Page 2907 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 6 August 2008

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This year, we are expecting more than $23 million from this levy. If we agreed to scrap that levy today, where would those funds to cover these services come from? Each household will be charged $91.20 in this financial year, which does not seem too much to pay if we get a good service. There is a pensioner rebate of 50 per cent. Perhaps there is room to discuss other concession options, as it is not only pensioners who are doing it tough. As David Tennant said on Triple 6 this morning, it is now the moderate income earners who are contacting Care Financial Services and who are now doing it tough as well.

However, the levy on commercial property owners is obviously the largest, which is why Mr Mulcahy has taken up the issue. An average levy on property owners is around $2,150 this year. Obviously, the larger property owners will have a far more substantial levy than this. But isn’t this how it should work in a progressive tax system? These property owners are also getting far higher returns on their capital than individual house owners.

More broadly, as to whether this levy is the right one to have, at the moment it adds $22 million to the ACT government coffers, and that needs to be considered within this debate. Mr Mulcahy may have a clear view of the $22 million of expenditure that he would like to cut, but in the context of a city that needs to adjust quickly and profoundly to a low carbon, low water use, low energy use, fair and equitable economy, I am not able to see where those savings would come from.

Of course, one of the irritating elements of this levy, and why I believe Mr Mulcahy does have a point, is that it does not directly go to pay for our fire and emergency services. When property owners, ratepayers, pay this tax, they just see it going in to the black pool of government revenue. They do not look at the annual reports of JACS to see whether emergency services spend that exact amount of $22 million. I believe people would feel a lot more comfortable about paying these kinds of taxes if they could see that the money was spent in the area that the tax is claimed in.

The ACT government has a very strong resistance to hypothecating revenue. That is definitely the case when it comes to water, where money raised by water does not go in to water. Therefore, people complain, rightly, about the costs of water when they do not necessarily see—even though it could be occurring—that the amount they are paying for water is going into improving the quality of our catchments, or improving our water supply in other ways that are not environmentally damaging.

It really is time for the government to get over itself on this issue of avoiding hypothecation. I know it likes to have discretion in its expenditure, but things like emergency services and water will always require a substantial part of our income, and it is time that we labelled that.

The extraordinary ongoing costs relating to the unused emergency services centre at the airport make us all concerned that the government has not got the right handle on how it is spending this revenue, even if it were to be hypothecated. I would like to see an equity comb drawn over this government’s revenue measures. Following that, I would support the reduction or elimination of some measures and an increase in others. So while my first instinct was to have a good look at this bill and to lend it my

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