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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Bundaberg, Qld: 21 January 2011: Queensland floods; Coalition’s proposed tax assistance for flood-affected small business; aged care

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21 January 2011



Subjects: Queensland floods; Coalition’s proposed tax assistance for flood-affected small business; aged care.



I’m here in Bundaberg with Paul Neville, the local member and also with Warren Truss, the leader of the National Party and member for Wide Bay, the neighbouring electorate. Plainly, small business has been smashed by these floods and this morning Warren and I have heard heartbreaking tales of just what kind of damage small business has suffered and just what kind of expense small business is going to have to go to to get itself back on its feet. Small business needs help and it needs help now and if the help doesn’t come now lots and lots of businesses, including businesses such as this which are absolutely critical to the survival of the fishing industry in this part of Queensland simply won’t survive.

I am calling today for the Government to offer a three month GST and PAYG tax holiday to flood impacted small businesses. This will effectively give small business an interest free loan for this period when their cash flow is damaged and when in many cases their records have been damaged and even destroyed.

I’m also calling on the Government to provide a waiver of penalties, penalty interest for businesses that do not accurately estimate their tax liability, again because it’s just almost impossible to say what business conditions are going to be like at this time because of the damage that the floods have caused. I think it’s urgent that the Government act to sustain small business. You can’t have a community without an economy and you can’t have an economy without a dynamic small business sector. If the Government is serious about sustaining communities, if the Government is serious about sustaining jobs, if the Government is serious about keeping the fishing industry going, an industry which has

suffered a lot in recent years, it needs to do more. That’s why I am saying that we should have this tax holiday for flood impacted small businesses.

If I could just now say in respect of the, well, I should add that instead of a tax holiday, all we’ve had so far from this Government is the threat of new taxes. Last night the Prime Minister said that it was all but inevitable that we would face a flood tax. Now, this is a bit rich from a government which is already hitting us with a carbon tax, a mining tax and now they want to add a flood tax on top of that and my message to the Government is that Australians have suffered enough already and they don’t need to suffer yet another new tax from a government addicted to taxing and spending, very often wasteful spending.

Now, if I could just say about the Productivity Commission report on aged care, I welcome the report. The report will be closely studied by the Coalition but one thing that the report clearly does, it demonstrates what the Coalition has been saying for months now. The aged care sector is a sector in crisis because it has been neglected for far too long by the Rudd-Gillard Government.

So Warren, if you’d just like to say something?


Well, when we visit sites like this it makes it abundantly clear that a key part of the flood recovery is to get business back operating as quickly as possible. This is where the jobs are created. This is where the wealth and the income for a community is created and we must have our businesses trading again as quickly as possible. Businesses will need significant support for that to happen. Maritime industries, fishing and the like, by their very nature must be located on the riverbanks or at sea level and so they are especially vulnerable in flood time and particular effort is going to be necessary to get the fishing industry back working again, its processing facilities, its capacity to freeze and export, all of that sort of thing is critical for the local economy but also to get our export income working again and our nation trading profitably.

So, the measures that Tony’s announced today are important but the Government will also need to look at other ways in which it can support industries in flood affected areas to get them trading profitably again and frankly, a new tax will not make any industry trade profitably. A new tax will be a further burden for industries to bear while they’re trying to restore themselves from the flood and to get back working again. What they don’t want from a government is yet another new tax. They want practical assistance. Good governments put aside for occasions when there are disasters. They put money aside that can be used to help in circumstances like this. This Government’s only solution seems to be yet another new tax.




I would just like to endorse what the Leader of the Opposition has called for today and that is to give small business a honeymoon from all the various charges, tax charges, GST charges, because the big thing that small businesses are telling us is that they have huge cash flow

problems and the second message if I’ve got one for the Government is this. You have grants out there, you have loans out there, but it is critical that they be out in the public early. This stretch of the river where we are today has got slipways, marinas, fish processing, trawlers, people who work on trawlers, people who work in the processing of food, chandleries and the like. It is all part of a continuum and you can’t pull one component out and have the rest continue. So, what you’ve got to do is make sure that all those small businesses in that sector are provided with assistance and assistance early. We cannot have a repeat of what happened back in February last year, 2010, when we had another rain circumstance here and councils of Bundaberg and North Burnett were granted money. That money is only just starting to flow now, 11 months later. We cannot wait another 11 months for these industries in the river to be assisted, for farmers and small crop growers to be assisted and for the councils to get their money to start working on roads, culverts that are washed out, bridges that are gone. This work needs to start soon.


Ok, any questions?


Tony, why has it taken you so long to visit Bundaberg? The worst of the floods have been over for weeks.


Ah look, I’ve been visiting a lot of flood affected areas. I promised Paul that I would be back here at the time when people would be a bit neglected and I think that it is pretty obvious that the time to be really focusing on the problems of places like Bundaberg is now because the immediate adrenalin surge of dealing with disaster has passed, the clean-up is largely over, but there is still the heartbreaking and backbreaking task of rebuilding businesses, restoring infrastructure. So, I think now is a very appropriate time to be visiting Bundaberg.


The Howard Government introduce levies while they were in Parliament, the gun buyback scheme and that for Ansett workers. Why can’t Julia Gillard?


There’s a world of difference between the Howard Government, which ran a tight budget in a strong economy and the Rudd-Gillard Government which is completely incapable of managing money. Now, the Howard Government had levies because they were necessary. This levy is completely unnecessary and let’s not forget that this is the third new tax that this Government is proposing this year. They want the mining tax, they want the carbon tax, now they want on top of this a flood tax and it just proves that this is a Government that cannot be trusted with public money and that’s a very sad situation for Australia to be in right now when we really need a Government that is capable of delivering effective and timely spending programmes for communities in trouble including this one right here in Queensland.


Would a flood levy need to go through Parliament and if it did would you oppose it?


Well, as I said, we are totally opposed to the great big new taxes to which this Government is so sadly addicted. People need to understand that this Government’s first instinct when it sees a problem is to create a tax and what they want for the Australian people this year is a carbon tax, a mining tax and now they’re talking about a flood tax.

Now, I think that the people of Australia have suffered enough right now. We don’t need to suffer another new tax from the Gillard Government.


The Nationals have suggested a flood pool and levying rate payers. How is that different?


I think that there will be a lot of lessons to be drawn from recent events. Obviously we’ve got to look at planning, we’ve got to look at the sorts of warnings which people are given at times like this. We’ve got to look, very importantly, at the place that dams can play, not just in storing water but in mitigating floods and also we’ve got to look at insurance. I think there’s no doubt that we will have to look at this whole question of insurance as part of studying these problems and learning the appropriate lessons from this unprecedented flood disaster but the last thing we need is yet another new tax. That’s all we seem to get from this Government, misdirected spending and big new taxes.


So Tony what can you offer us in Wide Bay to help us get back on our feet?


Well, as I said, what I am calling on today is a government that rather than threatening business and people with a great big new tax, offers small business a tax holiday when it has deep cash flow problems and needs the money to get back on its feet. So, that’s what I want to offer the people of Wide Bay and Australia, a tax holiday for flood-impacted small business so that small business can get back on its feet, so that the jobs in small business can be preserved and the economic dynamism of regional communities can be preserved.


There are low interest loans available through the National Disaster Relief arrangements. Will they not be enough?


Two comments. First of all, the low interest loans are limited to $250, 000 and I note that after Cyclone Larry under the Howard Government it was possible to get low interest loans

up to $500,000 and I think the Government should urgently look at extending the upper limit of these loans to the $500,000 that was possible under Cyclone Larry recovery programmes.

The second point I make is that these loans are not easy to get. There seems to be quite a lot of paper work, quite a lot of bureaucracy associated with them. The money needs to flow now. If the money doesn’t flow now these businesses won’t survive and I would urge the Government to ensure that the bureaucracy is cut down, that the red tape is scrapped and these loans flow swiftly to the people who need them.


If you are objecting to the flood tax and want to increase these loans and grants and want small business tax relief, how’s the Government going to pay for it?


Well, I’m not talking about the permanent loss of revenue. I’m talking about a deferral of revenue and I think that just as the Government is calling on bankers and insurers to be constructive and cooperative and generous, I think government itself has to act in the same spirit of constructive cooperation with small business.