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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 883

Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (1:14 PM) —Natural disasters confront Australia and other countries from time to time. In every budget, governments put aside money so that they can undertake their core responsibilities to repair damage after a disaster and to make sure that our economy returns to normal as soon as possible. We have found now that this government actually reduced the amount put aside in the contingency reserve for disasters in its last budget. It has reduced the amount, in spite of the fact that it spent around half a billion dollars last year on recovery from natural disasters, in this year’s budget to just $80 million. Is it any surprise therefore that when the government is called upon to undertake one of its core responsibilities of government—namely, to repair damage after natural disasters—there is no money left in the tin?

This government has been spending the taxpayers’ money, spending the birthright it inherited from the previous government, wasting money on infamous programs like Building the Education Revolution and the Home Insulation Program, wasting money that could have been put aside and could have been ready to fund the government’s core responsibilities in dealing with the cyclones and the flooding we have just experienced. That money has been wasted. Indeed, this government has wasted something like six or seven times the amount of money that it is collecting through this new tax in the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 through its various programs over recent times. If it had saved its money, if it had been prudent managers, it would not have needed a new tax like this to undertake these key responsibilities.

We have had a significant flood. Senator Brown has told us that it is all the fault of the coalminers. Of course, I do not know who was to blame for the floods we had in the 1890s or in the 1950s. The coalminers were not around then, but Senator Brown—who is, after all, the partner in government with the Labor Party—says it is the coalminers that caused this flood. Not many years ago he was saying the coalminers caused the drought. So our coalminers are very versatile. Then, of course, he changes his tune to some extent and says that it is all about climate change; we are having more dramatic events now than we have had in the past. I do not even think the facts support that kind of a claim.

The reality is we have had very significant flooding in parts of Australia in the past. Even though these floods were serious in my own area and in others, the reality is that there are not a lot of places where this was the biggest flooding on record. There were some notable cases, but in many other instances like Brisbane and Rockhampton there have been floods of equal magnitude in the past. So even to suggest that somehow or other climate change is resulting in us having more droughts or more floods is not really supported by the evidence. The reality is that this is something that governments need to plan for. We have had disasters in the past; we will have them in the future. Good governments put aside in the good times so that there is money there when the rainy day comes. Of course, this time the rainy day came in abundance.

So we are going to have a new tax, coming at the same time Labor is proposing a new carbon tax, a supertax on mining, new taxes on alternative fuels, a new tax on LPG and, today even, new taxes on transport. This government is on a taxation binge. It is always looking for new ways to raise a tax and, wow, we have now had a disaster, a flood that has touched the heart of all Australians, so we will have a new tax especially for this flood and the disaster response.

The government have told us they were going to raise $1.8 billion from this tax. The total federal budget is around $350 billion, so surely a good prudent government could find $1.8 billion to spend on this core responsibility of government without having to raise a new tax. It has $350 billion available and at its disposable every year. We need to ask some serious questions about how much this tax will actually raise. The government, when they announced it, said they are going to collect $1.8 billion, but the Treasurer, in question time, could not tell us how many people were going to pay it. How could they possibly know how much it was going to raise if they did not know how many people were going to pay it?

After the announcement of the tax and after we were told it was going to raise $1.8 billion, several hundred thousand extra taxpayers were exempt from having to make the payment—the cyclone victims are now also excluded from making the payment—but there was no downward adjustment in the amount of money the government intends to collect. Was the figure rubbery in the first place or is it wrong today? In addition to that, to get the Independents to vote for this levy, the government had to give a 320-odd million dollar bribe to the Greens and a $50 million bribe to somebody else. The reality therefore is that the savings that the government had put in place are not there. So all of the numbers surrounding this tax, this new imposition on Australian people, are at best rubbery but almost certainly wrong. The government does not know how many people are going to pay this tax. Therefore, how can it possibly know how much it is going to collect?

It is interesting—and I made some reference to this during the adjournment debate last night—that the government is making a $1,000 payment to people affected by the disaster. I estimate that on the eligibility criteria, which means that everybody that was without electricity for 48 hours and everybody that could not get in or out of their home, suburb or town for 24 hours qualifies, at least two million Australians qualify for this $1,000 payment. Many people were embarrassed that they were being offered $1,000 cash when in fact the flood had caused very little inconvenience to them. It had not cost them any extra money and they were still able to get to the shops but they were eligible for this $1,000 payment. So many people did not take it. I even heard the Treasurer say that he ‘hoped’ that people who were without electricity for 48 hours and that was their only problem would not claim this $1,000, but his guidelines said they were entitled to it.

Many people did not bother to claim. However, when the government then said that everybody who gets the $1,000 will not have to pay the tax, why wouldn’t everyone make the claim that they are entitled to? Not only in their goodwill did they turn down $1,000 now they are inviting themselves to be levied a new tax. If the government were at all sincere, they would be grateful to the people who did not claim the $1,000 and not charge them this tax.

What about the people who not only did not accept the $1,000 that they were entitled to but actually made donations to the appeal? Some of them gave very substantial donations to the appeal. They have given already and now the government is going to tax them. They have provided their own equipment and their own personal time. They did not take the welfare payments that the federal government offered them and their reward for that is higher taxes. Tax the people who did the right thing—what sort of logic has this government got?

The reality is that there are thousands of Australians who did the right thing. They did not take the social security payments they were entitled to; they donated to the Premier’s fund—most of which has not yet been distributed. They did all of these things and now their reward for that is a new tax from a government that simply does not care.

It is important that we deliver the kind of rebuilding that is necessary in these difficult times. We have to get business working, we have to provide services, we have to restore housing and we have to rebuild infrastructure. The coalition has a plan to do all of that without a new tax as governments have always done in the past. There was no special tax for Cyclone Tracy, no special tax for Cyclone Larry, no special tax for the 10-year drought—governments just got on with the job and did it. But of course this Labor government is not capable of managing its affairs and, in reality, nothing much is going to happen.

We need to get on with the business of making the repairs. There are important things that need to be done. We certainly need to be continuing to upgrade our highways, but one of the government’s cuts has been to axe four projects on the Bruce Highway which would have mitigated flooding. In other words, when looking for cuts they are actually removing projects from the budget which would have helped us to endure this kind of situation in the future.

Let me say also—and I think this is very important—in February and March 2010 there was some significant flooding in Queensland and New South Wales. It has taken 10 months for the government to give approval for the repair works to commence on that flood damage. Only now are councils getting the approval to undertake permanent repair work for damage done in the 2010 floods. Are we going to have to wait 10, 11 or 12 months for this government to approve repair works on this occasion? The record says the state and federal governments argued, one with the other, and these repair jobs were left undone. We need better performance from the government when it comes to repairs this time round.

We need to deal with issues like confusion about insurance cover. The government assistance programs need to be reviewed and be consistent. The benefits provided during Cyclone Larry for welfare were much more generous. The benefits provided to small business are less generous in areas where flooding has occurred and there is no justification for that.

Then we need to deal with those areas that have exceptional circumstances drought assistance whose assistance is to be terminated next month. No government that cares about people could possibly terminate assistance at a time like this. These people’s recovery has been stalled and halted by the flooding and those EC declarations need to be extended. There are other areas that have had exceptional circumstances, some for six, eight or 10 years. This is a cruel time to take away that level of assistance.

The government must act in those areas and be generous with its recovery effort. It must be prompt, it must give approvals quickly so that people can get on with the job of doing the repairs and it must remember those people who have been suffering from drought and other problems over the last 10 years in determining the level of assistance to be provided in the future. All of this can be done without a tax. It does not need a new tax. Governments in the past have done their job and done it well without introducing special taxes and this government should do the same.