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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 892

Senator HURLEY (10:09 AM) —The temporary flood and cyclone reconstruction legislation allows for the rebuilding of communities, so life can return to normal as soon as possible. Many lives have been greatly affected by these awful disasters in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. It was a devastating summer of disaster which has compelled all Australians to support those affected in many ways. I acknowledge all Australians who have provided cash donations, Shoe Boxes of Love contributions and physical labour or have simply given compassionate love and support. All Australians, including, I know, many in my home state of South Australia, sat and watched what happened with deep sympathy and concern, and felt compelled to give support in any manner possible. Unfortunately the disaster claimed the lives of some Australians and caused utter destruction in many affected areas. The lives of the affected are not going to return to a routine of normality when so much around them is destroyed.

This temporary flood levy is getting lives back on track, getting communities back on their feet and getting vital infrastructure back in place for affected communities. It is estimated that the cost of rebuilding is around $5.6 billion, and the levy will contribute approximately $1.8 billion. The levy will meet 75 per cent of rebuilding costs within the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements. This will rebuild essential infrastructure such as roads, bridges, rail lines, hospitals and schools. This is infrastructure that the affected communities need. Sometimes in our history the government has had to ask the Australian people for financial support, and that is what this levy will do. Levies have been implemented in the past and the government has seen fit to introduce this levy at this time in order to restore the vital infrastructure that has been lost.

This levy will be on a temporary basis, in effect for the 2011-12 financial year only. Nevertheless, the Gillard Labor government has ensured that low-income earners will not have to pay. The levy applies to 0.5 per cent of taxable income in excess of $50,000 per annum and one per cent of taxable income for earners of $100,000 or more. For example, an income earner on $60,000 will contribute 96c per week, and someone who earns $80,000 will contribute $2.88 per week. These are modest costs that will only be in place for the one financial year. The levy is very simple in its application, as the levy payments are made through regular pay arrangements, the same as payments are made for the Medicare levy. The Gillard Labor government has also ensured that the people who have been affected by the floods will not have to contribute to the cost of recovery. Recipients of the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, the people who have been affected by the floods and fires, therefore will not be asked to contribute to the flood levy.

The advantage of a temporary levy is that it avoids cutting or delaying government spending that is vital to Australia’s interests. For one financial year the levy does the right thing for affected individuals and families. It seeks a minimal weekly payment from income earners, with payments often less than the price of a cup of coffee. Australians understand this, and accept that this is only for one financial year. They saw the damage done to their fellow Australians and feel it is a necessary levy that does not unnecessarily stop or delay other programs that the government has implemented or is seeking to implement.

This temporary and modest levy should be supported by the Senate, as the levy will not only rebuild the communities affected but also not delay other essential infrastructure investments. Deferrals in infrastructure spending such as the opposition propose will only result in further restraint on productivity and increasing future costs, and it is vitally important that Australia continue to build productivity and continue with its infrastructure spending. Productivity and spending on infrastructure and education declined during the Howard government. That had adverse results for this country and will continue to have adverse results for this country unless this government continues with its rebuilding program. We cannot rebuild without the necessary expenditure and that should not be delayed.

A responsible response to the recent disasters is to implement a temporary levy to rebuild the community infrastructure that was lost, get the communities back on their feet and not burden the nation, preventing it from moving ahead. Not only would the opposition delay investments to national infrastructure; they would also cut spending in international aid—aid that is in our national interest and that stops radicals getting into schools in Indonesia and determining curriculum. This aid provides Indonesian children with a real education, not a radical ideology.

The Gillard Labor government has already sought where cuts can be made and has made those cuts. As a South Australian I support this levy because, in South Australia, we understand the devastation and understand that the lives of Queenslanders, Victorians and Western Australians should return to normal as soon as possible. South Australians understand that without vital infrastructure, such as roads, rails, schools and hospitals, lives cannot return to normal and that the temporary flood levy would help achieve a return to normality. It is very important in Western Australia and Victoria that community infrastructure be returned. But so much of Queensland was affected by these disasters that we face the real prospect that Queensland will suffer another devastating check to its economic growth. This must not be allowed to happen. The federal government understands that its assistance is required in this instance.

Queensland was already suffering from some checks to its economic growth, partly just through a natural phase of the cycle but also through the effect that the strong Australian dollar had on its tourism industry and other industries. Queensland was just beginning to recover and fight back from that, as well as continuing to build its own state infrastructure to cope with the increasing population and the increasing number of businesses.

Not only is it in the interests of Queensland as a state but it is also in our own interests as a nation that every state in Australia is on a strong economic trajectory. We are not certain that we have recovered from the global financial crisis. There may well be a tail end to that crisis and, if so, it is important that every region of Australia is in the best possible situation to withstand that. The government understands that getting aid into Queensland in the short term is very important. We must get Queensland back on its feet in the shortest time possible.

Despite that and despite understanding that all of Australia should contribute to this recovery, South Australians were alarmed to hear Tony Abbott propose, as part of his budget cuts—which were suggested instead of a levy—a $600 million deferral of water buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin. We have heard from the opposition some scepticism that the levy may not last for only a year. I think there is some scepticism in South Australia that Tony Abbott’s deferral of water buybacks may well turn into a permanent position. Many South Australians remain unconvinced of the Liberal Party’s determination to fix problems in the Murray-Darling water basin. I think that sentiment was reflected in the vote in South Australia at the last federal election.

Tony Abbott’s proposal will, once again, delay action on the Murray River. My understanding, from talking to fellow South Australians, is that they would much prefer a temporary levy to help the affected communities get back on their feet, without taking such actions which cause us to not only stand still but go backwards again. The concern about the opposition’s proposals is that they would, once again, be taking Australia backwards in terms of productivity, innovation and spending on infrastructure. That is the reason I urge the Senate to support these very important bills.