Page 1949 - Week 06 - Friday, 6 May 2005

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of two components. The first part is a fixed charge element of $392 which contributes to the cost of services such as garbage collection and the like.

The second part is a variable charge based on a rolling three-year average of the unimproved value of the property. No rates are paid on properties with an unimproved value under the threshold of $21,500 at present. The rate-free threshold will rise to $22,000 in 2005-06. Until now, no fixed charge has applied to rates on rural properties. However, the effect of this amendment is to split the rates calculation into fixed and variable components, the same as urban rates.

I thank the Treasurer for the briefing provided to my office. I am advised that the reason for the amendment is that, since the government has decided to apply the average rate impost of $104 on a 50:50 basis to both the fixed charge component and the variable component of the rates bill, it is clear that it would have resulted in a disproportionate rate increase for higher valued rural properties, compared with the impact on properties with lower unimproved land values. Putting rural land on the same basis as urban land is seen by the government as the most equitable way of implementing their, albeit unwanted, 50:50 rate increase amongst all rural land owners.

I have had questions raised about the necessity for the pace of the introduction of this bill and the necessity for it to be rushed through today. I think it would be beneficial to all members of the Assembly if the Treasurer were to expand to the Assembly on the reasons for this pace, which I understand may be associated with timetabling for the gazettal and issuing of notices.

The suggestion was put that it may have been unnecessary for the government to go down this path if their increase had simply been applied to the variable components of rates, rather than splitting it over the variable component and the fixed component. I do not have the benefit of the cost impacts or any modelling that may have taken place in Treasury on what that would have meant to the overall tax base in Canberra. I would simply flag that as a question the Treasurer may want to address in concluding this debate.

The opposition will not be opposing this bill because it appears to be addressing an anomaly, notwithstanding our overall concern at the additional impost being faced by ACT households and businesses. Of course, above all, we are most relieved to see that the bill is consistent with the Human Rights Act.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (10.17): As Mr Mulcahy has said, the Liberal opposition will not be opposing this bill, but I feel it is incumbent upon us to recognise that what is potentially a further impost—only potentially—on rural lessees is being applied at a time when the rural sector, both here and across the country, particularly across south-east Australia, is doing it pretty tough.

All ACT rural lessees are now able to apply for exceptional circumstance funding because of the ongoing drought. I want to flag a note of warning that the rural sector would have particular concerns. I hope they were consulted about this bill. Again, I am concerned about the time this bill has taken from presentation to conclusion. It does not give the community much time to scrutinise and work out the implications for them.

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