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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1007

Mr McCORMACK (10:23 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. The best levy for any disaster relief is to have a surplus. The Rudd-Gillard Labor government had a $20 billion surplus when it came into government in 2007; it also had two infrastructure funds. One was the Education Investment Fund and the other the Building Australia Fund. These totalled $50 billion between them and Labor, in typical Labor fashion, has squandered the money—the money set aside for the nation’s future.

The Prime Minister and her Labor colleagues can stand in this place and harp all they like about the global financial crisis and use any other excuse for their own woeful mismanagement. The fact of the matter is this government is not good at handling money. Unfortunately in this case, it is the Australian people’s money, and Labor has frittered it away. This government’s fiscal record is abysmal. You only have to look at the Building the Education Revolution blow-outs, Home Insulation Program, Green Loans Program, GroceryWatch and Fuelwatch. The list of wanton, wilful waste just goes on and on.

In principle, these ideas had some merit, some substance and some initiative. But this government cannot and will not carry anything through properly. It cannot and will not deliver. With government, everything is a blow-out—not just a blow-out but invariably one of massive proportions. If members of this Labor government were running their own business—which not many of them have—they would know that you cannot spend more money than you bring in. If you do or if you want to, you have to take money from elsewhere in your budget.

The greatest worry is that, if and when this temporary flood reconstruction levy is introduced, it will be just another Labor blow-out. Of course, Labor has perhaps avoided a repeat of its recent litany of disasters by appointing former coalition premier of New South Wales, ex-federal finance minister John Fahey, to head up the new reconstruction inspectorate. Question: how does Labor avoid waste and overruns? Answer: get someone from this side to run the show.

Of course, a levy—another tax on Australian families—should not have been needed had the government not been asleep at the wheel. Given that the government has little or no concept of economic delivery, the concern is that the money accrued from this tax needs to be spent where it is most needed. Mr Fahey, I am sure, will do his best, but this is a big task and one the government will need to exercise more care in delivering than it has in all of its other failed schemes since 2007.

The opposition is not against supporting Queensland and Victoria in their time of need. Our members have, as many have on the government benches also, been out helping in the crises and supporting their own flood stricken electorates. We realise roads, bridges and other infrastructure have to be rebuilt, hope restored. We are also aware that there was no levy—no tax on Australian families—for Cyclone Tracey, which devastated Darwin at Christmas in 1974; Cyclone Larry which, caused $1.1 billion worth of damage to Northern Queensland in March 2006; or for the 10-year drought—the worst on record—which caused such widespread heartache and economic loss to rural and regional Australia.

The Commonwealth government has charge of a $350 billion budget. How the government cannot find $1.8 billion to shave from programs which many Mr and Mrs Average Australian would easily deem unnecessary is breathtaking. We are not talking forever—just 12 months. Scrap some of the waste, trim some of the fat and find $1.8 billion to help pay for the Queensland and Victorian recovery. But, no, the government will instead make yet another imposition on hard-working Australian taxpayers. The government is not even quite sure how many people will be taxed because the Treasurer was unable to come up with the number of people who will be taxed when asked during question time.

The tax will force many people in other states who were also flood victims to foot the bill. This will force many Australians who already dug deep to voluntarily and generously offer their charity and time to help in the relief efforts to again carry the can. This burden should have been borne by government. It should have been ready and available in a heartbeat once the torrential rain, the floods and the effects of Cyclone Yasi disappeared from the radar, leaving a huge clean-up operation and states which were definitely down but definitely not out.

Parts of the Riverina have also been sent reeling from flooding of the Murrumbidgee River and local creeks. Farmers hopeful of bumper crop yields after enduring a decade of devastating drought had their hopes dashed by torrential rain. Communities at Adelong, Uranquinty and Tooma in my electorate of Riverina had walls of water rushing through their homes. At Tooma, the bridges were absolutely washed away by the rain and the flooding of Mannus Creek dam. But there has been little or no offer of special assistance made available to them. The opposition, as I say, is not against supporting the flood victims.

At times such as these, the government should be reprioritising its spending. This is a time when Australians certainly need to pull together. Maybe this is a time when, as some have argued, we need to look at our level of foreign aid and really start to take a close examination of where and why we give money out. Certainly Australia needs to provide foreign aid—no-one is or should be disputing that—but sometimes charity should begin at home. New Zealand, tragically hit by an earthquake today, has a disaster fund, which it has had for more than 65 years. The initial onus is on the average New Zealander to take out adequate insurance.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from all of this. We need plain-speaking terms in insurance contracts so Australians know precisely what they are covered for and what they are not. Thankfully, that process appears to be happening. We also need a government to be there to shoulder its share of responsibility when the demand arises, not to heavy-handedly hit ordinary, everyday Australians with another tax to make up for its own shortfalls.

Debate interrupted.

The SPEAKER —It being approximately 10.30 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 29 and the resolution agreed to by the House on 21 February 2011, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.