Grievance Debate – Vasta calls on Gillard to Provide Certainty under the NDRRA to BCC

Mr/Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I rise today to speak on behalf of the people in my electorate of Bonner but also those in greater Brisbane.

I am speaking today, in support of Lord Mayor Campbell Newman and his requests for the Gillard Government to provide assurances about what is considered to be “essential public infrastructure” under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

I join the Lord Mayor in urging the Federal Government to provide certainty to Brisbane City Council and the residents of Brisbane about exactly what assets will be covered by the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

Mr/Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, immediately following the recent flood that devastated so many communities in Brisbane, Brisbane City Council has been trying to establish whether tens of millions of dollars in repairs to Brisbane’s much valued ferry terminals, river walk and sewage plants are eligible for funding under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

We are now almost six weeks since the peak of the flood and many communities are trying to return to normal as much as possible. But while Brisbane City Council is well underway with its flood recovery work, almost six weeks since the flood, this Federal Government still won’t provide the certainty that is so desperately required in order for Brisbane City Council to fully move forward with the reconstruction process. A process that I am sure that a lot of my colleagues on both sides of this chamber will agree is a top priority.

Mr/Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, it is not like the Brisbane City Council isn’t prepared to make the hard decisions – it certainly is! Two weeks ago, the Lord Mayor, together with Council’s Chairman for Finance and Economic Development, Cr Adrian Schrinner, announced the redirection of $380 million over three years into the flood recovery effort.

That was by no means an easy process but it was made even harder because of the lack of certainty provided by the Federal Government about what it will and won’t fund.

Unlike this Federal Government, Brisbane City Council knows that residents have already been hit hard enough and it is taking all measures possible not to pass on the cost of this reconstruction to residents through higher rates. Particularly at a time when the Federal Government wants to impose an additional tax on all Australians, including those in Queensland that have already donated so much in time volunteering and money.

Unlike this Federal Government, Brisbane City Council practices responsible financial management and is not prepared to run up budget deficits. Running the budget into deficit is not an option but it also can’t delay the flood recovery while it waits for the Federal Government to confirm their financial support – instead it has had to make some very tough decisions and defer projects in some areas and make cuts in others.

Indeed I take this opportunity to commend the Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman, on his outstanding leadership in making these tough decisions and I certainly applaud him and his team on their commitment to prudent financial management. I salute the determination of the Lord Mayor and his council to get city’s vital infrastructure up and running again at the earliest possible time. Last week the Lord Mayor revealed how Brisbane City Council would maintain a balanced budget while covering the cost of Council’s damage bill following the impact of last month’s flood.

The Lord Mayor said Council had put all projects and expenditure under the microscope to find ways to budget for the $440 million damage bill without putting pressure on ratepayers. Deferring projects rather than hitting ratepayers with a large rates rise is most certainly the right thing to do and as the Lord Mayor has acknowledged, as soon as confirmation is received from the State and Federal Government about what will be covered under disaster relief arrangements, some of these projects can begin to be put back on the table.

The good news for Brisbane ratepayers, thanks to the prudent financial decisions made by the Lord Mayor and his team, is that they won’t have to fund the flood bill via a flood levy or surcharge on their rates. Introducing a flood levy at a time like this would be nothing short of poor and reckless financial management. Instead, a responsible financial plan has been put in place to keep the budget in the black and get Brisbane back on track. Brisbane’s clean up and recovery will be a marathon, not a sprint and once again, I commend the Lord Mayor for balancing the Council budget to cover the damage bill and ensuring ratepayers do not suffer expense through extra rate rises and levies; all of which was achieved without any confirmation of support or funding from the State and Federal Governments.

Mr/Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, unlike the Labor State Government in Queensland, Brisbane City Council have also been prudent in their risk management policies and taken out storm and flood insurance policies wherever possible. In fact, it pays over $2 million each year in insurance premiums. This will go some way towards rebuilding Brisbane, but as I mentioned earlier, the fact remains that there will still be a significant shortfall over the next three years. Make no mistake – every dollar of financial assistance the Federal Government refuses to provide is a dollar that Brisbane City Council will need to find by cutting projects the city.

It was not that long ago Mr/Madam Acting Deputy Speaker that the Prime Minister was in Queensland promising to do everything in her power to help rebuild Queensland. I ask the Prime Minister what’s changed now you’re back here in Canberra?

Again, I urge the Federal Government to provide certainty to Brisbane City Council and all other councils in Queensland that have similar concerns.

I read an editorial in the Courier Mail last week that expressed the sentiment eloquently. It read: “No one is asking for a blank cheque. They just want the disaster recovery arrangements honoured in the spirit in which they were intended, an end to the tawdry politics, and enough surety so that we can rebuild our communities. That is not a lot to ask.”

I know that a lot of my colleagues in this chamber will agree with me when I say – No, it certainly is not a lot to ask.

Mr/Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, behind all this bureaucracy, endless red tape and posturing I don’t know what has happened to influential Queenslanders like the members for Lilley & Griffith. They seem to be more concerned about Canberra than Queensland and I join the Lord Mayor of Brisbane in calling for them to stand up for their home State and honour the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements in their entirety and provide certainty for Brisbane and the rest of Queensland who have already suffered so much.

I call on the Prime Minister to outline Brisbane’s position as well as give all Queensland councils some certainty on what will and won’t be eligible for funding as soon as possible. It is quite simple really – all they have to do is say ‘yes vital infrastructure will be funded’ and ‘yes, water and sewerage infrastructure will be funded’ and whether it applies to Brisbane or across the state.

In conclusion, over the last 6 weeks we have all heard a lot about the need to give assistance and demonstrate compassion to the victims of this terrible natural disaster. Indeed the Prime Minister has spoken many time of this herself. Well I say to this house that if the Prime Minister really wants to show some heart and some compassion, she can do this by giving certainty.

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