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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 944

Mr RIPOLL (5:42 PM) —It is a privilege to have the opportunity to speak on these two very important bills, the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011, which are about rebuilding the national economy, rebuilding Queensland, rebuilding people’s lives and putting some semblance of normality back into what has been an extraordinary summer, not just in Queensland but right across the whole country. Putting in place a flood levy is of critical importance not only to this parliament—and also that we all support it—but to the nation as a whole. It will enable the government to get on with the job of rebuilding not just in Queensland, where we have been devastated by flood and cyclone, but right across the country, giving us more capacity to rebuild in other areas and support communities and people in rebuilding their lives.

This levy is small. It is very small. A $1.8 billion levy, in terms of the magnitude of a Commonwealth budget, is tiny, and it is something that is well supported and understood in the community—although there have been some who have tried to bring about some misconceptions about what this levy actually represents. But it is well understood and it is well supported. It is certainly supported by the Australian Council of Social Service, by the Salvation Army and by AgForce in Queensland. Brent Finlay, the president of AgForce Queensland, said:

… given the enormity of what’s happened, with this natural disaster, anything that can help to get rural and regional Queensland, back up and running, we would support.

Unfortunately, there is one group of people, the coalition—and it is unfortunate, and I will be as kind as I can be—who object to this bill in real terms. If they had any good reasons I would accept it and I would understand, but there is no good reason—none whatsoever. We are talking about a small levy, but it will make an enormous difference.

The 2011 floods have particularly affected Queensland but have affected other states as well. Anyone in the electorates that have been affected will understand just how bad and how profound the damage has been. It is one of Australia’s biggest natural disasters, and many say it is in fact Australia’s biggest natural disaster in economic terms. The Queensland government estimates that up to 500,000 square kilometres was affected by floodwaters, and in my electorate alone there have been thousands of homes and businesses completely inundated by water. Many will not be able to recover either their personal belongings, their homes, their way of life or the way things were. There are businesses that cannot possibly recover from where they were prior to the floods. Even businesses in areas that were not directly affected by flood are finding it difficult as well. There is a massive task for all of us in this place to assist in any way we can. In broad terms, that is what every member of this House has done. I know that from what I have seen in Queensland from all members.

Estimates of the costs of rebuilding in Queensland are enormous, particularly to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has an agreement with the states to cover 75 per cent of the rebuilding cost, which is estimated to be around $5.6 billion, a massive cost. The levy is part of that package. It is designed to meet those costs and help rebuild Australia. For every dollar that we will raise by the levy, $2 will be found in cost savings. We will not do this solely on the back of taxpayers. We will work hard in this place to make the cuts and make the savings so that the taxpayer understands that when they make a contribution, so will we in this place in terms of value for money. We are going to make sure that the projects and the rebuilding effort are done effectively and cost-efficiently and are properly managed and monitored. It is the right way to do it. It is the right thing for any government of any persuasion to do this, and I dare say that, if the roles were reversed and the coalition were in government, they would be putting the same levy forward, perhaps even a greater sized levy. Of course they would.

Not only would they do that, but there would be one stark difference. On this side of the House, we would support it. We would put aside whatever other views we had in the national interest, and I say that with absolute sincerity. It is something I believe in and something I would support. It is something I know my colleagues would support. It is something I know that the Prime Minister, if the roles were reversed, would also support, because we genuinely believe that this is what we ought to be doing as a nation. Australians—right across the whole country, not just those affected in Queensland—have been amazingly generous. We have seen an outpouring of not only courage and goodwill but also generosity. People continue to be generous, including by supporting this levy. Where people have not donated money, they have donated household goods and clothing, not to mention, in some cases, cars, their time, their labour—the list goes on almost endlessly. We will rebuild the roads, the rail lines, the ports, the bridges, the other public facilities—the community infrastructure that is so important—the clubs, the sporting facilities, the things that lift a community and that provide the moral support when people need it the most, particularly now.

The levy that this bill introduces will be a one-off, one-year-only, progressive levy to taxable income in the 2011-12 financial year. It is absolute and specific. It will not continue into the future. It is modest. Individuals with incomes of less than $50,000 will not pay anything. Individuals with a taxable income of between $50,000 and $100,000 will pay only 0.5 per cent—half of one per cent—as part of their taxable income. Obviously, it is progressive upwards from thereon. There will be exemptions, of course. Those who have received a grant or a payment from government because they were affected will not have to pay the levy. In those terms, it is non-discriminatory in the way that it is applied. It is to be applied so as to be fair as possible across the community. Anyone who has been declared as in a disaster zone will not have to pay the levy either. For example, a person earning $60,000 will only pay 96c, less than $1, per week. We are talking about a tin of beans. How could we come into this place and argue over a tin of beans per week when so many people have suffered and we need that contribution to be able to do all of the things that need to be done in the coming financial year? A person earning $80,000 or more per year will pay $2.88 per week: about the price of one cup of coffee a week per year.

As I said when I spoke earlier in this place about the floods, they are a human story. They are about the great courage that all Australians demonstrate, and it makes me truly proud—having just listened to some great contributions from both sides of the House on multiculturalism and what it means to be an Australian—that we continue that great spirit of goodwill right across the board in saying, ‘We can step up, particularly when we talk about something so small.’ My electorate has suffered like yours has, Madam Deputy Speaker D’Ath, and as many others have in Queensland. There was something that I and many others in my community felt it was important to do about five weeks in. For me, that was on Sunday just passed, and it was to hold, as many others have done, a ‘thank you’ barbecue and a concert. It got a bit larger than we had anticipated, and it became a full-blown event and concert with one objective in mind, and that was to thank all the people who helped, to thank the flood victims for what they have done and to get people back together and make sure they understood that, while the cleaners have gone home, while the mud has been washed off the streets, while the big trucks have picked up all the rubbish and while they are sitting, looking at their empty houses which are stripped of walls, ceilings and being liveable, we have not forgotten. There are still people there and they will continue to help them to rebuild.

I want to take this opportunity, in support of the levy, to say a big thank you to a number of people who I think have just been great to volunteer their time. I particularly thank Carol Lloyd, who gave of her time and performed at the concert; the Leaping Lizards; Matt Hollywood; The Volcanics; Denise Drysdale and Ernie Sigley; Nicole Blair; Cash Backman; and the Australian Army Band, a fabulous band which played with Normie Rowe and were just wonderful. The Australian Army Band also played with Rhonda Burchmore, a wonderful performer. I also thank Danny McMaster and friends; Normie Rowe, as I said before; Tony Worsley and the Crawdads; The Wolverines; and so many wonderful partners who we had putting on this free concert. It was really nice to see these great Australians give of their time. There are so many people to thank that I cannot thank them all in the short time I have. I did want to say a special thanks to John Preston and Mal from JPSE Entertainment, to the Goodna RSL, to the Ipswich City Council, to the state government and to Anna Bligh, the Premier of Queensland, who came along on what was a very, very hot day. It was 37 degrees in the shade and about 100 per cent humidity, but people came out and they really enjoyed what was on offer. I also thank all of those fantastic people who donated so many goods, products and things for the day. What that demonstrated to me was that people who had already given so much and already done so much could give even more. That is the great strength of this place, and this parliament should support the tax levy for what it is for: to help rebuild this country.