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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 890

Senator MASON (9:54 AM) —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 are ostensibly about introducing a flood levy, but they are actually about compulsive behaviour. I recall learning, when I was growing up, that Walt Disney was driven to wash his hands 30 times every hour. Other people have a strange compulsion to collect old newspapers and some people collect empty beer cans, but this government tops them all: they think they have to impose a new tax every week. They are fiscally compulsive. No matter the issue—alcopops, carbon, minerals or now the floods—Labor breaks into a cold sweat and yells and gibbers, ‘Tax it, tax it, tax it, tax it.’ That is what this government does.

Everyone in this parliament knows that Labor are imposing yet another tax because they cannot spend taxpayers’ money wisely. That is the crux of this tax. It is a double whammy; it is worse than you might think. The federal Labor government have to impose a levy because the Queensland state Labor government is totally incompetent. I know Senator Xenophon has said a lot about insurance and the failure of the state government to take out insurance. That is true and I accept that it has cost Queensland, and now the nation, billions of dollars. But it is far worse: the cumulative debt forecasted in Queensland state Labor’s own budget papers will be $83½ billion in 2014-15.

I remember Mr Beazley’s $96 billion black hole in 1996 and how outraged the coalition and the community were about that. That was $96 billion with an Australian population of roughly 18 million. The debt for each Australian was roughly $4,000 per head. In 1996 the coalition was rightly outraged and the community turfed out the Keating government. In Queensland, though, it is far, far worse. We have $83½ billion in debt projected for 2014-15. What is Queensland’s population? It is about 4½ million people. The debt for each man, woman and child in Queensland will be nearly $19,000 in 2014-15. That is absolutely outrageous. The irony of this situation is that the federal government, up to its eyeballs in debt, is bailing out a state government drowning in debt—how appropriate for a flood levy.

We know Queensland is a shambles, but let us not let the federal government off the hook. Labor is borrowing $81 million a week in order to pay the interest on its net debt of $89½ billion and it is borrowing around $700 million each and every week—about $100 million a day—to meet its net interest payments, which will increase to $102 million a week in 2011-12. As Joe Hockey has pointed out:

It is also worth noting that for 2010/11 the interest paid on Labor created government net debt will be $4.38bn.

The interest payments on Labor’s debt will be 2½ times the flood levy. If it were not such an incompetent government there would no need for a flood levy but, of course, the government is incompetent. We have to pay off the $90-plus billion government debt before we even start to reduce interest payments. This all assumes that the terms of trade will remain as they have been and, as Access Economics has said, that cannot be assured anymore.

Mr Acting Deputy President, remind me on how many occasions, upon leaving office, has the Labor Party left our country in more debt. On how many occasions since leaving office, when it was defeated by the coalition, in all its iterations since 1901 has the Labor Party left our country in more debt? Let me give the Senate a clue. Labor has been defeated on seven occasions since Federation. How many times do you think, out of those seven times that Labor has been defeated, has it left this country in further debt? Do you want to take a guess?

Senator Ronaldson —Four?

Senator MASON —No.

Senator Ronaldson —Five?

Senator MASON —No.

Senator Ronaldson —Six?

Senator MASON —No.

Senator Ronaldson —Not seven!

Senator MASON —All seven, Senator Ronaldson. Every time there is a Labor government it leaves the country in more debt. It has been the same since John Christian Watson in 1903 right through to Paul Keating, and it will be the same this time. The one thing we know about this government is that whoever the leader is—I do not care whether it is Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Bill Shorten or Greg Combet—it will leave this country in more debt because that is the historical legacy of the Australian Labor Party and it has never changed in 110 years. It is a perfect record. Every time there is a Labor government there is further debt.

The Gillard government is heading the same way. You cannot even argue that somehow this is nation building. What were the government’s two most recent nation-building attempts? One I recall is the pink batts scheme. What a shambles that was—it cost billions as well. The Auditor-General said that nearly 30 per cent of 13,800 houses inspected as of March 2010 had problems ranging up to ‘serious safety concerns’. That meant that over 300,000 home owners have potentially been left exposed to serious risk in their own homes. What a great scheme! It found that the government was warned about the problems concerning quality, fire, safety, fraud and internal capacity before the commencement of the program, but despite the warnings there were still four deaths, nearly 200 house fires and many, many scams and dodgy installations. It is true, and I accept and I think my colleagues do, that Mr Garrett was not to blame. I do not blame Mr Garrett. Who was calling the shots? Mr Rudd was, from the Lodge. He was to blame for this—parliament’s friend—probably the worst Prime Minister since World War II. At least Mr Whitlam—he may have been a fiscal incompetent—believed in something. Mr Rudd believes in nothing, except Mr Rudd.

The second great nation-building program was the Building the Education Revolution. Mr Acting Deputy President, you will recall that. You might recall too, sir, it cost about $16 billion. The question you want to ask is: how could you spend $16 billion and have so many people be so unhappy? How could you possibly do that? The government did it—and do you know why there are so many people unhappy? Because the federal government let state governments build school halls for state schools. That was the grotesque and expensive failure of this government. Sure, some people liked it. My old friend Senator Carr loved it. He loves the state planning, and the old Stalinism was also apparently attractive—he loves all that. But what happened? In the end those poor schools that wanted a library got a gymnasium and those that wanted a gymnasium got a library.

Senator Parry —Or a tuckshop.

Senator MASON —Or a tuckshop that was overpriced. What did the Auditor-General find? The Auditor-General found that the Commonwealth government, in particular the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, did not have sufficient oversight mechanisms to ensure that the Commonwealth knew that state governments were getting value for money when they were building state schools. They did not have sufficient oversight mechanisms. The result of that has cost this country billions and billions of dollars. Do not believe me; believe Mr Orgill. What did he say in his report? Look at the government’s own data in the Orgill report. Take the states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. If state schools in those three states—the three biggest states with more than 70 per cent of schools—were built as efficiently as independent and Catholic schools in those three states, billions would have been saved. If government schools were built with the same efficiency as independent schools, the government would have saved $2.6 billion. If state schools in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales were built with the same efficiency as Catholic schools, the Commonwealth government would have saved $1.5 billion and there would be no need for a flood levy. There would be no need for a flood levy if the Commonwealth government had built those schools with the efficiency of independent schools or Catholic schools.

I am told, ‘Brett, you are too negative. The government is doing great things—don’t worry, Senator Conroy has it all under control. The NBN is going to sort it out. That’s going to be the great new infrastructure project.’ Senator Conroy is the great white hope but the problem is that the NBN is likely to be the great white elephant. As the debate in this chamber has so often asked, has the NBN passed a cost-benefit analysis? No, it has not. There is still no cost-benefit analysis. How much is it going to cost? All up, about $43 billion to $46 billion, with a Commonwealth contribution of around $23 billion. There is no cost-benefit analysis even for the expenditure of that much money. Then again, pink batts and the BER would not have passed a cost-benefit analysis either, would they? The irony is that Telstra goes off to Hong Kong and builds a wireless scheme there that is doing extremely well, and in Australia six times as many people are accessing broadband through the wireless scheme as through direct connectivity.

Taking all this levy issue it is a disgrace that the closest the federal government came to seemingly sharing the community spirit—Senator McLucas was right, the great community spirit—was their very crude and jarring appropriation of the word ‘mateship’. They appropriated the word mateship, the use of an iconic Australian term, to spin the imposition of yet another tax. Imagine using the words ‘mate’ and ‘mateship’ to spin the imposition of yet another tax—yet that is what this government has done. Perhaps if the government had properly managed the pink batts disaster and the school halls program fiasco, there would not be any need for this confection of mateship from the federal government. Real mates help each other; they do not tax each other. The government should be building levees, not imposing levies. Let us call this for what it is—it is not a mateship levy; it is a financial mismanagement levy. What people are paying for is not the damage wrought by the flood but the damage that Julia Gillard’s government has done to our nation’s economy. That, plain and simple, is the reason for this levy.