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Published: ABC the Drum Unleashed

The response of the Gillard government to flood reconstruction has been panic at the prospect of not being able to return a budget surplus in 2012/13.

Incredible as it may seem to you and I, they fear a sneering opposition.

The Victorian floods have not even run their course and Queensland may suffer further flooding, yet Gillard is announcing the urgent need for a twelve month tax payer levy. There has been no survey of damage and therefore there can be no estimate of reconstruction costs; so why the rush? There are no announced mechanisms for prioritising and auditing expenditure.

I wouldn’t give money voluntarily within this framework yet I will have to. I am being compelled, against my better judgement, to contribute to a second-rate and ill thought through scheme.

Through her precipitate and panicky response Gillard has, unwittingly, opened up the whole question of government expenditure.

Twice I have been posted in Pakistan, as an Australian diplomat, with reporting responsibilities for Afghanistan. On my first tour I observed the country, on my second I took photographs of Russian soldiers and installations. The war is unwinnable, Afghanistan is not the breeding place of terrorism, the Taliban regime is no worse than the Wahabi regime in Saudi Arabia. Regarded as a friend of the US, Saudi Arabia has given clandestine support to Hamas, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Saudi treatment of women and domestic servants can at best be described as discriminatory.

Australia should withdraw from Afghanistan, saving $2 billion a year.

Savings would be made by cutting back grants to private schools. Cranbrook, a large all boys private school in Sydney received $3.5 million from taxpayers last year while at the same time posting savings of $8.5 million. I advocate significant cuts that could deliver $1 billion for use in reconstruction.

The cost of processing asylum seekers could be halved or better, if processing were to be carried out properly and speedily. Delayed processing does not act as a deterrent and seeking security clearances from the regimes people flee makes no sense. These delays cost money without providing any tangible benefit other than attempting to avoid opposition criticism.

The political game as it is played in Australia costs taxpayers a fortune.

How are the self employed, farmers, small business and others on variable incomes to be assessed for this levy?

What of the Oakeshott idea for the creation of infrastructure bonds and the Windsor and Katter idea of a national disaster insurance scheme? These and other initiatives should be now opened up for discussion and debate.

Is the Australian tax payer going to be asked to fork out every time we experience a major national disaster? This country needs workable long term strategies to deal with climate change, including a national insurance scheme, workable caps on carbon and a water policy that conserves and manages water for all into the future.

Urgency has been contrived by Gillard and Swan as a means of railroading the levy. There is no urgency that cannot be met from and by the Treasury. The amount sought by the levy is said to be $1.8 billion over a twelve month period, the government can carry that and a lot more and in any case, it will take eighteen months before any of the levy funds find their way into the Treasury.

The Independents and the Greens should use the opportunity created by Gillard to examine all federal government expenditure and find savings. The opposition will use their examination of federal expenditure as an ideological exercise to recommend axing programs they do not like such as the NBN.

Gillard’s response lacked self confidence; it is unimaginative and weak willed. The Swan/Gillard combination is poor. Swan and Rudd panicked in the face of the GFC and the same paucity of moral fibre, fear and lack of understanding of the electorate has driven this latest financial fiasco.

Rudd was a dud, Gillard is no better, federal politics is turning us all into losers.