Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2019 Week 3 Hansard (21 March) . . Page.. 1012 ..
discussed on many occasions, an omnibus bill is not the bill to use to have serious policy shifts.
The legislation inserts a duty exemption for the University of Canberra, under the Duties Act 1999. When the University of Canberra Amendment Bill 2015 was debated last term, the opposition highlighted our concerns with the planning implications of the legislation and the non-answers from the government on the normal rates and charges that would apply, especially in relation to development. The Labor-Greens government constantly apply double standards on rates, fees, taxes and charges, and this duty exemption is another example. This legislation gives another distinct commercial advantage to the university, or whoever the government deem, to exploit or develop—those actual words—its property.
Universities are rightly seen as a community resource, given that the broader community has a vested interest in the future use and development of these sites. Canberrans should be able to trust that any commercial use is measured, reasonable and complies with the relevant planning and tax laws that apply to any other development. The special treatment of specific classes of entities, individuals or friends of the government needs to stop. The Canberra community cannot trust this government to put the interests of people first and, therefore, special exemptions undermine public confidence.
As I mentioned when we debated the University of Canberra Amendment Bill 2015, it risked majorly undermining commercial property in Belconnen in particular but, indeed, right across Canberra. We have real concerns about this. This is not to say what the university does or could do is bad, but I have really concerns about giving a suite of free kicks to any entity without it being very balanced and measured.
The Taxation Administration Act 1999 is also altered. The bill makes changes to the default tax rate and enshrines the government as the first creditor. It expands the government's tax debt recovery capabilities and allows for charges to be placed on properties. The current legislation incorporates a reasonableness test for the default tax rate. As set out in table 34, the tax default rate is 25 per cent and also applies where a taxpayer fails to take reasonable care but has a reasonable excuse. This reasonableness test is removed for the default rate and the more punitive 50 penalty points is included in this bill.
Specific circumstances are included where the tax rate is raised to 50 per cent, such as delayed payment; delayed provision of information; providing incorrect, incomplete or misleading information; or where it is an individual's second or subsequent tax breach. There is no reasonableness test incorporated into these changes. It does not decrease the penalty rate that will apply to a tax debt. The changes proposed by the bill simply state circumstances where the higher threshold would apply without any mention of reasonableness or a threshold test.
Under the strictest interpretation, if someone is in and out of hospital and misses the due date for their rates bill, will they immediately incur a 50 per cent penalty rate? Could someone inadvertently omit something in a submission to the Revenue Office that the commissioner may deem relevant and, therefore, receive a punitive measure?