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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 895

Senator ABETZ (10:20 AM) —The coalition fully supports the government in providing federal assistance to the large task of rebuilding our nation after recent natural calamities. Rebuilding is a task to which we are all committed. The government has estimated the bill that the Commonwealth faces at $5.6 billion—that is, $5,600 million—a large sum in anybody’s language.

We cannot and do not seek to question the need or the quantum. Indeed, the need is huge; the task is overwhelming. As Australians all, we are committed to the rebuild. The question before us is: how will we fund the task? That is the only issue in dispute. The coalition believes that there are other sources to fund the rebuild rather than by inflicting a new and further tax on the long-suffering people of Australia.

We believe that a reallocation of priorities should and could fund the reconstruction effort. Labor has agreed to junk many of its disastrous policy thought bubbles, such as cash for clunkers. The simple fact is that with sound, judicious economic management this tax would not be necessary. This tax, designed to raise $1.8 billion—that is, $1,800 million—through 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, could have been obviated if Australians were spared, for example, the pink batts debacle, with its blow-out of over $1,000 million, or if the Australian people were spared the disastrous border protection debacle, which has seen that budget blow out by over $1,000 million as well, or Labor’s green loans scandal, which has seen a blow-out in its budget of a mere $850 million, and the list goes on. We could talk about Fuelwatch and about GroceryWatch, and the list goes on and on, with this government wasting money dollar after dollar, thousands of dollars, millions of dollars—indeed, thousands of millions of dollars after thousands of millions of dollars.

The best fund for disaster reconstruction is what we as a coalition had when we lost office—that is, a budget surplus. That was our policy in government and it remains our policy in opposition. But Labor frittered it away with their cash splashes and policy debacles that make the Whitlam era now look quite responsible. But why a special tax to fund reconstruction? Why did Labor not go to the Australian people and say, ‘We had a $1,000 million blow-out in our pink batts scheme and we therefore need a levy to make up that hole in our budget,’ or, ‘Our border protection policy is such a disaster it has blown out by over $1 billion and we now need a special levy’? Why did Labor not do that? Because they saw the politics of it and they made a judgment that here was an opportunity to raise a tax. Labor see a situation, see an opportunity and, with Pavlovian-like instinct, they start salivating at the prospect of another tax. If you mention student services, Labor think tax; mention carbon, Labor think tax; mention resources, Labor think tax; mention LPG, Labor think tax; and mention a disaster, Labor think tax. Labor will think tax even in circumstances where they have solemnly promised otherwise.

Labor went to the last election specifically promising to lower the tax burden for every Australian business. Labor promised no carbon tax to consumers, but now what are they doing? They are introducing a carbon tax, and on carbon tax Labor have had all the positions. It was the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time.’ Then, Ms Gillard oversaw its unceremonious dumping. She then claimed credit for it and said no carbon tax under her government, which we now know was simply a deception to win the last election. A tax that was no good in August 2010 is now allegedly fundamental to our economic wellbeing six months later. Ms Gillard and Labor have had more political outfits on this than Barbie has dresses.

The simple fact is that tax is in Labor’s DNA—the bigger, the better—and a quick $1.8 billion tax dreamt up overnight on the back of a national disaster exposes their thinking. In my home state of Tasmania it will rip a minimum of $25 million out of our small economy. That is $25 million worth of fewer jobs, less economic activity and less income for small businesses, and that in a state that suffers the double whammy of a Labor-Green state government as well as a Labor-Green federal government. No wonder we suffer the highest unemployment, with a six in front of the unemployment figure, in Tasmania. Labor then tells us that taxes are somehow good for jobs. If that logic were right, one assumes that you could gain full employment in the nation simply by taxation measures. I do not think so. The simple fact is that taxes do cost jobs, and that is why we in the coalition stand very proud of our record as saying that, whilst taxes are necessary, they should be minimised.

In recent times mention has been made of a Newspoll on this issue of the flood tax, and with great respect to Newspoll I think that their introductory sentence to that poll was such that it weighted the answers in a particular way. More interestingly, a more robust poll of 1,000 Tasmanians, 200 in each electorate, has been held in my home state of Tasmania. That poll showed that Tasmanians are strongly against this tax. Tasmanians are and are known as a very generous people, but just as they are generous they are also discerning. They reject this tax, like the coalition, because it is seen as unnecessary and another example of Labor mismanagement and waste. In that poll the Tasmanian people were given the opportunity of indicating their support for the tax proposed by Labor or the coalition alternative, and 48 per cent of Tasmanians supported the coalition alternative to 40 per cent for Labor’s alternative. Interestingly, in the marginal seat of Braddon, 55 per cent of Tasmanians supported the coalition policy in this area. So I completely reject the assertion made by the Labor government that if you somehow oppose this tax you oppose the reconstruction that is required by our country and that somehow generosity is not within your soul and spirit.

Indeed you can make that sort of political jibe across the chamber to the coalition and think you can get away with it, but when the Australian people and the Tasmanian people have spoken so emphatically in a poll rejecting this new tax, I would defy Labor to go back into the marginal seat of Braddon—just as one example—and say that the people of Braddon are mean-spirited. I say to you that the people of Braddon, like the coalition, are discerning and do understand the adverse impact of this legislation and this unnecessary new tax.

I will also refect briefly on the impact that this bill is going to have on charitable giving. Australians opened not only their hearts but also their wallets in relation to this natural disaster. They have now given well over $10 per man, woman and child. These same people are now being told, ‘No matter that you gave, no matter that you gave generously, no matter that you gave voluntarily, we will now from on high from Canberra, by a Labor government, tax you as well.’

Any future charitable fundraising for disasters will now be inhibited because people will rightly wait to see if a tax will be imposed upon them. In this cynical Labor manoeuvre, always seeing an opportunity for a new tax, rushing in, they forgot to ask the fundamental question: what will this do in the future for charitable giving? What Labor has done, I fear, is poison the well of charitable giving in this country. The Australian people are well known for their generosity and they have given in excess of around $220 million to the victims of the natural disasters, and now they are going to be taxed.

So in the future when there is a fire or when there is a flood and the Salvation Army, the Red Cross or a Premier has a public appeal and says, ‘Please give generously,’ people will quite rightly, as a result of Labor’s actions here in this parliament, say: ‘No, I’m not going to give. My household budget might allow me to, let’s say, give $100 to the appeal, but if Labor is going to tax that $100 off me anyway, then I am not going to give to the charity; I will wait for the tax to be imposed.’ I say to Labor and the crossbenchers, even at this late stage: think very carefully about this tax in these circumstances.

We have also had the nonsense put to us time and time again that the coalition introduced levies in relation to certain circumstances. Yes, we did. What were the circumstances? When we came to government, Labor likes to overlook the fact that we had to plug a huge budget deficit and repay $93 billion worth of government debt. The budget and our economy were in a mess. It took us year after year to pay off that debt, and we had a budget plan and a strategy designed to make sure that the budget went into surplus and would continue in surplus. So, when we had disasters such as that at Port Arthur in my home state, we did impose a gun levy, but that was in circumstances where the government coffers were already stretched.

I also make the point that there were no charitable organisations like the Salvation Army, the Australian Red Cross or other organisations saying, ‘Give generously to the appeal to buy back guns.’ Nor when we were confronted with the East Timor situation was there a charitable organisation saying, ‘Give generously to the East Timor fund,’ as there is with this natural disaster. Indeed, with the East Timor levy, because we were managing the budget so well, whilst we passed the levy into law, we never had to collect the moneys because the economic good times that we had planned in fact overtook the need for that.

Similarly, people can talk about a dairy levy or a sugar levy. There were no charitable organisations asking to give generously to dairy farmers or sugar farmers. This particular situation that we are debating today is in a completely different realm because the charitable sector had moved in so quickly, so efficiently, to try to assist. But Labor, through its deliberate tax grab here, has now, I fear, poisoned the well.

The best method of ensuring that you have a natural disaster fund is to have a budget surplus. There is the old saying—and it is now very true, given the events of Queensland—that any prudent management sets aside money for the proverbial rainy day. Queensland had a rainy day and another day and another day—many days of rain—but had they set aside money? No. It seems now that the Queensland state government made a deliberate choice not to insure. Should the people of Queensland suffer as a result of that? Absolutely not. But should the Queensland government be brought to account for noninsurance? Absolutely yes.

Ms Bligh, while she fronted the cameras very well during the disaster—and I have already said publicly in this place that Ms Bligh performed exceptionally well—might now like to front those cameras yet again and explain to the Queensland people why she did not get insurance for her state like Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria have. Prudent management requires you to do such things and the fact that we are now debating a new tax, on top of all the other taxes Labor wants to inflict on us, is an example of both state and federal Labor mismanaging their budgets and mismanaging taxpayers’ money. As a result, they want to inflict greater pain.

I repeat again that the coalition fully supports the huge task that faces this nation in rebuilding after the natural disasters. There is no question from our side that it needs to be done, that it should be done quickly and that moneys should be made available. But when you see the record of this government with the pink batts and border protection—each blowing out their individual budgets by over $1 billion—when you see the green loans scandal costing us $850 million, when you see a couple of tens of millions of dollars wasted on Fuelwatch and GroceryChoice, when you see the waste that continually comes from this government, you ask, ‘Could the budget be reprioritised to avoid this tax?’ We as a coalition emphatically say yes. The funds and the budget can be redistributed. Indeed Mr Hockey and Mr Robb have indicated to the Australian people how that could be done to save the $1.8 billion and, as a result, obviate the need for this tax.

It is very interesting that in the last few days we are seeing how the Greens are driving this government. On the day that $1.8 billion was absolutely essential in relation to the funding of the huge task that we have, the Greens were able to come along and demand a couple of hundred million dollars for this and Mr Wilkie from Denison was able to demand tens of millions of dollars for something else, and all of a sudden we ask, ‘Are we going to increase the levy as a result?’ No, it is not necessary. So one wonders where that extra money is going to come from. To sum up, we in the coalition fully support the reconstruction effort. The money is there. The money should be made available without the extra tax burden being inflicted upon the people of Australia.