Bundaberg residents have 'nothing left'
Record water levels moving at an "extremely fast" rate Monday leave hundreds of Bundaberg residents with "heart wrenching" damage to their homes.PT1M52S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2dhto 620 349 January 29, 2013
Australian leaders need to have a ‘‘reality check’’ and set up a permanent disaster fund, rather than considering another one-off flood levy, the Greens have declared.
The call came as the federal government remained tight-lipped on whether it would look at replicating its $1.8 billion levy set up after Queensland was hit by floods and cyclones in 2011.
The Coalition, meanwhile, appeared divided over the reintroduction of a levy on taxpayers in the wake of Queensland and NSW’s latest natural disasters.
Four-month-old Henry Brown has a visit from Liberal leader Tony Abbott before at the Royal Childrens Hospital in Melbourne. Photo: Jason South JPS
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said it was an option that may need to be considered but his national counterpart, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, continued to oppose the notion.
Greens leader Christine Milne said ‘‘one of the big mistakes’’ of 2011 was to introduce the flood levy as a temporary, isolated measure.
Senator Milne said a permanent response was needed. A new disaster fund would cover the loss of community infrastructure and adaptation measures.
She said Australia had always had floods, bushfires and other natural disasters, but the added impact of global warming would increase the intensity of such events.
‘‘It’s time for parliamentarians to recognise that we are going to be living with extreme weather events every year from now on,’’ she told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
‘‘We can’t say where, we can’t say when but what we know in a world that is increasingly warming we are going to see more extreme events and that means we can’t keep suggesting this is a one-off response that is needed every time.’’
She said all sides of politics should come together to discuss how much money should be set aside and where it would come from.
The disaster relief and reconstruction fund could be partly funded by cutting ‘‘fossil fuel subsidies’’, she said.
Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday that his instinct and values remained the same as in 2011 when he fought the introduction of the flood levy.
''Being able to cope with natural disasters should be part of the ordinary business of government,'' Mr Abbott said.
Mr Newman said a reintroduction of a levy may be necessary but it was too early for him to give a firm answer on the need for such a move.
''I think it's a bit too early to talk about that,'' the Liberal National Party premier said on Monday.
''Again, my focus is on people's safety this afternoon but ask me that in the future. Certainly that's something that has to be looked at.''
After the devastating natural disasters of 2011, the Gillard government introduced a flood levy to raise $1.8 billion to help fund the rebuilding of infrastructure such as roads, bridges and schools.
It applied only in the 2011-12 income year and was paid on taxable individual income above $50,000.
Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan has brushed off questions about a potential flood levy, saying the cost of recovery would be assessed in coming weeks.
Speaking in Ipswich, west of Brisbane, on Tuesday, Mr Swan said: ''At the moment all of our efforts have gone into saving lives and saving property. It's far too early to be talking about total financial impact.
''As we go through the next few days and weeks ahead we'll assess the financial impact.''
Mr Newman, who is visiting Bundaberg on Tuesday, said it was too soon to know how high the damage bill would reach but he believed the federal government would look at giving the state financial assistance.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that four Black Hawk helicopters, two Hercules aircraft, a C-17 and 100 Defence personnel were helping with the Bundaberg evacuation.
She told ABC Radio in Brisbane that existing disaster funds were being made available.
Ms Gillard said that the federal government - working with the state government - had triggered natural disaster relief and recovery arrangements in 46 out of the 73 local government areas in Queensland.
"I wish I could put this differently but the truth is our systems . . . have been tried and tested time and time again because we've had to face so much in Queensland so we know how to work together - we know how to do it well," she said.
Liberal Queensland senator George Brandis said it was premature to be saying ''categorically yes or no'' to a new levy.
''We don't yet have an early assessment . . . of the costs,'' he told Sky News.
''The first thing someone like Wayne Swan and other Labor politicians think of is 'Ah ha, here's another excuse to have another tax'.''
He said whatever federal assistance was needed to help Queensland and NSW rebuild infrastructure could be accommodated if the Gillard government ''tightened its belt''.
''Before we start talking about a levy what we ought to be talking about is the federal government trimming its own spending,'' Senator Brandis said.
Labor parliamentary secretary Mike Kelly said Australia had a ''proud tradition'' of using levies when necessary.
He pointed to the Howard government's gun buyback following the Port Arthur massacre.
Defending the Gillard government's previous flood levy, Mr Kelly said some of that money had been deployed on flood damage prevention measures.
- with Michael Gordon, Judith Ireland and AAP