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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 948

Mr LYONS (6:00 PM) —I rise on this occasion to add my remarks on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011. As floods ravaged Queensland, the nation looked on in horror. We were all searching our hearts for a way to help. Many individuals and businesses donated money. Others, closer to the event, volunteered their time with mop, broom or backhoe to help clean up the mess. As a government, we have much to do to assist in rebuilding Queensland. Prime Minister Gillard has confirmed that we will meet our commitment to the last cent.

We must support our fellow Australians as we rebuild our nation from this unprecedented disaster—a disaster which requires unprecedented action and absolute commitment by this parliament. The Labor government has acted quickly to look at how we are going to fund the rebuilding of Queensland. Rebuilding infrastructure is costly, and we need to make sure we get value for money. I was pleased to hear Prime Minister Gillard outline the mechanisms put in place to ensure that we do.

The reconstruction task is going to take a lot of time and a lot of dollars. Initial estimates put the cost at close to $5.6 billion. We will meet the cost through $2 worth of saving for every dollar of this levy. This is responsible economic management. The costs are being met by spending cuts of $2.8 billion and by delaying infrastructure projects of $1 billion, which will meet two-thirds of the cost. The remainder is met through the one-off levy of $1.8 billion. I stress that the one-off levy will apply for the 2011-12 income year only and will apply to all taxpayers with a taxable income of $50,001 or higher. It will mean $1.74 per week for a taxpayer on average full-time adult earnings of $68,125 per annum. The flood levy is progressive. As you would be aware, the levy will be paid at a rate of ½ per cent for taxable income between $50,001 and $100,000. A rate of one per cent will apply to taxable income of $100,001 or more.

The feedback I have had in my electorate of Bass on this issue is that we should do whatever we have to to support our fellow Australians. Those affected directly by the floods will not have to pay this levy. As Prime Minister Gillard said in the second reading speech on this bill:

This is not just a routine piece of legislation, not just a package of measures to restore bridges and roads, but an expression of goodwill between Australians.

In my local community, far removed from the floods, many were concerned for families and friends who lived in Queensland. We watched on television the frightening footage of cars being washed down roads, community facilities being destroyed, farmers losing crops and families losing their homes. I am proud to say in this House today that my local community, the electorate of Bass, banded together very quickly to do our bit to raise money—people like Danny Gibson, full of enthusiasm, organising a fundraiser which raised $50,000. Local businesses demonstrated their support—businesses such as the Tailrace Centre, Coyote Entertainment, the Examiner newspaper, ABC Tasmania, Southern Cross Television, LAFM radio, J Boag and Son, Tamar Ridge Estates and Theatre North.

Another local star I want to point out is Wendy Summers, the Westpac Launceston branch manager. With her team, including Brooke Johnson and Tony Manson, she cooked up a storm, barbecuing sausages outside the Westpac branch in Launceston to raise money for the floods. I was most impressed to hear that Westpac matched the money raised dollar for dollar. I was happy to don an apron to help out at this event. Next Friday evening there will be a football match organised by the Rocherlea Football Club to raise funds for the ongoing effort in support of disaster relief. I take this opportunity to invite everyone who has the chance to attend this fundraiser, commencing at 6 pm at the Rocherlea Football Ground. There are examples like this all over the country. Each dollar raised is an expression of shared concern—a true expression of mateship. Do you think people would donate money to build roads? No. But will Australians donate to help people get back into their homes? Yes.

The legislative instruments to accompany the bills will ensure that those individual taxpayers who have been affected by a natural disaster in 2010-11 will be exempt from the flood levy. I also point out that the levy will impose only a modest charge on taxpayers. For most Australians it is less than the cost of a takeaway cup of coffee.

To the critics of this levy I say: this is not the first levy to be introduced by a government. It may not be the last, because sometimes unexpected events occur when money is needed quickly for the greater good. Levies that come to mind are the firearms buyback levy, the stevedoring levy, the Ansett levy, the sugar industry levy, the dairy industry levy and the aircraft noise levy—and do not forget the chicken levy. My view is that none of these levies introduced by those opposite were as important as the repair of infrastructure required as a result of these natural disasters. As Anna Bligh, the Queensland Premier, said of this levy:

… as a nation we have come together in the past to help out the milk industry, the sugar industry, the workers of Ansett and to buy back guns after the Port Arthur tragedy. I think the people of Queensland are at least as important as all of those other levies in the past.

Paying for the reconstruction as we go is the right thing to do. As we have heard our Prime Minister say, ‘The impacts of the floods have been devastating, but they haven’t altered the long-term fundamentals of our economy or the long-term challenges we face.’ We still have an economy that is testing the limits of our capacity, we still face the challenges of meeting our skill needs across the economy and we still need to attend to our infrastructure constraints over time.

The task of rebuilding after the floods will mean added demands on our capacity, skills and resources. That is why we have made room in the budget through spending cuts and a temporary levy to fund the rebuild. We are a government that is solving problems now as well as preparing for the future. That is why we have made room for the reconstruction work by deferring some infrastructure projects temporarily.

The Gillard Labor government are preparing for Australia’s future. We will not starve Australia of infrastructure like those opposite. We are about creating jobs and advancing our nation, not taxing through the nose and delivering huge budget surpluses at the expense of building much-needed infrastructure. The Labor government are trying to make up for 11 years of infrastructure neglect.

Those opposite were a high-taxing government, boasting about huge budget surpluses, but they did not have the foresight or desire to invest in Australia through infrastructure. That is why we needed plans like the BER projects and the National Broadband Network. We need to invest in our schools because our children are our nation’s future.

Those opposite also need to come to grips with the fact that we need the NBN; it is an investment, not a cost. Tony Abbott said last year that the NBN would be the ‘first to go’ if the coalition was returned to office. We cannot sit back and be left in the ashes of technology by other nations; we should be at the forefront. Those opposite are a risk to our nation. Senator Conroy understands the importance of the NBN:

The NBN is crucial economic infrastructure. Without it, Australian companies will not be able compete with the likes of Japan, Korea or Singapore.

Many of those sitting opposite today were key players in the highest-taxing government in Australia’s history: the Howard coalition government. They were the highest-taxing government in our history. They held government when the world was experiencing high economic growth. Yet despite this flourishing global economy, they actually achieved very little. But that does not stop them from espousing their beliefs that they were good economic managers. They overtaxed, spent little on infrastructure and introduced so many levies, but they still will not support the rebuild of Australia.

Many of those opposite have been very strong critics of this levy. I am concerned for the morals of those opposite who were actively trying to raise party funds to oppose this levy whilst Australians were donating their hard earned dollars to the victims in the floods.

The Liberals were hooked on tax. They were happy to tax Australian working families so they could have big budget surpluses. They wasted the opportunity of a robust world economy and failed to provide Australia with the infrastructure needed for our nation’s future. In 2006 they actually cancelled insurance on Commonwealth public assets to achieve a budget surplus.

The flood levy will go towards a multibillion-dollar package to rebuild bridges, roads, rail lines and schools that have been damaged as the result of natural disasters. I urge this parliament to support this levy. We need to rebuild Australia and we need to rebuild the vital infrastructure to support our fellow Australians.

Lastly, I take this opportunity to say to the people of Queensland that the Australian Labor government will not let them down. I support this bill.