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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 980

Mr HAYES (8:25 PM) —I rise to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and cognate bill. During late December last year and the early part of this year, significant flooding occurred in many parts of Queensland and unfortunately was followed fast at its heels by Cyclone Yasi. Like most people and probably everyone in this place, in our electorates we watched in horror as towns were engulfed by water and three-quarters of Queensland was declared a disaster zone. This covers areas three times the land mass of Victoria. It is extraordinary that the roads, rail systems and power systems have to traverse that sort of land mass and it was completely devastated.

I do not mind admitting I watched TV coverage of the floods in horror and disbelief. My heart went out to all those families, particularly those that lost loved ones, those whose loved ones were missing for a significant time and those Queenslanders that stood and watched their houses, their dreams and everything floating down a swollen river. I admit an intense feeling of sadness filled my home, my office and my community. I would say that goes for every member of this place if we want to be honest with one another. Thinking of those images now upsets me to the same extent as when I recall seeing the 9-11 attack. It occurred, we could not stop it, but we could feel it was real and quite palpable. I had the feeling at that stage, on seeing the enormity of the damage, that we as a Commonwealth now had an obligation to look after our people in need.

It ought to be said that the people of Queensland were courageous and stoic. They came together as an extended family and lent emotional and physical support to one another. Over that whole period differences were set aside and the people were united in a common interest to help the recovery efforts in Queensland. Heroes emerged from all quarters, people willingly putting their lives on the line to bring other people to safety. I recall vividly seeing that SES worker floating down a swollen creek to rescue a person who, unfortunately, had been washed down there. These were extraordinary acts of bravery. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women of the police, to the emergency services, to the volunteers, to the military, to all those that decided to put the community first, to get involved, to do something to save property and to rescue life and limb—not simply those directly affected by the floods.

I know members on all sides have referred to heroes such as Jordan Rice, the 13-year-old who told his rescuers, ‘Take my brother first.’ Unfortunately, Jordan Rice did not survive. Those were four extremely courageous words. I think those words will live for a long time with all of us who have made condolence speeches on the Queensland floods.

The Queensland floods are being seen as the country’s worst natural disaster. Thirty-five people have lost their lives since late November, and we have had a level of physical damage to infrastructure unprecedented in our country’s history. It is certainly a very cruel blow that has been rendered by Mother Nature—a blow which has affected the Queensland community. But, as I said, all of our communities are our communities, because we are all Australian.

What has occurred—it is absolute fact—is that this has meant billions of dollars are necessary to rebuild the damaged roads, bridges, railways and essential infrastructure. Money is definitely needed to get our communities back on their feet. For that reason, I support the flood levy, because I know that a third of the $5.6 billion necessary to rebuild flood affected Australia will be provided through this modest one-year levy; the remainder will be met through a range of budgetary cuts.

Clearly Australians have shown absolute generosity in their support for Queenslanders during the course of this devastation. The levels of donations and fundraising that have occurred have been extraordinary. But the fact remains, as I said, that billions of dollars are still necessary to fix up the infrastructure, such as roads, bridges et cetera. That is why this flood levy is crucial for the recovery of our nation.

Bear in mind that people with incomes below $50,000 and those who are flood victims themselves will not be affected by the levy, which means 60 per cent of taxpayers will pay less than a dollar a week, with people earning $80,000 paying only $2.88 per week. By the standards of those opposite, they would have to say that these are modest figures. This will provide for only one year. It is not just a matter of politically assuring people of how the money is going to be spent. I think it is beyond doubt—it has not been questioned here, at least—that every cent that is raised through this levy will go directly to flood affected regions across Australia to help repair critical infrastructure.

It is important to note that already there has been a significant amount of money donated from all areas and all walks of life to assist people in Queensland in particular. A number of community groups, particularly in my electorate, started fundraising in, I think, the first week of January; it might have been the last week of December, but certainly I attended a number of functions in the first week of January. Various groups were involved, including the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Cambodians and the Croatians—those are just the groups whose events I have actually attended. At the events that I have personally attended, I can say that over $500,000 has been raised through community groups in my electorate alone. I am sure that has been replicated by many other groups in my community whose events I have not attended, and no doubt that sort of activity has occurred right across this nation. It has shown great goodwill. In electorates such as mine—which according to the ABS is the most multicultural electorate in the whole country—it shows the extent of what people who would ordinarily be regarded as new Australians have done to look after and protect their fellow Australians. I think that is something that should not be missed, particularly when we talk about the people from Vietnam. They have been here only since the fall of Saigon, which was 35 years ago, yet they were one of the first groups who started to organise significant fundraising to assist the people of flood affected Queensland.

Although these contributions from various community groups are certainly very commendable and have made a significant contribution, that is only one part of the issue. Most of the money that they and other community groups have raised will go a fair way to helping individuals to manage their day-to-day costs and to providing immediate relief with some of the essential things, such as food and clothing. The proposed levy, on the other hand, is critical for raising funds to rebuild the infrastructure, to assist entire communities to get back on their feet and to assist the productivity basis of Queensland to start moving. Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, I am very familiar with your electorate of Maranoa, having had a son work up in Blackwater. I know how devastated the surrounds were up there. But these things do not fix themselves. If we are serious about ensuring the economic footing of one of our country’s largest mining states and bringing it back to full export capability—which we all benefit from—we have a role as a Commonwealth to do that. This levy will help the flood affected communities to rebuild. It will certainly bring back a sense of normality. It will help ease the constant pain of these Australians, which they have undeservedly had to suffer.

Regrettably, it gets to a situation like this. While the floods are on, we can all sympathise and be affected by what we see on the television about these matters, but inevitably and regrettably we eventually get back to real politics. I do not think, and I cannot recall, any member from a particular party going up there and making statements like, ‘Queenslanders are in this; they are on their own.’ I think that the view was that we are here as a Commonwealth and we are here to help. But as the argument matured there did seem to be some political gain in who gets to pay. No doubt, there is a level of motivation from the other side that it is good to actually try to force the government to make very unpopular cuts to budget—to take things out of communities and welfare payments, and to sharpen the guidelines leading into another election.

Mr Robert —Hear, hear!

Mr HAYES —The member for Fadden confirms that. It is not a matter of just looking at what we have to do as a community; they want to slice away at issues such as welfare and commitments that we make to communities. I know that my electorate has a high proportion of welfare recipients, and whilst it is the most multicultural electorate in the country it is also an area of great challenge in levels of income. It certainly has a high proportion of new arrivals, who are trying to make their way in the world and trying to do what is necessary to integrate into our community. Is it going to be one of these areas where we should make cuts?

Regrettably, politics does get into it. It was far better when we sat back, looked at the extent of the damage and all put our hands on our hearts and said that we would have to do whatever was necessary to make Queensland right. Apart from assisting members of our Commonwealth, what we do in Queensland is certainly significantly important to us all because of its income generation for this country through mining and tourism.

It is just something that we should do; but they come here now and have the audacity to start talking about what cuts we should make. I know that the member for Fadden was not in the parliament—he was a loyal member of our military—in the days of the Howard government, when it decided to put six levies on. I did not have a rifle, and I had to pay a levy for the gun buyback—but I thought that was for a good purpose. If you look at Labor’s record on the imposition of temporary levies you will find that we were very supportive, whether they were for the gun buyback, East Timor or a range of other areas; but when it comes to something as crucial as rebuilding Queensland, the push back now is simply to try to put budgetary pressure on the government. This is something they are embarrassed about; they want to blow the budget out and simply get to a stage of forcing the government to borrow in order to rebuild Queensland. (Time expired)