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Land Tax Rating Amendment Bill 2022

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Tags: Legislation, Housing Crisis

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Dr Broad, I thoroughly enjoyed your contribution. I think you absolutely demolished this woeful excuse for a government on housing and on population. Although I disagree with you on many matters, including supporting this legislation, I thought it was a sterling effort that laid out the facts. The pleasant thing about it was is that it kept our colleagues on the Government benches very quiet, with their heads down, for the best part of half an hour until someone over their finally woke up and belatedly started heckling you.

Mr Deputy Speaker, as I said, by way of interjection, after the minister had sat down from speaking for about four minutes, it was the most pathetic dishonest second reading speech I have ever heard here - and I am not exaggerating. It was an unbecoming second reading speech from the Minister for Finance. His brief and dishonest contribution was effectively a media release. There was no context, no rationale, no detail of any assessment on the impacts that this will have beyond the headline populous numbers this Government wants Tasmanians to focus on.

Dr Broad is right in one sense; it is a joke, but it is also a human tragedy because we have a government that consistently gaslights the people of Tasmania, which is so immersed in its own self-love that it cannot get out into the community and listen to what is happening in people's lives. It feeds Tasmanians buckets of bulldust every day. The most recent example of it, and I have mentioned it in here before, was the Minister for Resources telling a bare-faced lie about the connection between the removal of masks and the doubling of case numbers.

Mr Ferguson - That is unparliamentary. The member should not even have to say he is offended.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The member knows that it is an unparliamentary term.

Mr BARNETT - That is grossly unparliamentary.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, but it is true. If he takes offence to the word, I will call it an untruth.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, can you please withdraw.

Ms O'CONNOR - I did; I withdrew it.

Mr Jaensch - It is also contrary to what Public Health says so you are doubly wrong.

Ms O'CONNOR - Actually, because you have never tabled the Public Health advice on masks we have no idea,k and because your form is to be thoroughly dishonest all the time we do not trust you.

Mr Jaensch - Watch the television. They are on the television every day talking about it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order, Mr Jaensch.

Ms O'CONNOR - Here are some numbers, other than the numbers in this bill, that we should be focusing on: $14 million; $55 million; and $83 million. Fourteen million dollars is the annual revenue forgone from 2021's land tax adjustment; $55 million will be the average annual revenue forgone from this round of land tax cuts; $83 million is the projected annual loss from GST revenue when the 'no worse off' guarantee ends in 2026. This is a total of $153 million a year. The total budget for the Department of Premier and Cabinet this year is $90 million; the Department of Treasury and Finance, $66 million. The lost revenue that we are looking at as a state is about the same as the cost of two significant government departments. The cost of the land tax cuts alone is the cost of the Department of Treasury and Finance.

For at least a decade, the Department of Treasury and Finance as well as independent economists have warned that Tasmania's own source revenue is too low. This leaves us deeply vulnerable to changes in our GST revenue. What do you know? We are going to see these fears come to fruition after the expiration of the 'no worse off' GST guarantee in 2026.

How has this self-loving Government responded to these concerns over the past eight budgets? Own source revenue has declined from 39 per cent of overall revenue in 2014-15, when they came to office, to 35.9 per cent in 2021-22. Now the Government wants to introduce further cuts to Tasmania's second largest revenue source, cuts somewhere in the region of 30 per cent. What will we achieve with these cuts? The benefit of these cuts is being delivered to those lucky enough to have a property other than a principle residence. Largely, this will be investment properties and, arguably, luxury properties like shacks.

There are many of us in here, as you have tried to remind me a number of times, who are members of the propertied class. These land tax cuts benefit the propertied class, not people who cannot afford to buy a home or rent a home and, as Dr Broad detailed, are leaving this beautiful island state, their home, in droves because they cannot find a place to live.

It is incumbent on government not to shove propaganda and untruths down our throats while pushing a bill like this to argue for why this massive land tax cut, this gift to the propertied class, is reasonable. The minister and, indeed, the Premier have claimed these land tax cuts will reduce rents. They have not and they will not.

I refer the House to the Code of Conduct for Ministers, which is very clear about dishonesty for ministers - not that it is ever upheld because there are no standards here, apparently. But it is very clear:

Ministers must not mislead Parliament or the public in statements they make and are obliged to correct the Parliamentary or the public record in a manner that is appropriate to the circumstances as soon as possible after any incorrect statement is made.

We have in here a minister of the Crown being dishonest with the parliament, being dishonest with the historical record and, indeed, should any case come before a court that relates to this legislation, being dishonest with the justice system. This is a clear breach of the ministerial Code of Conduct.

Cutting land tax will not put downward pressure on rents. Of course, we will not hear that confession from the minister because the Premier himself has dug in on the dishonesty. One of the reasons land tax exists is because it reduces land speculation and, therefore, increases supply and reduces rents. It is a tax that is paid by the wealthy and cannot be passed on to tenants because rents are largely a function of demand and supply. As we know, rents in Hobart have gone up, on average, 11 per cent in the past year. Some people, of course, are getting rent hikes of 20 to 25 per cent on their weekly rental bill. This demand-supply principal underpins the economic assessments of land tax from Adam Smith's famous 1776 book, The Wealth of Nations, through to contemporary examples such as acclaimed economist, Saul Eslake, who stated, exposing the lie:

It's a myth propagated by the property industry that land taxes affect rents. They don't. Rents are determined by the interaction of demand and supply in the land market in the rental housing market.

I would be very surprised if many landlords, having received a lower land tax bill decided to reduce the rents they charge their tenants. To be frank, I would be utterly shocked because there is no evidence, and there has never been any evidence, that if you cut land tax the propertied class, the landlords, will pass on their savings to their tenants. This has also been acknowledged in the 2010 Australia's Future Tax System Review Final Report, commonly known as the Henry Tax Review, as well as the Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs in the European Commission. This is a well-established economic fact; cutting land tax does not reduce rents. The minister's second reading speech contains an unvarnished lie.

Indeed, Tasmanians have lived through this in practice as rents have only increased since the last round of tax cuts just last year. However, if the Government knows better than expert economists, a literal two-and-a-half centuries of economic axiom and the statistical reality present after their last land tax change, they are welcome to come into this place and provide actual evidence rather than bold claims that this will bring down rents for the people of Tasmania. The reason they will not do that, other than the fact that no such evidence exists, is because they know it will not reduce rents. It is not intended to. This is about the property class. It is not about people who have joined the housing underclass because they cannot find a place to live that they can afford.

The intent of this bill is to garner political support, largely from wealthy people, by giving them a tax break. Like cowards, they refuse to come into this place and tell the truth. It is much easier for them to pursue this agenda under a false pretense of putting a downward pressure on rents. As if this is not bad enough, the tedious right-wing ideologues in this place, like Mr Ellis, choose to make petty and weak illusions to socialism in lieu of any credible evidence. Hating socialism - that is governments that provide services to people and look after people - is not a suitable substitute for actual evidence when it comes to informing policy. This is consistently the strategy of the hard right, to smear the views of the, broadly speaking, political left without proffering much in the way of their own view.

It is trolling in lieu of genuine opinion and evidence-based assertions. Housing approvals is a good example of this trolling. Right-wing trolls like Mr Ellis and his colleague on council, Mr Simon Behrakis, like to take aim at the Hobart City Council for its failure to approve every single dwelling that comes before it. What they fail to acknowledge is that council is required to apply the planning scheme. If one were to contend that council does not do that correctly, well RMPAT has the final say.

Mr Jaensch - Not anymore. It is TASCAT. Catch up.

Ms O'CONNOR - Or TASCAT, whatever. What is the solution put forward by these trolls? Is it that the planning scheme, as established by their Liberal colleagues, should be ignored and 100 per cent of dwellings approved regardless of their conformity with it? Is it that this Government's planning scheme is flawed and should be changed?

We of course get no details or solutions from these trolls. That is not their purpose. Their purpose, as is the purpose of all trolls, is simply to incite hatred and division. They do not care about solutions. We get the same sort of nonsense from Senator Abetz. The senator who lobbied against forgiving Tasmania's housing debt, but attacked the Hobart City Council for offering aid to 30 refugees on the grounds of Hobart's homelessness crisis.

These far-right Liberal ideologues fling more faeces than chimps at a zoo and have about as much to offer in the way of constructive policy dialogue. This is the quality of contributions we get from the Liberals on an issue causing serious harm to thousands of Tasmanians. Soaring rents and house prices are destroying lives. They are driving Tasmanians to the mainland in search of an affordable home. Even when these trolls acknowledge the problem, it is with some trite spin, diminishing the deep, permeating housing stress in this state to 'growing pains'. It is nothing to do with eight years of underinvesting in the supply of affordable housing. No, it is 'growing pains' says the self-loving Government. Or they insinuate that those suffering from housing stress are like that because they are simply not aspirational enough. As if aspiration could change the fact that house prices are increasing at an astronomical rate.

Wage growth is suppressed and rents are increasing, squeezing people's capacity to save. Crushing people's aspirations. As if aspiration could save them from the fact that their Government will not introduce any meaningful reforms to address one of Tasmania's worst crises, the crisis in housing and homelessness. As if aspiration could save them from the fact that their Government will not only insult them by giving a tax cut to the wealthy but will then turn around and pretend that they are actually trying to help renters.

We also cannot discuss this bill without discussing the context in which it is being introduced, that is, lobbying largely initiated and championed by property magnate and Hobart City Council candidate, apparently, Louise Elliot. Louise Elliot, who owns multiple rental properties and is also the beneficiary of a $100 000 Government grant as she runs for Hobart City Council, has claimed that Tasmania has the highest land tax rate in the country. That is apparently the basis on which our land tax should be reduced. 'In a horse race back self interest', as your predecessor Mr Polley once said to me. 'It will come home for you every time'. That is what we are seeing here from the likes of Louise Elliot and the Property Council.

The truth is more complicated than that. At lower combined property values it is true that Tasmania has the most expensive land tax rate of any state. However, we also have the lowest maximum rate. This means that at about $2.1 million in value, South Australia becomes more expensive than Tasmania. At $6 million in value, Tasmania's land tax bill is cheaper than every state other than Queensland. At $8.5 million, Tasmania's land tax bill becomes the cheapest out of every state. Of the territories, the Northern Territory stands alone as having no land tax, the Australian Capital Territory has an inverse trend which is more expensive at lower values and cheaper at higher values, relative to Tasmania.

The point is, if this were really a conversation about coming into line with other jurisdictions, discussion of higher maximum land tax rates would also be on the table. If it was, we might be having a very different conversation right now. We might be having an honest, frank and evidence based conversation. We might be having a conversation that does not insult the intelligence of this House and the Tasmanian people. This is not about Tasmania being out of step with other jurisdictions. This is opportunism from wealthy landowners, like Louise Elliot, who are happy to benefit from increasing property values and rents but are not willing to pay the increased land tax costs that come with these windfalls. They are apparently happy for health, education and the construction of new, affordable housing to be underfunded or paid for out of the pockets of Australian workers, rather than their own bulging pockets.

We do not support this bill. It is based on a lie. It rips off public services. It is a disgraceful piece of legislation that I am sure in their quiet moments, people in Treasury are tearing their hair out about, if they have any.