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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1147

Mr TEHAN (1:05 PM) —I also rise to oppose the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011. Following the devastating floods, a government levy would just add another unnecessary financial burden on those residents, businesses and farmers affected by those floods and the cyclone. The government’s only idea to raise the expected $10 billion—maybe $20 billion—cost of the floods and cyclone is to introduce a levy that will cut people’s incomes. This approach will not help those who have been affected by the floods, in some cases twice or three times in the last four to six months. It will not only directly impact on the cash-poor farming communities, poor small businesses and poor rural communities but add to cost of living pressures for residents and reduce their ability to buy goods from flood affected businesses.

Here is an idea instead: why don’t the government, like they have in Queensland, now concentrate on a plan for flood recovery in Victoria? They seem to have devoted the last fortnight to trying to get their flood levy in place, rather than concentrating also on the areas of Victoria which have been impacted by flood and putting together a plan which would help those communities recover. We have local government areas in western Victoria stretched to the limit by trying to deal with the damage and devastation which has been caused by the floods and we have a federal government which has in no way yet shown how it is going to help.

As a matter of fact the only thing we have seen is a leaked report saying that the government will commit $500 million. What we need to know now is: where will that money go, how will it help and will there be payments to local governments to help with not only repairing the bridge and road infrastructure but improving that infrastructure so that when the rains come again—and they will—they can withstand the floods next time?

Responsible governments, such as the Howard government, put money aside for a rainy day. If the Gillard government were a responsible government they would not be in this position where they now need to raise $10 billion to $20 million immediately. The government have plenty of programs they could scrap or redirect funding from to fund the flood reconstruction. There is the cash-for-clunkers scheme, the National Broadband Network and water buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin to name just a few.

The feedback I am getting from local people and businesses is that they do not want to be hit with yet another tax in the form of a levy after all they have been through in recent months. Cheryl Schuyler from Halls Gap runs Grampian Gifts and Souvenirs, a business that suffered in the Victorian floods. I was speaking with Mrs Schuyler last month when I was in Halls Gap surveying the flood damage, which has been devastating for that small community. She said:

We have only been affected by loss of trade and downgraded income—many families and businesses have lost loved ones and have no income at all and yet the Federal Government’s response is to kick people while they are down by proposing another TAX. It never fails to amaze me that a lazy government’s easy solution is just to add another Tax! People are hurting badly; adding to their burden is not the right or just solution.

I could not have put it better. Flood victims will not benefit from extra taxes imposed on them.

The government should be helping those affected, not taxing them. The coalition are committed to doing everything necessary to rebuild and repair communities hit by floods and Cyclone Yasi. We know there is a better way to go about it than the lazy option of hitting Australians with another tax. In fact, last year the coalition set out $50 billion worth of savings and cuts to the Rudd-Gillard government’s reckless and wasteful spending. Earlier this month the coalition outlined more than $2 billion in further savings measures that the Gillard government should adopt instead of its flood tax.

In addition to this, Julia Gillard must reverse her decision to cut funding for flood mitigation works on the Bruce Highway and the Herbert River flood plain. Funding flood recovery through cuts to flood mitigation works makes no sense whatsoever, and that is why the coalition found savings, cuts, in areas which would not impact on infrastructure that can actually help when we receive further rains.

There is also a need for increased flood monitoring funding to the Bureau of Meteorology to ensure that substandard flood-monitoring equipment in rivers is improved as a matter of urgency. Again this funding should not be raised by adding another tax on people and communities that are already strained. What we need to see is a redirection of the Bureau of Meteorology’s budget so that they focus on doing this important mitigation work.

This debate, as with so many being brought before the House these days, comes directly back to Labor’s gross mismanagement and waste. If Labor had been taking proper care of their finances, as the Howard government did for years before them, they would not have been in the position where they were caught off guard and felt they needed to add another tax to dig themselves out of their budget black hole. Instead of a new tax, the government need to cut wasteful spending, such as on government advertising, to reduce consultancy expenses, to put a freeze on Public Service recruitment and to cancel the National Broadband Network. It is important that they do this.

We have heard in this House that the main reason the government thinks it is justified in putting a levy in place is that previous governments have also put in place levies. But there is one important difference. Before those levies were put in place the government had not called for the community to give, and give generously, their money and their time to help. The Australian community did that and did that in spades. Their generosity was outstanding. It made us all on both sides of this House proud. The way people contributed their time was also outstanding and made every member of this House proud.

The government encouraged people to do this. It went out and asked businesses to give generously and members of local communities to give generously. Then, after doing that, it hit them with a levy. No government has done that before. When previous levies were introduced, governments said to the people, ‘We need to raise money for these particular causes.’ They did not go out to the community and say, ‘We want you to give and give generously,’ and then, after the Australian people had done that, impose a levy on them. This levy is wrong. People in my electorate think it is wrong. That is the feedback I have had on it. People tell me that we should vote against it, and that is exactly what I am doing today.