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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1206

Ms O’NEILL (4:47 PM) —I am very proud to be able to join my parliamentary colleagues today to speak about this important legislation. The Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011 and the cognate bill are the foundation stone for this Labor government to rebuild our damaged nation. As I have noted previously in this House, many heroes and helpers stood tall in responding to the natural disasters that have struck over the past few months: our emergency service personnel, volunteers who flocked to help and those who just found themselves in the wrong place at the right time and lent an outstretched hand. The spirit and the stories of the rescue phase of these disasters still echo in this place, through the moving anecdotes of the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the member for Oxley, the member for Wright and many others.

As we have all observed, the aftermath of the dramatic events of the last few months has seen a great outpouring of generosity from the Australian people. This legislation honours the service of these first responders. It also honours the commitment of those who have opened their hearts and their wallets. As a responsible government we need to take a responsible, fair and measured approach to rebuilding our damaged nation. Let us be clear about the need for this legislation. The reconstruction task ahead of us is massive. Yes, donations are still rolling in, in cash and in kind. That is to the immense credit of the generosity of the Australian people. It is an indication that the people understand what those opposite do not seem to—that there is still a great deal of work to do, which we should pay for as we go as much as we can.

I know that on the Central Coast the flood fundraisers are still continuing. A team of volunteers, the Central Coast Caravan of Angels, are heading up to Ipswich for the second time in as many months this weekend. This humanitarian group are going to help people in need. I take this opportunity to wish Samantha Schuetze, Vanessa Betland and all their fellow Central Coast angels very well on their mercy mission. They are leaving the Central Coast on Thursday morning and will hit the ground running on Thursday night. They have some clean-up and gyprocking jobs lined up in Bundamba and Redbank, and they have some donated wiring and appliances to deliver.

Their group for this visit is made up of 26 people and includes three builders and SES and RFS volunteers. They have been supported by a number of other generous local organisations, whose generosity I would like to acknowledge before the parliament today: Health Services International at Tuggerah; Mighty Lag services at Tuggerah; Budget Rent a Car at East Gosford; Factory Seconds at Erina, who donated a washing machine; RSH Electrical at Mona Vale; and the Melt Bar in Sydney, who raised $1,500 in a fundraiser of under-25-year-olds. I wish them a safe journey and my heart goes out to them for their wonderful compassion.

Such acts of giving and selflessness are powerful reinforcements to me of the innate goodness of the Australian spirit and of human nature in general. While I am paying tribute, I would like to put on the record my gratitude to Ron Arkoll of AFS Products in Goulburn. Ron and his company donated 20,000 square metres of plasterboard, worth approximately $100,000, to the rebuilding in Queensland. I was very pleased, in my own small way, to have been able to assist Vanessa of the Central Coast angels and Linfox to get the plasterboard from Goulburn to Ipswich, where it is still sorely needed and apparently well stored, out of water’s reach, at the moment.

The national response to the emergency has been phenomenal. The Queensland Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal has raised $221 million so far. In acknowledging all these efforts, the big-picture reality is that this will not be enough to rebuild Queensland. There is a need for positive federal government intervention in the form of today’s legislation. As the Treasurer has noted, the recent floods may well end up being the most costly disaster in Australian history. Initial estimates put the cost to the Commonwealth’s budget at somewhere close to $5.6 billion—and that is even before Cyclone Yasi. It would simply not be right to leave disaster victims across Queensland, Victoria and elsewhere to fend for themselves as they move into the reconstruction and recovery phase of this disaster.

It saddens me that the opposition—for purely self-interested political purposes—has refused to take a bipartisan position on the disaster relief initiative. As the member for Oxley noted earlier in this debate, if the shoe were on the other foot in this debate there would be no debate today because the Labor Party has proved, time and time again, that it is a party that acts in the national interest, not in self interest.

There is a clear contrast on show in this place day after day. The Labor members in this parliament believe in teamwork. For those opposite this is just another opportunity to trot out their pat spin and smear lines about so-called waste. For what one can only conclude are cynical political purposes, the Leader of the Opposition has chosen to send his coalition down the track of dissent and division by not supporting today’s legislation. Shame on him for doing this at a time when the people of Queensland need confirmation of our support and a commitment to getting on with the job!

The Leader of the Opposition has not chosen the bipartisan path. He is wilfully treading the path of cynicism. As the Treasurer has said in this place in recent days, the poor judgment of the Leader of the Opposition reveals again that he is all opposition and no leadership. The Leader of the Opposition was in the House this morning invoking the spirit of the rescuers—not in the name of everyone pulling together for the reconstruction, though; the Leader of the Opposition was invoking their name in order to make the reconstruction more difficult. What a shameless and disgraceful act of cynicism! What contempt for the people of Queensland! What contempt for the people who have suffered! What a slight to the Queensland members of this House, whose constituents have suffered! What contempt for this House!

But it gets worse. In the same breath he had the gall to suggest that the government should go further in its assistance. What enormous hypocrisy! Yet those opposite, like the member for Mitchell, stand up here and oppose flood recovery measures and still boast about how they are attending flood fundraisers in their electorates. Well, I sincerely doubt that they have the courage to say, up front, to those people attending these events what they are actually doing. Maybe the member for Mitchell was talking about attending a fundraiser for the Liberal Party to oppose the flood recovery levy, as suggested by the Leader of the Opposition in his email to Liberal Party faithful, earlier this year!

I know there are compassionate members opposite who are uncomfortable with the political tactics of the Leader of the Opposition. I urge them to find their voices, as the member for Pearce did earlier this week, and speak up for doing the right thing, not the politically cynical thing. The nation deserves more.

Lest we be misrepresented further in this House, let me spell out what this legislation will deliver. This piece of timely legislation will create a temporary flood recovery levy on Australian taxpayers with taxable incomes of $50,000 or more in the 2011-12 income year only. What is it for? It is to rebuild roads, rail, bridges and other essential infrastructure.

The flood recovery levy will be applied at the rate of 0.5 per cent of taxable income between $50,000 and $100,000 in the 2011-12 income year. Why? To rebuild roads, rail, bridges and other essential community infrastructure. The levy will be applied at the rate of one per cent of taxable income of $100,000 or more in the 2011-12 income year. Why are these people on $100,000-plus contributing one per cent of their income over that figure for one year? They are doing that in order to rebuild road, rail, bridges, and other essential community infrastructure.

The levy will not apply to low income earners with a taxable income of $50,000 or less in the 2011-12 income year. These bills will give exemptions from the levy for people who have been affected by a natural disaster. Nationally, about 50 per cent of taxpayers will pay nothing. More than 60 per cent will pay less than $1 per week.

I am mindful of the generosity that we have seen in the lead-up to this day, coming freely and without request, from Australian people. Sixty per cent will pay less than $1 a week. About 70 per cent will pay less than $2 per week and over 85 per cent will pay less than $5 per week. What is it for? Let us remember: it is to rebuild roads, rail, bridges, and other essential community infrastructure. We need to advance this for the people of Queensland. We need to advance this rebuilding program and we need to pay for it, as much as we can, as we go, in a fiscally responsible manner.

In the seat of Robertson I believe that roughly 20 per cent of the electorate will pay something towards this levy. The total impact of the levy will be $1.8 billion over the forward estimates period 2011-12 to 2014-15. Because we are a responsible government, we are covering the majority of the reconstruction costs with savings and rephasing of infrastructure projects in other parts of Australia. That seems fair to me, given that so many of us in other parts of the country were spared the phenomenal devastation of the wild weather, floods, cyclones and fire. There are two dollars of savings for every one dollar of levy. It is a fair and measured levy that demonstrates leadership—leadership with Labor values at its heart.

We want the levy to commence on 1 July this year. For that to happen—for Australians to support one another and for us to get on in a responsible way and rebuild roads, rail, bridges and essential infrastructure—the bills need to be passed in the autumn sitting of parliament. I urge the opposition: stop playing politics with this most important matter. Stop playing politics with disaster relief. Pass this legislation now.

Labor would have passed this levy if we were in opposition. It is time for those opposite to get on board or get out of the way and let us get on with the job of working for Australians hand in hand, without the miserly and negative approach that we are constantly seeing across the chamber.