out, Senator Polley.

Senator Joyce interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —I know, I know. I am sorry, and I regret saying it now. I want to go through the ramifications of this new tax. The ramifications of this new tax on Australian families are quite dramatic, and I defy anyone in this chamber to stand up and say that Australian families are not under cost-of-living pressure. Everyone in this country knows that Australian families are under cost-of-living pressure. It is tough out there for families and it is incredibly tough out there for small business. I do not expect those opposite to know anything about the way of small businesses, because they pride themselves on getting involved in big business and then they reduce them to small business. They have no credibility at all in relation to small business in this country.

Small business is doing it tough, Australian families are doing it tough, and there should not be one person in this chamber who does not know how much electricity and other services have gone up in the last two years. They have gone up quite dramatically—and compared with a lot of people in this country we are well remunerated. I will just go through the figures. I think some 6.5 cents per litre is predicted to go on top of petrol prices if this goes through. If you are living in inner Sydney or inner Melbourne, the constituency of the Deputy Prime Minister—or is he the Prime Minister down the other end here—you do not know the impact of increased petrol prices. Get into the country and you will see what the impact of petrol prices is. Get into the country and see the families who have to drive their kids to two or three schools every morning and come back every afternoon. You go and speak to them about what impact petrol prices have on their families. Go and speak to those people who have lost all their crops in the last month and see how they will be doing it over the next 12 months, whether they can afford increased electricity, gas and petrol prices. The clear fact is that they cannot do so, and why we would be ahead of the pack in relation to this is beyond me. I am reminded that we emit just 1.28 per cent of global emissions; China, 22.3; the USA, 19.91; and the EU, 14.04. And we are leading the pack!

The outcome of this will be that you will be exporting nothing except our emissions. The Australian Labor Party will ensure that we are exporting nothing but our emissions, because that is what will happen. For all its sins, this country is a relatively clean emitter, but we are going to take our industry, particularly our manufacturing industry, away from this country and put it overseas in countries where they do not have the same controls that we have. That, to me, is a nonsensical outcome.

I have spoken to my colleague on my left, Senator Fierravanti-Wells, about the impact on the Illawarra, for example, and the jobs that we have lost in the Illawarra. That will take place all over the country. If you are looking at Victoria, look at the impact on a company like Alcoa, which is a very big employer in Victoria, and there will be plenty of others in a similar position.

I will finish where I started. I express my sincere condolences to those who have suffered so badly during these floods. I plead with the Australian Labor Party not to proceed with this tax and most certainly not to proceed with a new carbon tax.