Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 10 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 3639 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
That the ACT Government develop a proposal to provide rates concessions to all people on low incomes, including more generous concessions for pensioners, and present this to the Assembly by the last day of sitting in December 2003.
Prior to the last election, ACT Labor expressed concern about the affordability of property rates for low-income people, following big rises in house and land prices. From the outset, I have agreed that there are many people who may be, or have already been, forced to sell their houses and move, because their rates have become unaffordable. I agreed that this was undesirable.
Back in May, the government proposed a new property rating scheme for the ACT, which it claimed would be fairer than the existing system. However, this proposal was labelled as inequitable by both the welfare and business sector. The majority of the Assembly agreed with that view. My office received many phone calls from ACT residents who are already struggling to afford their rates bills. Working single parents in low-paid jobs were strongly represented among the people who contacted us.
The government proposal in May did not include concessions for people already having difficulty paying their rates. I have urged the government to revisit the concession scheme, to create fairer outcomes for the community. As the government has not yet come back with a proposal to help low-income home owners, I have introduced this motion today. I hope it is successful, to enable us to revisit the rating system concession scheme, to make it fairer and more equitable.
I understand a review of all ACT government concessions has been underway since the year 2000. That was in the term of the previous government. However, we still have no reporting date on this review and no reason for confidence that it will lead to a solution to the rates problem-if we are ever to see the outcome of it.
The report of the Affordable Housing Taskforce documented many cases of acute housing stress among home owners. Of the households in housing stress, over 40 per cent were either purchasing their homes or owned them outright. The home owners in housing stress are a mix of pensioners, self-funded retirees on low incomes and working people who have only part-time work, poorly paid jobs, or moderate incomes and several dependants. All these people need a concession scheme, if they are to be able to keep their homes.
The current rates concession scheme under the Rates and Land Tax Act applies only to pensioners. The concession limit is 50 per cent, or $250 per property, whichever is the lesser. This concession does not go far to reducing the total rates bill in most parts of Canberra-the inner north and inner south, in particular. The threshold of 30 per cent of household income going to housing costs could be the basis for a concession scheme, provided that an upper limit of eligible household income was also established.
Alternatively, the scheme could be based on a measure which divides household income by the number of people supported by that income. There may be a simpler and fairer method-work needs to be done to explore the options. It would be reasonable to put the onus on the applicant for a concession to prove their eligibility. I think it would be possible to devise a scheme that is not excessively expensive to administer.