Page 3897 - Week 12 - Thursday, 29 October 2015

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Lake Macquarie City Council in 2011 proposed an increase in rates and residents supported a significant increase to help fund public and community services. Lake Macquarie was also in a situation where they had annual shortfalls due to increased costs and deteriorating infrastructure. As part of a six-month consultation period on the proposed rate increases, the council developed three different funding options for the public to choose from. More than 3,000 residents took part in the council survey, with 72 per cent of constituents throwing their support behind a rate increase. Of those in favour of the increase, 50 per cent supported increasing rates to better aid in maintaining and expanding currently available public services.

Councils who do this consultation work have been finding that residents do not want to see their services cut or assets sold off. They would rather have rates increases in order to be able to maintain and expand amenities and services. Newcastle City Council has done a similar piece of work. They had to address the challenge of balancing community expectations with future financial sustainability. They went through an education and consultation process, allowing residents to comment on rates options—no rates increases or various levels of increase—and through a large-scale consultation process there was widespread support for a continued increase of about 6½ to 6.8 per cent per year.

I draw on these examples to illustrate a point. We see the opposition running these scare campaigns about rate increases in the ACT, but theoretical surveys, and now actual surveys done by these councils, are demonstrating that communities want good services and they are prepared to pay for them. I think people in the ACT understand that we have a very high level of services in this town and most people are willing to be realistic about that and expect to make their contribution.

We need to be mindful of making sure that we strive to get a high level of affordability, to be progressive, to make sure that those in our community who struggle to pay have options, and that we put concessions in place. At the same time we want to have good services in this city, and we do have good services in this city. We also need to be prepared to pay for them, and that is why rates are an important part of funding the ACT government’s operations.

In the context of today’s topic, it is well worth making the point that you get what you pay for and that having a reasonable level of rates is important to enable the government to provide a good level of services.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (4.35): I will begin where Mr Rattenbury finished. Yes, you do get what you pay for—and the people of the ACT pay more and more, but unfortunately for them they seem to get less and less. Mr Rattenbury gave the example of the Lake Macquarie council surveying members of their jurisdiction. But ACT people were not surveyed about changes to the rates system; the changes were foisted on them. We were told that it would be revenue neutral, but I note that the Centre for International Economics, in the budget analysis that they did to support the estimates committee, said that rate increases are outpacing stamp duty cuts. So it is interesting that we were told that it would be revenue neutral, but apparently it is not.

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