Devastating floods have hit us hard. Their waters are slowly going away, but they will surely return in force as the current cyclones are already indicating. Nevertheless, we are not going to be ‘rooned,’ as was predicted by a character called Hanrahan, created by Father Patrick Joseph Hartigan in 1921.
“If this rain doesn’t stop we’ll be rooned, and then the bush fires will come and the banks will fail.” Hanrahan was a pessimist, but he did accurately pinpoint the inevitable cycle of Australian disasters — a skill that seems to have escaped our current leaders.
While I am ready and willing to pay a levy to ensure that our nation and its people recover as soon as possible, I am less than impressed by the performance of the Federal Government and the Opposition in determining how this should be handled.
Julia is going for a quick fix and Tony has opted for short term political gain. Both are wrong, and they are obsessed by the volatility of Queensland voters as they refer only to Queensland in the debate about the levy, while ignoring the plight of flood victims in Victoria and New South Wales.
Bred in the bush, and I cannot remember a year when there was not a bushfire, flood, drought, cyclone or earthquake ravaging some part Australia. Windsor says that it’s time for us to establish a permanent National Disaster Fund instead of pretending that this current tragedy is a once in a lifetime event that won’t occur again. He is absolutely right. We should all support him in his efforts to establish such a Fund — and I intend to do so quite vigorously.
The Fund can be established quickly by an Act of Parliament, which empowers a totally independent Board of Guardians, free from the influence of politicians who will want to get their fingers into the honey pot whenever we have a year without a tragedy.
It should be funded by a small permanent levy paid by every taxpayer, private or corporate, who earns more than $50,000 a year. In addition, the legislation must provide that the Fund will also receive a permanent allocation of a percentage of our gross national product from the Budget every year, irrespective of how much financial and political trouble the politicians may be in at any time.
The legislation can provide a Charter which the Guardians must follow in determining how much money is to be distributed to our three levels of government when a disaster occurs. In between disasters, the Guardians will have the responsibility to grow the Fund by investing it in Australian blue chip stocks.
An interesting possibility is that the government can kick the Fund off by transferring a few billion dollars from its Terrorism Fund, which was quietly established by John Howard in the years after Nine-Eleven as capital to finance a war against terrorists if they ever got to our shores. I reckon that most people will agree that national disasters cause far greater damage than any terrorist could dream about.
Why are Julia and Tony avoiding a long term solution? The Prime Minister seems to fear that a permanent tax levy for disasters will be rejected by the voters, and further diminish her quite ordinary standing in the polls. She is wrong — they won’t reject it. They will be thrilled by visionary leadership that has so far been missing. And no reasonable person will be in the slightest concerned if she can’t get the Federal Budget into surplus by 2013. It is a nonsense to continue to promise what is now impossible through no fault of the government.
The Opposition Leader wants to continue to sing his old song about great big new taxes when this childish slogan is now well worn out and utterly wearisome. He also seems have a mental block about the great big new tax he was going to charge companies to pay for his incredibly poorly planned maternity leave promise.
We need to get this debate out of the grasp of the personal hang-ups of our political leaders. The creation of a long term National Disaster Fund is urgent and necessary. Tony Abbott will court political disaster if he opposes it. Julia Gillard will suffer a similar fate if she fails to implement it.
One of the benefits of a National Disaster Fund is that it will remove the need to have Disaster Appeals every time nature bestows its wrath upon us. In my eight decades
of life, including 50 of them as a fund raising consultant, I have never seen a Disaster Appeal deliver on its stated purposes. I have seen only bitterness in their wake. Sure, they raise a lot of money because most human beings are generous. But, the victims of the disaster invariably become embittered. They don’t get enough money to meettheir basic needs, and the wrong people seem to get thebest hand-outs while the most needy usually miss out. Just ask John Brumby how difficult it was to run his Bushfire Fund. He lost an election over it. I am not suggesting that we don’t make personal gifts to the needy because there is a National Disaster Fund in existence. What we do is to sustain our mates directly with money, clothing and food. This is the best way to ensure that the needy are helped. I have declined to give to the current Appeal for the valid reasons that I have just spelled out. I gave directly to my friends in need.
Anna Bligh has justly earned the praise that has come her way, even though she sidelined the Prime Minister in doing so. She was a genuine leader of her people just as Ted Baillieu and Kristina Keneally were in Victoria and New South Wales. But, while she will enjoy a lift in the polls, she will find that it does not translate into electoral success.
As a 14-year-old boy, I watched the newsreels of Winston Churchill being absolutely idolised by cheering crowds wherever he went in those heady days of 1945 when Germany surrendered. Three months later, he was thrashed in the British General Elections by voters worried about a lack of jobs and housing in post-War Britain. Anna is now free from challenge from those disloyal members of her caucus who have been openly plotting for months to get rid of her. She will be the Premier right up to the Elections in about 12 months. History will tell us the rest of the story.
The unsung hero of the Brisbane Floods was Lord Mayor Campbell Newman (pictured at left). His organisation of the on-the-ground recovery effort was absolutely superb. While I am confident that he will be re-elected in March next year, I know that he will be acutely aware that his legendary predecessor, Clem Jones, was similarly superb in the 1974 floods, but was wiped out in his bid to become the Federal Member for Griffith only a few months later.
So much for politics. There are bigger issues at stake and tough decisions have to be made as to whether people will be allowed to rebuild their houses in flood prone areas. The short and definite answer is ‘NO.’ The pollies will duck and weave because it is a deadly vote-loser and they will find tear jerking excuses why they should not intervene, but the fact is that the banks of the Brisbane River (and a lot of other Australian rivers) should be adorned by parklands and sports fields for the benefit of all the people, not just a few trendies who want a house with a view of a river even though the rest of us have to pay a levy every time they are flooded out. I don’t think that I will live to see those parklands.
The destruction of infrastructure is not as bad as it seems. A lot of it was outdated and neglected and can now be replaced with modern and durable structures that should have been built 50 years ago — were it not for this nation’s massive neglect of infrastructure in favour of constantly using surpluses to create opportunities for greedy people to live beyond their means.
The floods have reminded us that we have lived like the “Prodigal Son” and now have to put up with some pain while we make amends for our selfish neglect of national responsibilities.