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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 951

Mr HARTSUYKER (6:11 PM) —I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the related bill, because the Gillard government’s flood levy goes to the heart of Labor’s economic mismanagement.

Labor treasurers all seem to work from the same manual. Chapter 1 calls for a new tax every time the public starts to get concerned about the budget. The only difference between this and other Labor taxes is that the Prime Minister will try to sell this one as a mateship tax. Australians are always willing to help out a mate in trouble, but we help because it is the right thing to do, not because a politician has made mateship mandatory.

Queensland must be rebuilt; eastern Australia must be rebuilt. The Commonwealth has a role to play in this very important reconstruction task. However, the Gillard government’s decision to partly fund the reconstruction through a new tax is the action of a lazy and irresponsible government.

Australians pay tax with the expectation that the government will carefully manage the national budget, just as millions of Australians right around the country carefully manage their household budgets. When unexpected expenses pop up for Australian families, they have to re-evaluate their budgets and cut down on unnecessary expenses until things are back on track. It is no different at a national level.

The natural disasters in Queensland and on the east coast of Australia have certainly put pressure on the federal budget. But instead of cutting back on expenses, the first option for this government—the first part out of the Labor management book—was to introduce a new tax. Even before the Prime Minister had released any details of savings measures, and before Cyclone Yasi had hit in North Queensland, the Prime Minister was already out talking about a new levy.

The Leader of the Opposition even offered to work with the government in a bipartisan way to find the spending cuts necessary to rebuild Queensland and eastern Australia without the need for a new tax. What happened to this offer? It was rejected by this government. The government has announced some savings measures; however, many of the programs cut by the government were already well known as inefficient and wasteful. In many respects, the government was using the opportunity to get rid of some deadwood policies. So they were hardly tough decisions. And in the past few days we have seen that the government has even reversed some of these cuts in order to secure support from the Greens and the independents. The Australian public is entitled to ask what other deals the government has done in order to secure the future of this new tax.

By contrast, the coalition have made tough calls. We have outlined more than $2 billion in savings over the forward estimates which would eliminate the need for this new tax. We have made the difficult decisions. Some of our proposed cuts have been unpopular, but we have demonstrated that we can make hard decisions, unlike this government. If the government was serious about finding savings to pay for rebuilding Queensland, the first place it would look would be the National Broadband Network—a $50 billion white elephant that we cannot afford; a program that could be delivered more efficiently and effectively at a lower cost without the huge levels of waste that are going to be paid for by the Australian taxpayer. Queenslanders who are driving on washed-out roads, across damaged bridges and through devastated towns are more concerned about getting those problems addressed first before we look at increasing the speed that we can download videos. They want things fixed. On the other hand, the government is searching for a political fix.

It is interesting to note that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics heard that introducing a new tax to pay for disaster reconstruction is the least preferred policy response. Professor Warwick McKibbin told the committee:

I think that in the case of a disaster it is almost uniformly accepted by economists, in principle, that a tax is not the best way to fund it.

I will repeat that: ‘a tax is not the best way to fund it’.

Mr Craig Thomson —So is your position to increase debt?

Mr HARTSUYKER —It is also reasonable to point out that the government would not need to introduce this new tax if it had not wasted so much money, and let us just chronicle those for a moment. We would not need this flood levy if we had not wasted all that money on pink batts. I don’t hear you speaking now. What about all the waste on pink batts?

Mr Craig Thomson interjecting

Mr HARTSUYKER —We would not need to impose this levy if you had not wasted all that money on the BER. What about the BER? We would not have had to impose this levy if you had not paid double the cost for building school buildings.

Ms Plibersek interjecting

Mr HARTSUYKER —We certainly do not oppose investing in schools, but we certainly oppose paying twice the cost to build school buildings. We certainly oppose paying $5,000 a square metre for some slap-up demountables. They saw you coming! The contractors saw you coming and you paid through the nose. Demountable sheds at the price of palaces—that is what we got from this government. That is why we are having to pay this flood levy.

Ms Plibersek —Madam Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I ask the member, if he is going to make claims about school buildings in his own electorate, whether he would name those schools and mention whether he has reported them to the BER task force.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs D’Ath)—That is not a point of order. I ask the member for Cowper to resume.

Mr HARTSUYKER —I will just say that I have reported those to the BER task force.

Ms Plibersek —Which are they?

Mr HARTSUYKER —Stuarts Point is one. Scotts Head is another. Massive overexpenditure: nearly a million dollars for a shed. Willawarrin is another. Corindi is another. I will speak to the good member after, and I will continue my contribution to this debate.

We have always had to face the prospect of natural disasters. Dorothea Mackellar wrote of ‘droughts and flooding rains’—but she left one out. It is droughts and flooding rains and higher taxes under Labor to pay for it. Governments have to be prepared to pay for such contingencies, and the best way to deal with natural disasters is not with a flood levy; it is to run a surplus. That is what is missing from the mindset of this government: running a surplus. Since coming to power this government has not delivered a surplus, and has very little prospect of delivering a surplus. It certainly scores a B-minus for economic management.

I would also like to reflect on the way that my electorate was treated when it was hit by a declared natural disaster in March 2009. Did my electorate get assistance for the floods of 31 March 2009? No, it did not. Despite it being a natural disaster, your government turned its back on the people of Coffs Harbour in their hour of need. You did not provide them with a Centrelink emergency disaster recovery payment, which is being provided just about everywhere across the country. They were denied that assistance by a government that is out of touch. Now you are going to expect those same people who were denied a Centrelink emergency disaster recovery payment to pay the flood levy. It is absolutely outrageous that you denied assistance to one cohort of people who suffered from a catastrophic flood, a more than one-in-100 year event, but now you are quite happy to whack them with a flood levy. I have to tell you that is not going down well on the streets of Coffs Harbour. They have no problem with paying a flood levy to help people, but in their hour of need they were denied the sort of assistance that has been offered to others. They got 400 millimetres of rain in some areas, and apparently it was not a big enough disaster. Hundreds of houses were inundated, but it was not a big enough disaster. Hundreds of businesses were inundated, but no Centrelink disaster recovery payments were made.

One of the real concerns of Australian people about this flood levy is the issue of how wisely the money would be spent. This government has form on waste and mismanagement, and we have chronicled just a few. We have talked about the BER and about the pink batts program. Let’s not even venture towards the Green Loans program—another little chestnut. People are rightly sceptical about this government’s ability to deliver programs effectively and efficiently. And what did the government do to try and restore some credibility? They called in a Liberal, John Fahey. So devoid of economic credibility were they that they did not call in Penny Wong to ensure that the program was properly managed; they had to call in John Fahey to try and resurrect some element of credibility because the Australian people believe that a dollar given to this government is a dollar wasted. So I have to say it is of great concern to the Australian people that their hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars are being poured down the drain by a wasteful government that cannot live within its means; a wasteful government that cannot make the tough decisions to rebuild Australia as required without imposing a new levy, a new tax. The Australian people deserve better. Australians do not mind helping a mate. They certainly do not like to be taxed unnecessarily. They certainly do not like to be taxed by an ineffective government that cannot manage money and has to try and depend on a former Liberal finance minister to restore some of their economic credibility.