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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 983

Mr ALEXANDER (8:44 PM) —Every Australian has been moved by the scenes of devastation to property and families in distress, and the tragic loss of life. At the very same time we celebrate those heroes found amongst us under nature’s fire, on a different battlefield to where our heroes have previously been found under enemy fire, but made of the same stuff that sees these men and women—fearless in the face of overwhelming odds—putting their mates or a younger brother who was frightened first. We honour those great people who possess the national traits we admire most. So often it is the average Australian who becomes a hero in these exceptional circumstances.

The Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the cognate bill we are discussing today seek to force the average Australian—the possible hero—to fork out to assist this government to repair the critical and heart-rending damage caused by the devastating floods.

Nobody disputes that these are vital repairs and that those impacted deserve our utmost sympathy and support. The question that arises from this, and which should dominate the thoughts of policymakers in this place is: did these people have to endure such suffering, or could we have implemented measures to mitigate against this?

We live in a country that will be impacted by floods, fire, cyclone and drought. We always have, although not always occurring at the same time. This truly was a terrible summer, yet not entirely unexpected. It is apparent that this is the nature of nature in the sunburnt country.

Good government would use the events of this summer as a trigger to commence long-term planning to prevent damage, and then implement those plans. The people of Queensland need permanent mitigation measures, not taxes spread out during the night because of the threat of flooding rains. This bill is a symbol of economic mismanagement by the Rudd and Gillard governments. With the outrage of waste still echoing around the nation from the pink batts program, school halls and the $900 flat screen TV subsidy, and with a budget of $350 billion, the government cannot find 0.5 per cent of that to help people in this time of national need without slugging our constituents with a brand new tax.

The government has the ability, but not the inclination, to make prudent cost savings to cover the vital rebuilding. But such decisions must be born out of a provision for Australia’s long-term prosperity and development, not out of short-term electoral gain. The coalition believe that the government can pay for the repairs without fleecing the Australian public. We are willing to provide costings on how this can be achieved.

However, this is a reactive government, not a proactive government. This is a spectator government. This government has watched nature take us down with a left hook and then whack us again while we are down on the canvas. Now this government tells us that we are all heroes and mates and that we must get up and go, bandaged and bruised, back into nature’s boxing ring. This government has shown no interest in mitigating injury to us. It has not detailed any plan to arm us with visionary infrastructure development, whether it be dams, levees, roads, rail or other infrastructure needs—development which will mitigate future damage to life, property and our economy. This government’s only salvo is the imposition of l-e-v-y levys, rather than adopting the mindset of an l-e-v-e-e proactive vision to protect and encourage Australia’s development.

Where are this government’s clear-headed plans for the development of regional growth centres in Australia which will take the pressure off our overburdened major cities? Where are the regional transport hubs that could provide the economic drivers for these cities? Where are the visionary networks that can rise like a phoenix from the ashes of this tragedy to intersect road, rail and air freight to serve our country’s commerce and trade needs—not this year’s needs, but the needs of future generations? We know that nature will soon enough unleash her fury upon us again. Where are the master plans in anticipation of this?

In total, this government has cut $450 million from regional infrastructure programs, including a 50 per cent cut in the Building Better Regional Cities Program, and cut $350 million from the Priority Regional Infrastructure Fund. Yes, that is correct—it is called the Priority Regional Infrastructure Fund.

There must be a better way. We could choose to establish this new tax and use that money to rebuild it as it was before, and then get comfortable and wait for it all to happen again. The definition of insanity is to repeat the same behaviour time and again but expect a different result. The alternative is to be proactive, to make long-term plans, to assess the ways in which nature can affect us and to build mitigation measures into the new construction in order to limit the impact of future events.

In response to the 1974 floods the Bjelke-Petersen government implemented a flood buyback scheme with shared funding from federal, state and local governments. The Queensland government also commissioned the Wivenhoe Dam as a future mitigation measure. A second initiative, the Wolfdene dam, was proposed by the local council at a later stage but rejected by Premier Wayne Goss, back when the member for Griffith was his chief of staff. It is commonly accepted that had the Wivenhoe been at its recommended 30 per cent capacity, the flood damage would have been markedly reduced. Without the flood mitigating effect of Wivenhoe, even taking into consideration the alleged mismanagement of the dam, last month’s flood might have been as much as three metres higher, causing significantly more devastation.

Good governments should act—not just say or do what is necessary to maintain office for the day but act responsibly in the country’s best interest, for now and into the future. This is not a new philosophy, and the local knowledge of the need for construction of mitigation measures is nothing new. In fact, I have a copy of a letter here from the Brisbane Lord Mayor to the federal MP for Griffith requesting support to implement the recommendations of the Lord Mayor’s Taskforce on Suburban Flooding ‘to solve or mitigate the many flooding problems experienced in Brisbane’. This letter is dated 7 October 2005 and was sent to all MPs in the region. No responses were received from the member for Griffith, the member for Brisbane or the member for Oxley, whose electorate office was devastated in the most recent floods.

Several years later the same member for Griffith was the Labor Prime Minister. Under his stewardship, none of these recommendations were implemented to protect the constituents in his home electorate and no further funding was given for this flood mitigation initiative. In desperation, Brisbane City Council needed to act unilaterally to implement their own self-funded flood buyback scheme.

The need for mitigation measures was also referenced in great detail in the recent 24-month report developed by the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, which showed a clear recognition of the need to invest in mitigation measures to ensure history does not repeat with the same level of devastation to human life.

We need real action towards nation building in the form of a strategic program of flood mitigation that will protect life and property when nature shows its power once more. This does not happen overnight. As a nation we need to make a concerted effort to prioritise and to set funds aside. The construction of dams not only serves to protect life and property but also provides life-giving water during times of drought—another cyclical reality of the Australian climate. To respond to this devastation with the implementation of a new nationwide tax, instead of an infrastructure plan, is the epitome of government negligence. The savings to afford this plan are available and would be double or triple in size if it were not for this government’s waste and economic mismanagement.

We are at a crossroad. Do we repeat the behaviour of the past and embrace the definition of insanity, or do we learn from the harsh lessons and become, in peacetime, the heroes that those who elect us would choose to have? The great tragedy of humanity is that it often takes a war to find a hero. The heroes in this place need to act, to take real action to commit to the necessary infrastructure and to build greater value in our towns and cities through appropriate flood protection. If this is done, then the most heroic act of our youngest hero would not have been in vain.