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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1214

Mr ZAPPIA (5:23 PM) —Many members of this House made some very eloquent and heart-wrenching speeches in this place when speaking on the condolence motion with respect to the Queensland floods. I did not contribute in that debate, so, firstly, I take the opportunity to express my sympathy and my condolences to the families who lost family members as a result of the Queensland floods and also to all of the families who perhaps lost their home, their possessions or suffered in any way as a result of floods. I can only imagine that the experience would have been horrendous for them. I was not there but—as, I assume, most members of this House—saw the footage at the time, read the newspaper reports and heard the stories firsthand about what was occurring within the communities.

Regrettably, similar events seem to be occurring right throughout the nation. I extend the same feelings of empathy towards communities wherever they might be that are also going through extreme weather events causing them grief. Right now we know only too well what is occurring to our New Zealand friends in Christchurch. Again, looking at the footage, all I can say is that our thoughts are with those people, and right now the most important thing is to provide them with every bit of support we can to ensure that we can help as many people who have suffered, and are still suffering, as we can. As we all know, life continues and the task ahead is to rebuild infrastructure, homes and lives in any community affected. The government has, through the Tax Laws Amendment (Temporary Flood Reconstruction Levy) Bill 2011, and related bill, proposed a very responsible plan to do that for the people of Queensland. It is responsible because it spreads the burden of the cost of recovery fairly, evenly and right across all sectors of the Australian community.

In the brief time I have available today, I want to address three matters. Firstly, the merits of the levy itself; secondly, the opposition’s alternative strategy; and, thirdly, the likelihood of further destruction because of extreme weather events in the future. I turn to the merits of the levy. When a disaster occurs, to the extent that it is possible, the burden of recovery should be spread as evenly as practicable across the nation to those who can most afford it. This levy does exactly that. It does that because anyone earning less than $50,000 a year does not pay any levy at all. For those earning between $50,000 and $100,000, the levy will be 0.5 per cent of their taxable income. For those earning over $100,000, the rate will be 0.5 per cent for income between $50,000 and $100,000 and one per cent for income above $100,000. In fact, 50 per cent of taxpayers pay nothing; 60 per cent of taxpayers pay less than a dollar a week, and eligible victims of the flood will also not pay the levy. The levy is for the 2011-12 financial year only. It proposes to raise $1.8 billion, with the balance of the funding estimated to be around $5.6 billion, not including the effects of Cyclone Yasi, coming from expenditure savings, deferrals and cuts.

When budget cuts are made the costs are borne by those communities who would have benefited the most from the program from which the budget cuts are made. In other words, a narrow group of Australians wear most of the burden. That is the inequity of the opposition’s proposal to fund the reconstruction entirely from budget cuts. That is why a combination of budget cuts and a modest levy is the fairest response to meeting the costs. It spreads the burden as evenly as possible across all sectors of the community. I have heard speaker after speaker on the other side come in here and criticise the economic management of this government. Interestingly, economists from the ANZ, Westpac, the CBA, CommSec, Citibank and Rismark have all commented that it is a responsible response to meeting the costs of the reconstruction required in Queensland. I have not heard any members opposite suggesting that they are better economists than the economists who represent all of those leading financial institutions.

The second matter I want to refer to is the opposition’s alternative proposal to fund the entire reconstruction from cuts. What has been interesting in the course of this debate—and I have listened to many speakers from the other side—is that I have not heard one come into this place and defend the opposition’s alternative proposal. They have come in here and criticised the government and they have come in here and criticised past actions of the government in other areas, but not one of them has come in here and specifically defended the alternative proposal to find the funds to rebuild Queensland.

Mr Laming —It is waste.

Mr ZAPPIA —If that is what you believe—and I am not sure if you have made a contribution in this House—why did you not articulate the cuts that have been proposed by your leader and defend them in this House? I have not heard one member from the coalition do that.

What has been exposed by the opposition leader’s proposal to find the funds by making cuts is his contempt for, and neglect of, South Australia. South Australia would bear the brunt of the proposed opposition cuts. I say that for these two reasons. If you look at the two areas where the opposition would find their funds, one is the deferral of the $600 million of water buybacks and the second is the cut of $500 million from the Automotive Transformation Scheme. Both of those have a very big direct impact on South Australians.

The automotive sector, as most members of this House know, is vital to South Australia. Even though we have lost Mitsubishi, General Motors Holden is still a major employer and a major sustainer of the manufacturing economy in South Australia. My understanding is that there are in the order of 70,000 direct and indirect jobs as a result of the motor vehicle industry in South Australia. It is certainly important to the people I represent. Cutting $500 million from the Automotive Transformation Scheme means that the automotive sector will be hit again. The automotive sector, as we all know, has already been through some very difficult times. In South Australia, General Motors Holden is now starting to rebuild and recently advertised for more people. It has started the production of its new Cruze motor vehicle and things are looking up. The last thing that the sector now needs is for the opposition to come into this place and say, ‘If we were in government we would be cutting more of the funds that sustain your industry.’

I now turn to the water buybacks. The water buybacks are critical to restoring the balance in the Murray-Darling Basin system. What again is clear is that the Leader of the Opposition is prepared to turn his back on South Australian irrigators and that Senator Joyce dictates Murray-Darling Basin policy when it comes to the coalition. As a supplementary member of the Standing Committee on Regional Australia currently inquiring into the Murray-Darling Basin, I am acutely aware of the devastation caused to communities right across the basin as a result of the prolonged drought. I am also acutely aware that uncertainty about the Basin Plan is adding to the grief of those communities. To suggest to them that water buybacks should be deferred is to say to them, ‘We will add to that uncertainty.’ Right now no community across the Basin Plan would be in agreement with that. The committee has already, as an interim measure, contacted the minister’s office with respect to strategic water buybacks. It is a measure that is supported.

When it comes to South Australia, only yesterday there was a report by the Winemakers Federation in the Adelaide Advertiser saying that if we do not develop a sustainable Murray-Darling system, and if we cannot restore water entitlements to growers, South Australian winemakers will be hard hit, and that winemakers in the Riverland and Langhorne Creek in particular will suffer and may well go out of business. That is how important the water buybacks are to South Australia.

I turn in the few moments I have left to the final point I want to raise, and that is the likelihood of more frequent and extreme weather events and the destruction that will obviously come with them. I do not think anyone in this House would deny that it almost seems that in the last two years we have gone from one event to another. We seem to go—if not in this country, certainly around the world—from one devastating weather event to another. What that tells us is that those scientists who have been telling us for years and years that extreme weather events are going to occur more often were right—it is actually already upon us and we are seeing it. Only a week or so ago we had another two scientific reports which confirmed the likelihood of more frequent and more extreme weather events into the future. These are not just normal weather cycles. I accept that over the years there have been changing climate and weather patterns in a cyclical way. But what we are now seeing are not normal weather events. Rebuilding Queensland is certainly important, but we need to look into the future, because we are likely to be confronted by similar occurrences—as the member for O’Connor talked about happening right now in Western Australia—on a frequent basis. That means we cannot continue to ignore climate change.

Regrettably, we had a motion in this House only today by the opposition in which opposition speakers were suggesting that climate change was not real and that governments should not be doing anything about it. Effectively that is what they were saying. If that is their view, what I say to them is this: look at the cost to this country as a result of the floods in Queensland. The 75 per cent alone that the federal government is contributing, because it has to meet 75 per cent of the cost, is in the order of $5.6 billion. That means that the total amount is somewhere around $8 billion, just from that one event. That does not include the Victorian floods, the Tasmanian floods or the Western Australian floods. It does not include Cyclone Yasi. The costs run into billions. Look at the costs of trying to rectify and restore the balance in the Murray-Darling system—billions of dollars. This government has committed $13 billion just for that task alone.

We cannot continue to meet those kinds of costs if we do not properly prepare and take whatever action we can to minimise the events in whatever way we can. And we can do that if we take a responsible attitude, take the advice of our scientists that climate change is real and that we need to act. The sooner we do so, the sooner we will start to reduce the kinds of costs that we are now incurring almost on a daily basis. I close where I started. This is a responsible bill because it spreads the burden of reconstruction as evenly as possible across Australia on those who can most afford it. For those reasons, I support it.