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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 958

Mr GEORGANAS (6:44 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. I also wish to put forward statements made by some of my constituents, and observations made more generally, pertaining not only to the bills we are debating here today but also to the spirit behind much of what has been said, seen and heard over the last several weeks. I also want to make some comments about some of the speeches which I have been listening to over the past few hours and some of the statements made by members on the opposition benches. They continuously raised one particular point: the perceived waste that has taken place over the last few years under the Labor government. They raised this point over and over again. They opposed Labor’s infrastructure injection into the economy. They opposed every measure that we took to inoculate ourselves from the global financial crisis. They opposed every single measure.

Looking back at that period when the world’s greatest and harshest economic disaster occurred, had we listened to the opposition then, we would be in a very different position today. All it takes to know that is to talk to economists from around the world. Economists on the left, economists on the right and economists in the middle all say one thing, and that is that we did it correctly, we did it right and we are the envy of every economy around the world. Had we listened to the opposition back then, had we taken their views on board and accepted what they were saying, we would find ourselves in a very different position today. Another 300,000 people would be unemployed and we would have seen misery, destruction and unemployment in many, many families across the country. I raise this because we are debating something very important that is affecting the lives of people in Queensland and Victoria who suffered from the floods and cyclones through the summer. Again we are seeing the opposition say that we should not under any circumstances have this levy for reconstruction and for assistance to people who have suffered so much in the last few months.

And they did suffer. As I did not speak on the condolence motion of early February, can I convey my sympathy and condolences to those who lost loved ones and property and faced the destruction of the floods and cyclones. There is no greater loss than to lose a loved one. I would also like to mark my appreciation for the care that was exercised by so many in making as many people as possible as safe as possible. This applies not only to the floods in both Queensland and Victoria but also to Tropical Cyclone Yasi and the Western Australian bushfires. As many are thanking their lucky stars to have come through one of these ordeals, attention inevitably turns to the other impacts of these natural disasters—the loss of homes, the loss of possessions, the loss of income and the loss of wealth. And, of course, there is the loss of so much around us that we tend to take for granted—the impassable roads, the bridges that have been destroyed, the unusable schools, the unsafe bridges, the loss of electricity and the loss of our usual supplies of fresh or refrigerated food and even safe drinking water. Disaster areas can be reduced to something similar to Third World conditions.

One MP recently spoke of the loss of available cash, the suspension of the ability to conduct simple commercial transactions to acquire what one needs—that is, if one has the cash or credit reserves, and many would not—and people’s potential to simply go back to work and earn the funds they require for their daily existence, let alone re-establishing their lives, which in many cases will be severely impaired. And it is the funds required to rebuild and re-establish these amenities, facilities and capacities that we are principally focused on today. People affected by these natural disasters have been helped to an extent by Centrelink payments, and I congratulate the government for making available this assistance and the staff to administer it. The Premier’s Fund, to which so many people have given and continue to give, and other charitable organisations will directly help people affected by these disasters.

The Brisbane City Council, I understand, has required works worth some half a billion dollars, and they will largely be funding their own work. The state of Queensland and the Commonwealth will be outlaying several billions of dollars to repair, reconstruct or replace much of what has been damaged. As I have already said, and as all members know, this means roads, bridges, electricity supplies, public buildings and social infrastructure—the things that we need just to go about our everyday lives going to school, attending work, catching public transport et cetera.

The government announced that it will fund some $5½ billion of works. This may, I take it, increase, with further damage being done subsequent to the original announcement. Two-thirds of this amount will be redirected from other budget line items. There are critics of what items have had funds redirected. I note that some constituents have been hoping to trade in their oldish car under a new government scheme, and I hope that they have not been too badly inconvenienced by this announced change in policy. But I also note that funds from within the greater climate change package of initiatives have been redirected. In response to any criticism of this fact, may I reiterate that Australia’s continuing increase in greenhouse gas emissions is public knowledge and our current trajectory will see us emitting some 20 per cent more greenhouse gas in 2020 than we are permitted to do under international agreements. We will be 20 per cent over target—a volume of pollution equivalent to that produced in generating three-quarters of Australia’s total household energy use.

In response to critics of the reallocation of climate change funds to their use in the rebuild after these natural disasters I say, ‘Support the ultimate passage of the government’s bill for an eventual, negotiated price signal to the electricity generation sector and the Australian economy more broadly.’ I say to each of them: ‘Negotiate by all means, but do not be a purist who is prepared to see all attempts thwarted for the lack of an absolutist idea of perfection. In this political and economic and environmental battle, do not prefer defeat to a compromised victory.’

On the subject of cutbacks, I would like all to appreciate how readily the opposition undermine the objectives of its very own National Water Initiative and the restoration to health of the river systems which comprise the Murray-Darling Basin. Funds made available for saving the river system from total collapse are finite. They were under the previous government and they are under the current government. There is no recurrent funding for the works or purchases which are required to restore the health of these rivers which give us life and prosperity.

So when the opposition targets cutbacks of $600 million dollars within a finite budget for environmental water and announces they will drain these moneys for use elsewhere, they can only be saying one of two things. They are saying either, ‘We’ll take money now and put it back in in years to come’—new money that has not been budgeted for—or ‘We’ll decrease the total amount of money that was to be spent saving our river system.’ There is no deferral without recurrent funding. Once the money is gone, it is gone.

The opposition desperately wants us to believe it will slash tens of billions from the budget, including the liquidation of the Commonwealth’s own investments and revenue-generating enterprises. Can anyone believe that they will somehow find over half a billion dollars to fund the buy-back which they describe as theft? I do not think so. The opposition wants to bleed the River Murray and the basin again—bleed the water out of it, and bleed funds from its restoration and its very survival as a living river system. I make this point because nobody should have any doubt that the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues are misrepresenting their current proposal as a deferral of funding and misrepresenting their intentions for the future. The opposition are entirely consistent and honest in indicating that they want to bleed the River Murray dry. They all say, ‘To hell with it’ whether there is acid in there or not, or, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition—I will not say the word—‘S*** happens.’

All South Australians know that the reform of the Murray-Darling Basin is one of the most important policy challenges facing our nation. We have already seen what a dying river system looks like. We cannot allow it to be drained to death. As a nation we can afford to err on the side of decency—and it is decent that we are proposing this levy. We can provide help, even if it is a little more than required, and we can give someone support irrespective of where they are from. We can share people’s pain and ease their burden, however slightly, without fear for ourselves. To me, this is what is decent in our community and our society: the connection that brings us together. I commend the bills to this House.