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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 970

Mr JOHN COBB (7:43 PM) —Any debate involving the recent tumultuous events in most of eastern Australia, whether you are talking about floods, cyclones or whatever it might be—and obviously tonight’s debate is about the tax contained in the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the related bill—is impossible without reflecting on what an event it has been. It is certainly not something I have seen before and I certainly hope I do not see it again, and you cannot debate it without reflecting for a time on the awful effect it has had on people’s homes and lives and on production. I am a farmer and I have always represented people in agriculture—that is my current portfolio responsibility. Agriculture has probably been the most deeply affected area in the cyclones, flooding and rain. The huge amounts of rain, particularly in New South Wales, had as much effect in a lot of cases as the floods, except, thankfully, without the infrastructure damage. This has been an enormous event in a productivity sense and an enormous event for people—for everybody.

So, obviously, it is correct that the Commonwealth government has a role and a duty to get involved to help sort it all out. Most of Australia’s states have been affected, but obviously those three on the east coast have been the most affected. My electorate of Calare has been very affected, not so much by flood—although it has had that—but simply by the sheer volume of rain and the disaster it has caused as far as production. The clean-up and rebuilding process is underway, but the onset of the great big new flood tax has caused a stir right across the country, which is not terribly surprising. While the coalition join the government in offering our full support to the communities affected, we know that there is plenty of scope in the Commonwealth budget to cut, reprioritise and defer spending in order to find the $1.8 billion the Gillard government plans to raise through this tax.

Having lived in the Murray-Darling Basin my whole life and as somebody who has been a farmer, and still is, and sees water as a very productive commodity and not just as something humans live with and wash with, there is an area that is obvious to me—the buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin. Looking at the Murray-Darling Basin as it is now, I do not think it is going to do anybody any harm to either stop or defer the buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin. This is a government that will not delay spending $600 million buying water for environmental sites in floods while asking the taxpayer to cough up their hard-earned dollars for flood damage. The irony is extraordinary.

While the government continues with incompetence, ordinary Australians throughout the country are rolling up their sleeves, donating their time, resources and money generously and helping to rebuild after the floods. I will take some time to reflect on my own part of Australia, or the part of Australia that I personally represent. In Calare we have seen individuals rallying together to make donations to the rebuilding efforts despite experiencing their own personal hardships, and I am very proud of them. Last Saturday night in Lithgow at a Lions Club function we were reflecting on what the people have done. As I said, Calare has had huge losses in terms of infrastructure—community infrastructure, roads et cetera—and has experienced probably even bigger losses in the agriculture sector, whether that be in horticulture, serial cropping or whatever, simply because of too much rain. The cherry crop virtually got wiped out because of rain—not because of flooding.

People in the various towns of Calare got together and raised a heck of a lot of money and put in a heck of a lot of effort. But they did not raise that money for themselves, even though they had experienced huge losses and family debt; they raised that money primarily for Queensland, where most of the disaster and the human costs had been so high. I think that is pretty good. The Parkes Rotary Club donated the profits from the canteen takings from the Australian harness race meeting to Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales flood relief. Parkes Harvey Norman held sausage sizzles and generated more than $700 and the store raised over $3,500 in donations during one weekend. But volunteers and donors will be taxed for the flood levy.

Parkes Woolworths hosted a market day in the Parkes Metro Plaza and raised almost $2,000. I think they have raised nearly $7,000 since December. Parkes resident Irene Wennerbom and her family opened their home one week to raise money for the Queensland flood victims, hosting a garage sale which sold donated goods from the Parkes community. Parkes East School students dressed in maroon for a day and raised $200 to go towards assisting Queensland public schools affected by the floods. The Parkes East School families, in fact all Parkes volunteers and donors, will, by and large, be taxed for the flood levy despite having made that rather wonderful effort.

The Forbes Sports and Recreation Club and the Forbes Golfers Association combined to stage a benefit evening for the Queensland flood victims. There are a lot of stories from Forbes, but I will not go through them all. Forbes volunteers and donors will be taxed for the flood levy. The Orange Rotary Club coin collection will be donated to rotary clubs throughout Queensland to allow them to decide how that collection can best be used. All proceeds from the Taste Orange Slow Summer Festival ‘Bark in the Park’ event were donated to the Queensland flood relief. A young group headed by Nicky, Hughie and Dave organised a tent at the Orange races and raised over $3,500 for the Queensland flood appeal. Orange Rotary Club members and all volunteers and donors will be taxed for the flood levy.

In Bathurst, the Bathurst whitegoods Queensland flood appeal collection sent a B-double with over $100,000 worth of whitegoods to Toowoomba last weekend. The Bathurst Regional Council is set to donate $10,000 to the Queensland flood appeal. The Bathurst by the Glass event at Mount Panorama Estate raised a total of $500 to donate to the Queensland flood appeal. Bathurst cricket team the Reece Renegades donated the majority of their first- and second-place prize money to the Queensland flood victims appeal, with other teams expected to follow suit. The Reece Renegades and all Bathurst volunteers and donors will be taxed for the flood levy.

In Lithgow, where I was last weekend, Valley Drive Car Wash donated $345 from a Saturday car wash and staff donated a day’s wages towards the Queensland flood appeal. Portland RSL sports and recreation club held a fundraiser for flood victims, raising $500. Lithgow Workmen’s Club, a very community based club, as most are, held a Mexican night and donated the money from the sale of the first 165 tickets to the Queensland floods. Lithgow Valley Community Cinema held a special Australia Day screening with all proceeds donated to the flood appeal. The Lithgow Flashdragons and the Lithgow Motorcycle Club charity dragon boat regatta at Lake Wallace took place on the weekend, with about $3,000 in donations going to the Queensland flood appeal. The Lithgow Flashdragons and Lithgow Motorcycle Club members and all Lithgow and Portland volunteers and donors now find that they will be taxed for the flood levy.

In Oberon, a lovely town whose economy is based on timber, agriculture and tourism, the Rotary Club of Oberon organised the collection and distribution of fodder to flood affected farmers in Queensland and Victoria. The Rotary Club of Oberon also raised funds at the Highlands Steam and Vintage Fair. The Oberon rotary club volunteers and donors will be taxed for the flood levy.

In Blayney, a group of young Sydney children on holidays and their friends from Neville hosted a ‘Bug fun park’ exhibition at the Neville historical museum and donated over $500 to the Queensland floods. Blayney volunteers and donors will be taxed for the flood levy. In Cabonne—the local government area where Lisa and I live—the Cabonne Council donated $2,000. Some very good friends of mine, Les and Cheryl Birdsall from the Telegraph Hotel, spent their own money on kids’ rides and slippery dips and so on to have an Australia Day fundraiser on a Sunday about a month ago which raised $10,000. They did not take one cent back to pay for the work they had done; all the money that was raised went to flood relief. Les and Cheryl Birdsall from the Telegraph Hotel and all Cabonne resident volunteers and donors will be taxed for the flood levy.

This is just a snapshot of the wonderful work the people of my electorate have been doing in the wake of what has happened in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. I take this opportunity to extend my sincere thanks, not just on my behalf but also on behalf of the parliament and the people who will receive the proceeds of their generosity, to all who have lent a helping hand.

The people of Calare, along with a lot of people around Australia, have gone out of their way to donate generously, and all the government has done is turn around and tax for the privilege of having done it the people who have given the most, organised the most and spent the most to raise this money. The flood is a cop-out for a Labor government that has shown over and over again that it cannot manage government money and certainly cannot manage other people’s money. This government is sending the wrong message to the Australian people: ‘In future, don’t donate when Australians are in trouble because we will tax you after you do.’ I think that is about the worst message a government can send. It is just an example of the fact that this government cannot make managerial decisions and cannot prioritise. I still remember the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman, saying within days that the Brisbane City Council would not raise the rate for ratepayers in Brisbane but instead would prioritise and work within its means. That is the one thing that this government has never learned to do, and you would think by now that it would have done.

My office has had numerous calls from constituents opposing the flood levy. The general feeling is that it is unfair and unwarranted. Most of these calls have not been from people who will have to pay the levy but from pensioners—people who will not have to pay it. People who would not otherwise have applied for the $1,000 for victims of flooding are in fact applying for the money because they have found that they will be taxed to fund the levy. This levy is un-Australian and unwarranted. (Time expired)