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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 973

Mr MITCHELL (7:58 PM) —I speak in support of the government’s Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011. As members in this place know, we recently stopped to remember and reflect on the Black Saturday bushfires which so tragically devastated my electorate on 7 February 2009. That was a day on which bushfires ravaged communities. It was a fire of a ferocity that we had never seen or experienced before. It claimed on that day 173 lives and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, schools, buildings, sport centres and communities. Two years on, we are still facing the process of rebuilding and recovering, with signs of the disaster still present both in the trees that will never grow again and in the many homes that will not be rebuilt on the same foundations. Emotions are still raw, but people are battling on in the true Australian spirit.

All levels of government have learnt many lessons from that tragic day, not only about bushfire preparedness but also, importantly, about the process of rebuilding and recovering communities devastated by Mother Nature’s fury. One of the biggest lessons we should have learnt is that we need to support communities—to stand with them to rebuild vital infrastructure, get services back in place and ensure a sense of normality returns as quickly as possible.

The most common message that my community has been telling me is that we need to get to normality—or the ‘new normal’ as it is called—as soon as possible, because it is paramount. But it seems that those opposite have not listened. It is quite clear that without the infrastructure in place you cannot support a community to recover quickly and effectively. That is why this levy is important. Without open, safe roads and bridges, communities remain disconnected. Without local schools being rebuilt, normality and routine are taken away from our children. Without health centres being rebuilt, communities will not recover physically and emotionally. Without information hubs and community centres, people remain uninformed and disengaged. There is a vital need to stimulate the economies of flood affected regions through government infrastructure projects. It is about getting people back into jobs, getting them working again, getting them spending and getting their economies back on the move.

The key to success of any recovery process is the involvement of locals at every step of the way in identification and planning for their future. Survivors in communities do not want a handout; they want us to chip in and give a mate a hand. The Gillard government is reaching out to the people of Queensland, and we will be with them until they can stand again on their own. The flooding in Queensland and other states has been unprecedented, spreading across the state. It is the size of France and Germany combined, or the size of New South Wales. Coal, gas and mining companies have been drastically affected, which is resulting in millions of dollars of lost production and a great loss to Australia’s wealth. Similarly, Australia’s agriculture sector has been severely hit again, with crops destroyed. This means that food prices will rise and farmers will struggle to make ends meet. This will affect every Australian no matter where they live.

The communities in my electorate rallied behind our northern neighbours, with the people of Kinglake raising over $60,000 and the people of Marysville raising over $22,000. And they continue to raise funds and help their fellow Australians. In a local monthly publication in Kinglake, the Mountain Monthly, I came across a letter to the editor which I want to share with members of this place. It reads:

Dear Editor,

Hello to all in the suburbs and surrounds of Kinglake.

My name is Rebecca. I have just come across a news article that your town of Kinglake has raised money and donated it to us up here in Queensland for the current flood crisis.

Speaking for all Queensland residents, I would love you to please extend our thanks to the people in this town for their amazing support and generosity to the people here that have been affected by the floods.

I sat here with a tear rolling down my face, reading the news about what the people of Kinglake have done for us, even when they are still rebuilding from their own disaster. They have opened their hearts to others in such an amazing way.

Please extend the thanks that we, as Queenslanders, feel for these people. As you have stated, the generosity of the Queenslanders will never be forgotten. That goes the same for each and every one of you there.

Thanks again. I cannot say that enough. Rebecca, Queensland.

Although there are many communities better off than mine, they are still supporting those in need. For that I praise them and thank them. Helen Kenney, who is the captain of the St Andrews CFA and is on the St Andrews Bushfire Recovery Committee, said it is crucial that a flood levy is introduced because infrastructure needs to be rebuilt. I agree wholeheartedly with her. That is from someone who lived through the Black Saturday disaster, so she knows exactly what she is talking about. No matter where I travel across the bushfire affected areas, those who are continuing the journey of rebuilding and reconstruction have been unanimous in their support for this levy. Most of these people will not qualify to pay the levy, but they know firsthand the need for public infrastructure to be replaced and for their communities to get back on their feet as soon as possible.

The flood recovery levy will ensure that we can rebuild, repair and recover vital infrastructure that has been damaged as a result of the flooding. To assist in rebuilding Queensland, we will need to invest about $5.6 billion into the regions affected, due to the scale of the destruction and devastation. Two-thirds of this will be delivered through spending cuts and the remaining one-third is to be delivered through a very modest 12-month levy. The government has also made $2.8 billion in budget savings which will also be redirected towards the rebuilding effort. Infrastructure projects worth $1 billion will be deferred, freeing up funds and skilled workers at a time when we have a skilled labour shortage around the country—a legacy of the former government.

The flood recovery levy will be applied at the rate of 0.5 per cent on taxable income between $50,001 and $100,000 in the 2011-12 income year, and a levy of one per cent will be applied on taxable income over $100,000. The recovery levy will not apply to low-income earners with a taxable income of $50,000 or less, nor will anyone directly affected by the floods have to pay the levy. With the indulgence of the House, I want to show what most people in my electorate will be giving up per week: one small tin of Coles tuna. That is what we are asking people to give up—just a small token to help people get back on their feet and get their lives back to normality.

Levies are a common occurrence from the Commonwealth. We are all aware that the previous Liberal government, which Mr Abbott was part of, were the champions with their flood of levies. Prime Minister John Howard imposed six levies in 12 years. We understood it was in the interests of the nation; we supported them. We put politics aside and, for the good of our nation and its people, we stood with the government on many of these levies. As recently as last year, the Leader of the Opposition tried to impose a levy to pay for his election promises. If a levy was good enough for Tony Abbott to pay for his election promises just months ago, how is it not good enough now to help support Australians to get back on their feet?

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting

Mr MITCHELL —I will run through the list of levies, but we will put it in opposition language; we will call it a ‘tax’ that you guys put in place, introduced by the Howard government. We know that you seem to have forgotten the language. When we do it, it is a tax; when you do it, you call it a levy.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —We haven’t forgotten the language at all—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—The member for Mackellar will be warned in a minute.

Mr MITCHELL —You had a sugar package levy for all sugar sold in Australia. You had an air passenger ticket levy at $10 a ticket. There was the dairy industry adjustment package on market milk sales at 11c per litre. That is what you put in place for every single household. And you still cannot say how much it raised or how many people bought it. There was the stevedoring levy on the loading and unloading of containers and vehicles in Australia at $12 per container and $6 per vehicle, which affected every single Australian, no matter where they lived.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Mackellar is warned!

Mr MITCHELL —I know you are embarrassed about this.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —I’m not embarrassed at all.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —You will be embarrassed when I throw you out in a minute.

Mr MITCHELL —There was the Medicare levy and the gun buyback scheme, with increases to the Medicare levy that you put in place. There was the aircraft noise levy for jet aircraft landings at certain airports. That was $155, adjusted for inflation and imposed on the operator of the aircraft. That is the opposition’s flood of levies.

 Our flood recovery levy is modest when you reflect on what previous, coalition governments have done over the years. It is modest, but the difference it will make to the lives of so many is immeasurable. Contrast our plan to the half-constructed, rushed, short-sighted plan of the opposition—a headline rather than a real plan—which consists of deferrals and will leave our budget with a $1 billion hole in the next financial year. But who is surprised? During the federal election, the opposition put forward promises that were uncosted and would have left us with an $11 billion black hole.

It seems that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Treasurer have yet to learn anything about economics, after unveiling their $2 billion in spending cuts and deferrals. The cuts to programs in this ‘plan’ were part of the $50 billion budget cutbacks the opposition took to the election. More than half of the spending cuts proposed by the opposition are deferrals. Mr Abbott’s plan is a big risk, particularly to our national security and our national growth.

The lack of compassion and the lack of common sense and decency shown by the Leader of the Opposition have come at a time of devastation. We all know Mr Abbott will do and say anything to become Prime Minister of this country, but why would you do it during a time of national disaster, when people have lost lives, homes, friends and family? Instead of supporting those in Queensland, the Leader of the Opposition’s first thought was to try and persuade the Independent members to make him Prime Minister, telling the Sunday Age that the Independents should ‘start to reconsider their decision’ to support Labor. This was while most of Queensland was under water.

As Cyclone Yasi bore down on Queensland, Tony Abbott’s signature appeared on an email that asked for donations—not for support for the victims, not even for the Liberal Party, but purely to campaign against the government’s flood recovery levy. It was a request for donations directly to the Liberal Party, rather than for those who need our full support and attention. I am astonished and shocked that a levy supporting Australians, the people those opposite claim to represent, is being used as political ammunition by the opposition. The Prime Minister recently referred to Mr Abbott as having a tin heart, and I am starting to think that it is a prerequisite for Liberal Party preselection. A levy no different to the ones established by previous governments is being opposed for nothing more than political gain. But at what cost? The only people the opposition want to benefit are themselves, not the many Australians that truly need our support. You could say they are Liberals first and Australians second.

My advice to those opposite is: drop the politics. As leaders of communities and elected representatives we should be standing together, uniting to rebuild together. Let us put the politics aside and work together for the sake of not just the people of Queensland but all the people affected across our nation. Let us do them proud, as they do us proud every day when they are out there working and rebuilding.

When one Australian falls, we all fall. But what is unique about the people of this country is that we help each other get back up again. This is why I give my full support to the flood levy, because like many other Australians I feel it is my duty to give to the communities that need help and need it now. We are with you, Queensland. My community is with you, all Australians are with you and this government is with you all the way.