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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 888

Mr MORRISON (1:37 PM) —I rise to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011. It is eerie debating this legislation when we see what is happening over in Christchurch today. Having lived in Wellington, New Zealand, for a few years I know what you go through living in a city like that and always being aware of the possibility of this type of incident. My heart goes out to those in Christchurch today; they are suffering. We think of our Kiwi brothers and sisters and I am sure we will be there to do everything we can for them in the true Anzac spirit. Similarly, the coalition joins with the government in saying that we need to rebuild not just in Queensland but wherever we have had flood, tempest and fire. These things have not damaged our character and they have not lessened our resolve. As with all of these things we come into this place and say, ‘Let’s rebuild.’

There should be no suggestion that people on that side of the House or this side of the House have any disagreement about the issue of rebuilding and standing shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Australians around this country as we undergo that task. The difference of view that occurs here is about how we fund that and how we go about that. It raises some very important questions for this parliament and for the government in how it seeks to go about governing this country. The coalition is making some very important points here in taking the decision to say, ‘Spend the money to rebuild but do not put a levy on Australians to do it.’ Why not? Because it is not necessary to do so.

This levy has been referred to by those on the other side as the ‘mateship tax’. I know that this government is quite keen to nationalise all sorts of things, including telecommunications, but there is one thing it cannot nationalise, and that is mateship. You cannot nationalise something that is endemic to, and within the spirit of, all Australians, no matter where they have come from; you cannot appropriate that for a national tax. I think this is ordinary, because Australians are a generous people. Australians have responded time and again to these crises. And we have seen far too many of these crises. We have seen far too many floods, far too many fires, far too many cyclones and tempests, and they have always brought out the best from Australians in their response. And that is not just when those tempests and things have been in this nation. Who will ever forget the generous response of Australians to the tsunami that swept across nations all around the Indian Ocean? That was an extraordinarily generous response from Australians. That is the normal response of Australians.

As my colleague and good friend the member for North Sydney, the shadow Treasurer, said, when the government seeks to appropriate the sentiment of mateship with these types of initiatives and have it legislated in a tax, that goes beyond what Australians think is a good thing. I think it is not a fair dinkum thing for a government to take that sentiment and tell Australians, ‘You know, next time something like this happens, just be aware that you’ll probably get taxed on it as well.’ We have heard this from charities and others all around the country. They are saying, ‘We all want to help but we are little worried that, with what the government has done, in the future, when we really need people to put their hands in their pockets and turn up and provide support through the community and voluntary organisations which are the heart of this country, they will say, “I don’t know if I can afford to do it, because maybe the government is going to hit me with a tax’’’.

I do not think the government has thought this through in terms of the impact on the philanthropic nature of people in this country. That is why it is important that, when things like this happen, the government has to look inwards at its own spending, its own programs and its own capacity to fund these types of initiatives and make the decisions that are necessary to do it. The Prime Minister herself said this is what she was going to do. Those were her own words. But then she decided not to and to go the soft option and put a levy on her fellow Australians for something she was not prepared to do—get her own spending under control. There is an important principle here. We do not think the inherent principle of mateship in the Australian people should be nationalised and appropriated by this government and called a mateship tax. That is not what it should be about.

Secondly, throughout the course of this debate I have heard those opposite talk about the levies that have been introduced before, and I heard the shadow Treasurer remind them that this one measure alone is worth three times the annual amount raised in previous levies, with the exception of the Medicare levy. I think that puts it into some perspective. But here is another thing to put it into perspective: when I talk to people out in the community they tell me that this government has not earned the right to put this sort of call on the Australian people. Why? Because they have not controlled their own spending. Because they have not done the hard things in their own administration of taxpayers’ money to give them the right to impose a levy and to give them the credibility that former Prime Minister John Howard and former Treasurer Peter Costello had. The Australian people knew that the former coalition government was doing everything it could to deliver surplus after surplus after surplus, to spend taxpayers’ money wisely and to ensure that they did all the hard things that have to be done before taking a decision such as this.

The Australian people have no confidence in this government when it comes to these matters—absolutely none. This is a government that has set new records for deficits. This is a government that is taking us back to the road of high levels of debt. This is a government that is going down the low road of tax, whether it is a flood levy, a carbon tax or a mining tax. Whether it is any of these things, this is a government that would rather tax more than spend less.

That is a fundamental question confronting governments all around the world. In the United States they are confronting this issue in their parliamentary equivalent as we speak here today. They have to make decisions about their budget. Let us hope they make good decisions, because the decisions that are taken in the United States congress and Senate, and by their President, will have implications all around the globe in terms of their fiscal position.

But let us not go down that road that they have been down. Let us make sure that we stand in this place and say, ‘This government cannot go to the Australian people and ask for a levy until they have done all they can to restrain their own spending.’ Much has been spent in the last few years. Much of it has been spent, according to the government, in the name of jobs and all number of other things. But the Australian people just do not buy it, because they have seen the waste, the mismanagement, the rorts and the consequences of this government’s failed programs and failed expenditure. They are saying, ‘Why can’t this government get its act together on spending rather than tax us?’ That is fundamentally what this debate is about. The government is saying, ‘We are coming back for more and we want it now.’ The coalition is saying, ‘You need to get your house in order. You need to make decisions about your own expenditure and you need not to lean heavily on the Australian people when it comes to taxation.’

We have a government with serial deficits and serial debt and with policies failing from one end of the portfolio spectrum to the other. This is no less so in my portfolio, where this government has asked for $290 million extra this year alone. That $290 million, combined with the $1.5 billion they are likely to overspend in the next three years if spending stays at the same level, would pay for the full cost of this levy. But they do not change their policies and they do not change their spending. They do not make any of the hard decisions necessary to avoid the consequence of yet another tax on the Australian people. They go back out there and seek to wash away their failed administration in the name of mateship and a mateship tax.

This is a government—under Labor at a state and federal level—that has taken the art of spin to levels unimaginable in this country. Soon, the voters of New South Wales will deliver their verdict on this. I can only say that what I am seeing of this federal government is the New South Wales state government on fast forward. What I have seen in New South Wales over 16 years I have seen almost all of here in just the short period of time this government has been in office. So we stand here and say, ‘Stop the taxes, get your spending under control and get your house in order and then the Australian people might take you seriously.’