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Thursday, 24 February 2011
Page: 1479

Mr TEHAN (11:03 AM) —I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and cognate bill, although, sadly, what I am going to have to say will not fill the Australian people with joy. What we are seeing from the Gillard government are overruns on so many programs and such waste that one wonders about the long-term future of the country, unless the government can stop behaving in such a reckless manner.

Recently we have seen a $2 billion tax for the flood levy. The government started by asking the Australian people and Australian businesses to contribute to the flood and also to the cyclone damage. Then, after the Australian people through hard work had given dollars, they found themselves whacked with a levy on top of that, which will not do anything to help people continue the volunteer effort, if all their efforts are just going to end up with the government just coming over the top and taxing them.

One of the great things about this country is the volunteer spirit and contribution we have, and I think that is something that we need to protect and cherish. If the government had stuck with its budget six months ago the levy would not have been necessary. This tax, which came on top of such a great volunteer effort, would not have been necessary.

The simple take-home message from these appropriations bills is that the government needs to live within its means. The Gillard government is a government that taxes, spends and borrows on repeat. It is a bit like the old cassette recorder that gets stuck in the car. All we seem to get is the message ‘Tax, spend, borrow, tax, spend, borrow’, until you have to give it a hard thump to try to get it to stop. I think the only way we are going to be able to get a hard thump is at the next election. We will be doing all we can to point out to the Australian people that we have to change the government because this one just taxes, spends and borrows.

It is also a government that shies away from hard decisions. It could have found the $2 billion it needs from the flood levy by making some hard decisions, but unfortunately it did not have the political courage to do so. This is a government that is borrowing $100 million a day. Interest rates are increasing and will continue to increase while the government continues to borrow $100 million a day. Sadly, this will hurt Australians. This will hurt Australian families, Australian small businesses and Australian farmers.

These appropriations are a symbol of the huge waste of this government and they are there for everyone to see. Like every family in Australia, the government needs to manage its budget. If Australian families have to live within their means, then why shouldn’t the government? Australian families know that if they were borrowing the equivalent of $100 million a day in their budgets they would be in big trouble and would have to change the way they were going about things. Sadly, this government does not see it that way and if we are not careful our children are going to face a huge debt that future governments will have to make drastic decisions to help pay off.

Responsible governments, such as the Howard government, put money aside for a rainy day. If the Gillard government were a responsible government it would not be in the position it is now—with the spending in these appropriation bills and the need to tax the Australian people further to pay for the $10 billion to 20 billion necessary for the flood and cyclone recuperation.

While I am talking on this subject, I would like to touch on a point that was raised in the Herald Sun today about how we are still yet to see a plan from this government on how it is going to help western Victoria recover from the floods. We have seen a government which has focused heavily on twisting arms and doing backroom deals to get its $2 billion levy in place, yet we have seen nothing from the Gillard government on how it is going to help those communities in western Victoria that are struggling with the flood recovery. If there was a simple message I would like to give today it would be: please stop focusing on taxing our communities and please focus on a plan that will help them recover from the devastation that has been wrought upon them.

Today’s Herald Sun highlights that 13 mayors have written to the transport minister asking how the minister is going to help as they want to get on with doing repair work—fixing the roads and rebuilding bridges—and, importantly, doing it in a way which improves the infrastructure so that with future flooding there will not be such severe damage. They have not heard back from the government, so they are sitting there waiting and wanting to know where they can spend money, how they can spend money and what contribution they will get from the federal government to help in that regard. What has made this all the more difficult for them is that previously they have seen government programs where money has been wasted. So we have a vital need at the moment for government money to go into important projects, yet they are getting nothing of that and they are looking back and seeing programs that have wasted Australian taxpayer dollars.

In my electorate of Wannon there was a huge problem with insulation batts, in Hamilton, Warrnambool and Port Fairy. In Port Fairy the installers, who like many established themselves overnight due to the hasty, poor policy created by the Labor government, left without a trace. They had been staying at a local caravan park and they left clients with no reliable contact details, unfinished work and insulation material strewn all over the road. These people were the ones who benefited from the government’s pink batts program, who profited from the Australian taxpayer dollars that the government so carelessly threw away, leaving behind pensioners and families wondering what type of insulation they had in their roofs and whether the way that it had been installed was potentially a severe fire hazard for them.

There was a storage company in Warrnambool who were left with a shed full of batts that no-one came to collect. It is important to point out that not only were they left with those batts but they were left with no direction as to what they should do with them. So that storage space, which could have been used to earn that company more money, could not be used as the batts had to remain there while the company waited for the government to tell them what they could do with them. Sadly, it took six to nine months before they could get any direction from the government as to how they could deal with the batts that had been left there. During the months that the batts sat in their storage shed with no payment this business lost income. Not only did this business pay through their taxes for the government’s wasteful program but they also paid through lost revenue. There was no recompense for the business. Now they will pay again as a result of government waste, this time in the form of a new levy.

Only four months ago, Edy Foster and her family, from Simpson, were living in darkness in certain rooms of their house because batts that had been installed around downlights smouldered when the lights were on. Mrs Foster feared for her family’s safety because despite her warnings to her children there were times when they turned the lights on without knowing the danger of the smouldering batts in the roof. Not only did Mrs Foster have to get an inspector out to inspect her home and the insulation that had been installed by a company going by the name of SS Greenforce, at additional cost to the taxpayer; she then had to wait for months, while fearing for her family’s safety, for someone to finally come out to remove the dangerous insulation. Mrs Foster called the government hotline three times to try to gain assistance to get the unsafe insulation removed. It was not until the issue had been raised by the media that she finally got some action from the government and had some contact about getting the insulation removed. Sadly, we are still hearing similar stories about waste. We are hearing stories of government contractors coming down to inspect flats and doing four flats and then another inspector coming down a week later to do the remaining two flats. All this is an additional expense to the taxpayer.

The pink batts program was a complete and utter waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. Sadly, in my electorate we have also seen this with the BER program. We have examples of contractors heading from Geelong, travelling 2½ hours, to do garden remedial work and then driving back again, and that remedial work took half an hour. Why couldn’t a local contractor have been used? We have schools getting $800,000 halls where there are six students at those schools. We have Dunkeld Primary School where they wanted to use the classrooms which were to be demolished to build new change rooms for the local cricket club. They could not. They also wanted to construct the building using local labour, and that local labour put off work for 12 months while they waited for the approval process, only for the state government, through the federal government, to decide that what they were going to get were demountable classrooms from Melbourne delivered up to the school. This type of gross waste hurts local communities and especially regional and rural communities. Because those businesses put off work they would have had in order to help with the school, they lost income and they cannot grow and expand as they should be able to.

In contrast to what the government are doing, the coalition are committed to doing everything necessary to rebuild and repair the budget. We have outlined savings. 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. And 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. If Labor had been taking proper care of their finances, as the Howard government did previously, they would not be 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 needs to cut wasteful spending such as government advertising, reduce consultancy expenses, put a freeze on Public Service recruitment and cancel the National Broadband Network. It also needs to stop its mantra of tax, spend and borrow. If it continues to head down this path, the long-term future of the Australian economy is going to be very bleak indeed and the long-term future for our local communities is going to be very bleak indeed. If Australian families can live within their means, the government should be able to do likewise. It needs to stop borrowing $100 million a day. It has to learn to live within its means. It has to stop taxing, spending and borrowing in a way that is going to hurt us for the years ahead.