Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt) (7.19 pm)-I certainly welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate on the imposition of yet another tax on the Australian people. Massive flooding occurred in eastern Australia at the end of last year and through to January this year, followed by Cyclone Yasi on the evening of Wednesday, 2 February. The bottom part of my electorate of Leichhardt fell well and truly in the path of the cyclone and up until about six hours before the cyclone hit we were very much looking at being in the eye of it.
We were fortunate in that we were not as badly affected as those areas a little to the south of us, where of course it was an absolute disaster. It is going to take a significant amount of time for those areas to rebuild. It had a serious effect on our region, an effect equally devastating from a business perspective. The disaster started of course in December with the first cyclone. While there was not a lot of damage, that was just the start of that huge rainfall that travelled further south and we saw it go right through to Victoria.
The impact on us was that people in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra could see the floods in Queensland and assumed there would be major damage to all of Queensland and so cancelled any intended visits to Cairns, not realising that they were in fact closer to the affected area than Cairns was. The effect on our economy has been absolutely devastating, and this has come on the back of several years that found us with the highest unemployment in the country and businesses already struggling.
When you look at the grand scale of what Mother Nature has dumped on Queensland and other states- like Western Australia with the floods in the north and the fires to the south-in the last few months, it has caused a hell of a lot of pain. There was a tragic loss of life with an effect that will take many years to recover from. The Commonwealth is stepping in-and that is expected-to repair and rebuild the infrastructure and with income support for households. This is essential and it is absolutely welcomed and expected from both sides of politics.
The coalition are certainly not opposed in any shape or form to the rebuilding and repair of infrastructure. The rebuilding of Queensland is, of course, absolutely vital. What we do oppose is where the money is coming from to fund this rebuilding. The flood tax that the Gillard government is proposing comes on top of what very generous-hearted Australians have already given, and I see this tax as quite appalling on many levels.
We have great concerns for the capacity of this government to administer large sums of money. Again, I will be quite parochial and refer to my area in Far North Queensland. You only have to look at the Building the Education Revolution fiasco and the pink batts.
Combined, these programs cost the Australian people massive amounts of money, to the tune of millions. I know that the pink batts fiasco alone cost something like $2.4 billion of taxpayer funds. That is money that could have been used here very effectively and, from early estimates, could actually fund half the rebuild cost without having to go to another tax.
Not only did it cost us over $2.4 billion; it also electrified roofs and was linked to the tragic deaths of four installers, including one in the Atherton Tablelands. I had examples of brand-new $250,000 school halls being delivered to small communities on the same day that it was being announced that the schools were being shut down. You just shake your head in disbelief that such a thing could occur, so you have to ask the question: how in the hell can you actually trust this government to manage this program effectively and not to stuff it up as well?
There are a number of reasons the coalition is opposing this flood tax that is being imposed on the Australian people. I have to remind the government that the Prime Minister has already called on Australians to donate generously and to volunteer their time. The level of generosity and the amount of money that has been raised has been amazing. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised. Before the cyclone occurred in my area, pensioners were putting $10 or $100 into accounts and sending it down to the area. People were sending all sorts of things down there.
We had lots of builders and lots of other people travelling down to the area-not to sell their time but to give freely of their time and resources to help immediately, as is the Australian way. We see it happening all the time, and I think the enormous volunteer effort that we saw was nothing short of inspiring. There were literally armies of hundreds of people rolling up their sleeves and helping those in greater need than themselves. In many cases the people who were helping were equally affected.
Even after Cyclone Yasi, people from affected areas in the southern part of the state were coming up into some of the worst affected areas in the far north to assist them, even though in their own areas they were still a long way from rebuilding their own homes. They did it willingly, because it is the Australian way. It is what mates do when the chips are down. If someone owned a truck or a skip bin, or if they had food or other products available, they would just hand them over.
They did not expect anything from it, and neighbours really got to know each other and they really appreciated the outstanding effort. This is not a small tax; it is a very significant tax. I know there have been references to similar levies that were raised by the Howard government, when I was a member of that government, but they pale into insignificance in comparison. If you look at the gun buyback levy, which I do not think anybody would argue was necessary, and even the Ansett levy protecting the entitlements of Ansett workers, none of those amounted to even half a billion dollars-let alone the $1.8 billion that this is intended to raise.
We raised levies in the early days of the Howard government, there is no doubt about it, but when we came into government in 1996 there was an appalling deficit. Remember the Port Arthur incident happened in the same year that we came into government. There were massive deficits there that we had to try to clean up from a previous Labor government. We were trying to get the economy and the financial affairs back in order. If you compare that with 3½ years ago when the Labor Party came to government, there was a $20 billion surplus, there was zero net debt and $60 billion in the Future Fund. Have a look at that: three and a half years later we are talking about a net debt approaching $100 billion. Little wonder we are concerned about the motives of the government raising this as another tax.
One thing you can be sure about a Labor government: they are seriously great at creating deficits.
When you have a look at some of the history, they have got serious form here. They have a problem with the sale of Australian cars, so they put up a higher luxury car tax. They have an issue with the miners, so they whack them with a mining tax. They have a problem with alcohol, so they introduce an alcopops tax. They have a problem with people smoking, so they introduce a higher tobacco tax. They are introducing a climate tax through the carbon tax, and now we are hit with a flood; so instead of looking around at what they can do, they go out there and whack on another tax.
How can this possibly be seen as good financial and economic practice? It seems that Labor’s default is to punish people by making them pay more, because they simply cannot make up their finances.
The waste just seems to be endless. The Gillard government should bow its head in shame because of this disastrous record of waste. We have a massive NBN program that is going to take forever to deliver and it will not be effective. Surely to goodness there could be something coming out of that. There were thousands of dollars going up to some areas of my community for the flood-to communities in the middle of Cape York. There has been such absolute waste.
If they had managed things properly, they would have found considerable savings. Abusing the generous spirit of the Australian people is not an honourable way to dig yourself out of a financial big black hole. Making the tough decisions to cut spending and do the right thing by a country is the way you should do it, in my view. We should be looking at doing that before we even start considering the levy. To suggest that we take on another type of tax as a first option of dealing with the problem-when they do not even know the size of the problem or what they are going to be faced with-is a reflection of the overall thinking of that mob on the other side. They need to seriously reconsider this. There are certainly other ways that should be considered before they have a levy. It should be used only as a last resort.