Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 10 Hansard (18 October) . . Page.. 3194..
MR MULCAHY (continuing):
quickly becoming too much to bear. With this in mind, I call on this government to initiate an urgent and open review of the land tax system in the ACT. (Time expired.)
MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra-Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Business and Economic Development, Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Minister for the Arts) (11.06): The government certainly place very high importance on the availability of affordable housing, whether it be through public housing, private rental or home ownership, and we acknowledge the significant pressures that are present today. As a result of that I have appointed a significant high-level affordable housing task force to investigate each of the issues that impact on affordability within the territory. That is a work in progress, as members know, and to that extent this motion really represents a catch-up by the opposition, a grabbing onto the tails of work already initiated by the government, already in play by the government, through the affordable housing task force, which will provide its first report in the next four weeks.
This really is just a lazy opposition trying to get in on a debate that has been around for a significant time and to which the government has already forcefully responded. In that context, the government certainly will not support this motion. It will not support a motion that calls, essentially, for an inquiry into land tax, which is part and parcel of an inquiry or a process that the government already has in place. We are already doing what the motion calls on us to do. This really is a lazy opposition just playing catch-up.
It is important when discussing the issue of rents and land tax today to put the issue into some context. The ACT has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, which at 2.7 per cent is nearly half the national rate. In addition, the ACT has the highest rate of labour market participation in the nation at 75 per cent. This high level of employment and the strong economic outlook mean that ACT residents can enter into rental contracts with certainty about being able to pay the rent. The situation is not about to change. If you are looking for a well-paying job, the ACT is the place to find it.
The strength of the ACT economy is also affecting housing investment in other ways, and we need to accept this and acknowledge the reality of the strength of non-residential construction currently in the ACT, which continues to reach record highs. It certainly is putting pressure on construction times and prices in the residential housing sector, but the economic activity is also creating jobs and incomes from which we all benefit. That is the context in which we need to have this discussion. You cannot just pick out land tax as a single item, concentrate on that and attribute to land tax all of the difficulties that other factors in the overall context represent for Canberra and for people in Canberra.
It certainly is true that average rents in Canberra are high at the moment and that they have grown. However, it is also true that the ACT has the highest median income in the country, at nearly $10,000 a year, which is $200 a week, higher than the Australian median income. It is also a fact that we have the highest disposable household incomes in the nation by a country mile. The national average household disposable income is $27,000; in the ACT it is $43,000. You need to take these factors into account in any discussion around affordability and any discussion around the relativity of rates, charges and rents. In that context, ACT rents remain relatively affordable, accepting always, of course, that for some residents of Canberra any rent will represent a difficulty in the context of their personal circumstances. But in an overall context ACT rents remain