Second reading- State Taxation Acts Amendment Bill 2017
20th June 2017- Mr O'Sullivan- I rise this evening to also make a contribution in relation to the State Taxation Acts Amendment Bill 2017, which is part of the government's budget bills that they are looking to get through the Parliament.
One of the areas that I certainly want to concentrate on in my contribution is the amount of tax that is paid by the poor old taxpayer in this state. Those people who pay the taxes are the people who have to go out each day and work really hard. They get paid a reasonable wage for the efforts that they put in only to find that as soon as they have gone out and worked hard and earned some money Daniel Andrews and Tim Pallas, the Premier and the Treasurer, are the first to come around and knock on their door and say, 'Thanks for working really hard today; thanks for earning that money. Now I want my fair share'. In fact it is not a fair share; it is beyond a fair share. They are taking an unfair share of tax away from people in one way or another.
That is rather curious because I believe in taking people at their word. If someone tells me something, particularly someone who is in a very senior leadership position, I am the sort of person who wants to believe in what they say. I like to take people at their word and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I believe when they are telling you something they are actually going to tell you the truth, but unfortunately that is not always the case when it comes to this government. As a result of this budget this government, in just two and a half years of being in government — nearly three years — has introduced no less than 11 new taxes.
That was confirmed by the Treasurer himself on 12 May when he addressed the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee. When he was questioned on the 11 new taxes that have been brought in under his watch as Treasurer and under Daniel Andrews's watch as Premier, Mr Pallas described it as 'changed choices'. I thought that was a rather interesting way of trying to spin your way out of a commitment the Premier made in relation to new taxes, that the government had changed choices in relation to tax collection, because what I remember very clearly — and I was a part of the last election campaign, as many others were — are some of the commitments that were given by the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Daniel Andrews.
On 5 November 2014, which was in the last two or three weeks of the election campaign — a time when many people were making up their minds as to who they would vote for and when they would obviously be listening to the party leaders at that time to understand what they were being offered and what they wanted to actually buy in terms of the next government — Daniel Andrews spoke to ABC News, which reported:
Mr Andrews ruled out increasing state taxes or household fees and charges to fund Labor's promises.
There we go. We have one commitment from Daniel Andrews that there would be no increase in fees. On 6 November 2014, just one day later, the Herald Sun reported:
Opposition leader Daniel Andrews said Labor would reveal its full costings before the election, and said he had 'no plans' to increase fees and fines.
On two occasions, two days in a row, Daniel Andrews had given the commitment that there would be no new fees, new taxes or increases in charges or taxes.
On 19 November 2014, when Daniel Andrews was on a Sky News program, David Speers, one of the more reputable political commentators in the country, asked Daniel Andrews:
So, any higher taxes, levies?
To which Daniel Andrews replied:
Absolutely not …
On a third occasion within a week and a half Mr Andrews gave a commitment that there would be no higher taxes or levies. Then again on 28 November, the night before the election — and other people have quoted it exceptionally well — Peter Mitchell from Channel 7, which was doing a live cross to Daniel Andrews on the front steps of this very building, asked:
Daniel Andrews, all the polls say you will be Victoria's next Premier. If you are, do you promise Victorians here tonight that you will not increase taxes or introduce … new taxes?
To which Daniel Andrews replied:
I make that promise, Peter, to every single Victorian.
That was on Channel 7 on 28 November. In the couple of weeks before the election Daniel Andrews, on four separate occasions, said to different media outlets that there would be no new taxes or charges and that there would not be increases in taxes, charges or fees. That is why I find it very peculiar that just two and a half years later this government has introduced 11 new taxes off the back of those commitments that Daniel Andrews gave to the people of Victoria.
Daniel Andrews lied to every single person who lives in this state in relation to taxes. I find that pretty disconcerting. When our now leader on four separate occasions made such definitive statements and then just as quickly threw the truth, Labor's words and their commitment out the door, it is no wonder that the reputation of the institutions and occupations that we hold so dear to our hearts are damaged out in the community. Unfortunately it is the actions of a few that create a reputation. That is the view of the average person in terms of the credibility of politicians. In some ways I do not blame them when Daniel Andrews so clearly on four separate occasions said he would not increase or introduce new taxes, and then he introduced 11.
I will run through what some of those taxes are just in case nobody knows what they are. There is a $252 million energy tax on coal royalties. There is the $2 taxi and Uber levy that is going to be introduced on every single trip. A land tax surcharge for absentee owners of about 0.5 per cent has now been increased to 1.5 per cent, so that is a tripling of the existing charge there. A housing stamp duty surcharge for foreign buyers has increased from 3 per cent to 7 per cent. The fire services property levy is piked for two years. Under the changes to the Country Fire Authority legislation, in terms of what we will be dealing with later this day or the next, there is the likelihood that the changes would severely increase the fire services levy in the future.
A new stamp duty has been applied to off-the-plan purchases for new housing. Again, it will push the cost of housing up for young people — in fact for all people. Annual property valuations will increase the amount of land tax and the council rates. Instead of having biennial valuations of properties, there will be annual valuations of council rates. As we know, councils apply their council rates in relation to the value of the land, and if that land is valued every year — and as we have seen in the current circumstances it is going up — that is going to mean an extra cost for each and every person who owns a house in this state. We have the new house tax that has just been introduced. Also, we have had the new point-of-consumption tax for online gambling. There are 11 new taxes off the back of Daniel Andrews saying that there would be none.
How did Treasurer Tim Pallas explain that? He explained it as the government having changed choices. I am not quite sure how those people could look at themselves in the mirror and take themselves seriously. I am not sure that the taxpayers of Victoria can take them seriously any more after what they have done. There is no real need for those new taxes to have come in. The Premier could have kept his word and not introduced those taxes. He did not have to, because this government was the highest taxing government on record. It was already bringing in high levels of revenue.
The government has received high levels of GST from the federal government. They have also had the sale of the port of Melbourne, which brought in some $10 billion. That is an extraordinary amount of money that the government did not see coming in. Also, with the housing boom that is happening, the stamp duty that has come in from the sale of housing across the whole state but particularly in suburbia has brought in billions of dollars for this government. They are swimming in money. Never before has a state government in Victoria had more money to deal with than what this government has. There is absolutely no excuse for the government to be further slugging the poor old taxpayer. There is no need for more taxes to create more money for the government.
The rising cost of living that is occurring for people in this state is just out of control, and we see it every day. It is not only happening to families but also to businesses — the wealth creators of this state. Everything that you can point at goes up under this government. If you just look at the fundamentals for an average family, you see that their electricity prices have gone up, and not just by a little bit — in some instances they have doubled. Gas prices have gone up all because of the policies of this government. Water costs have gone up. With the remaining time I have, I am going to touch on those in a bit more detail.
If you look at the water cost for the average home, you see that it started under a previous government — the Brumby government — when it introduced the desalination plant, which brought about a doubling of water bills for Victorian families. It was not even needed and it is still not needed. Our water storages are two-thirds full, but the ideology of this government is that you have got to use it. They have turned it on now, even though water storages for metropolitan Melbourne are a number of per cent higher than what they were last year when it was not on. The government is just turning on the desalination plant for the ideology of 'We built it, so we have to use it and justify it'. It is costing Victorian families hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars every year to run that desal plant, and it does not need to be on right now.
On electricity prices, as a result of introducing the $252 million coal tax, guess what happened? The biggest energy supplier in the state had to close down. Hazelwood could not sustain its operation with such an extraordinary tax applied to it, and as a result of that they closed down their operations and 750 direct jobs just vanished. Then there was another flow-on of another 200 or 300 jobs lost. I think it is probably even more than that; the figures probably do not reveal the whole story. The cost of electricity has gone up as a result. The government keeps saying, 'Renewables will cover it', but that is more expensive. We have got a coal system which has served us well for many, many years, but unfortunately for ideological reasons this government does not want to have anything to do with coal when it is right on our doorstep.
When it comes to gas this government again has overseen a rise in the cost of living for Victorian families through its policies in relation to putting a moratorium on gas exploration. As a result of that there have been no new gas lines in Victoria for quite some time. As a result there is a bit of a shortage of gas. Therefore it is the old economic argument of supply and demand. If supply is down and demand is up with the increased population, of course the price is going to go up. That has certainly been an extraordinary impost on families who are struggling to make ends meet. There is a saying that you can be assured of death and taxes. With this government one thing you can be absolutely assured of is extra and higher taxes.