Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — I rise to speak on the State Taxation Acts Amendment Bill 2015. Yes, we have in front of us another broken promise by the government. We have heard from the member for Oakleigh that this is not really a big figure in terms of taxation and that it is not a lot of money to worry about. In one part of the member for Oakleigh’s contribution he spoke about Labor being able to manage money, and he said they are very good at doing so and that all of the examples that we have given in the past of Labor being absolutely incompetent when it comes to managing money are irrelevant.
What we have just heard from the fine member for Oakleigh has just validated that view. He has said that $337 million is not a lot of money — there are billions of dollars, so let us not worry about the $337 million that this is going to raise because is it insignificant. Let me tell the house, we on this side of the house worry about every single dollar. We will ensure that the good people Victoria get the best services for the dollars that are raised, that money is not wasted, as we see being done by the government, and that we do not take for granted every dollar that is raised. This is a tax. Let us make no mistake, it is a tax. Labor went to the election saying it would not raise any new taxes, and guess what? Within 5 minutes here we have a new tax right in front of us.
Government members have spoken about housing affordability. There would be many members on all sides of the house who would be wanting to ensure that we have housing affordability. In my electorate of Caulfield there are many young people who struggle to afford housing.
Mr Richardson interjected.
Mr SOUTHWICK — We hear the interjection from the little boy in the back row, but let us just say there are people who are struggling for housing affordability. What this does is only add to the costs of housing for those people.
Let us just think about this for a minute. If you have an investor coming in and there is another $6000 put onto the price, that investor will pay that $6000 and all that will do at the end of the day is push up the price and mean by $6000 more, thus locking out those local purchasers and making sure housing is less affordable for the locals trying to get into the property market in their area. I know there are many young people in my electorate who choose to live in the local area for a whole range of different reasons, but they are forced out simply because of the skyrocketing prices.
Government members who spoke earlier said that if we cared about housing affordability we would do something about it. We did when we were in government. We freed up large parcels of land. We offered 50 per cent stamp duty discounts for first home buyers, and we provided $10 000 grants for the construction of new homes. These were actually policies to ensure that something was being done around housing affordability — not a new tax, not more money, not more of a grab by the government that ultimately puts prices up, but a real strategy to ensure greater housing affordability.
The other concern that I have with this bill is that it sends a message to foreign investors that they are not welcome here in Victoria, so we will tax them more than everybody else and they can go and invest somewhere else. That is not happening in the other states. The other states have woken up and said, ‘No, we are going to try to attract the investment that we need’. It is not about the individual homes, because as I said earlier, the prices of the individual homes will be pushed up in those areas because ultimately the investors who want to live in those areas and are purchasing those homes will pay the $6000 more. The question here is around the large property developments, those big developments that rely on foreign investment to actually get the property construction off the ground and ensure that there is money from many of those foreign investors to ensure that the apartments are built and ultimately made available to many Victorians.
It is really concerning when we send a message to those foreign investors that we will tax them additionally, that we will treat them differently, and also that we do not want them here in Victoria. These are questions that certainly need to be raised as part of the debate on this new bill. The tax benefits of off-the-plan purchases are reduced for foreign investors under this bill. A lot of questions are left unanswered when we look at this bill, both from the land tax perspective, which is a scheme to raise $503.5 million over four years, and the $276 million over the next four years for the property tax for foreign investors.
The last thing I want to mention in the debate on this bill is just the haste with which it has been put together. It just shows that the government is absolutely running a million miles an hour in any direction, with no strategy and no focus. It has left it to Treasury, saying, ‘Try to come up with a scheme that works here’, and in the last minute it has tried to introduce guidelines as part of the legislation. The government has said, ‘We do not actually know what we are doing. We have not made it part of the bill, but we have these guidelines, and it will ultimately be up to the Treasury to decide how it will treat them. And, because we were putting everything together at the last minute, do you mind if we just table it today? Or, because we cannot table it today, we will get a couple of our members to read the guidelines into Hansard. And if we read them in, then surely that must be enough because we can just rely on Hansard. And if somebody does not know, if a foreign investor does not know whether they are liable or not, they can just look up the speech of, say, the member for Footscray, who made a contribution about the guidelines, and find the guidelines there in black and white. And the member for Macedon read the guidelines, so if anybody is unsure about them, they can go to a government member’s speech and find the guidelines written in there somewhere and they can rely on those guidelines’.
Unfortunately, you cannot rely on the Treasury in terms of certainty, in terms of where this is going and in terms of ensuring that there is proper process, due diligence and clarity in those guidelines. What we are seeing here is something that is not transparent. The government spoke about transparency, but there is no transparency when you look at these guidelines, none whatsoever.
Ms Ward — We see through you.
Mr SOUTHWICK — Thank you. In fact, it is up to the Treasurer as to how he treats those guidelines and who does and does not get the dough. We have said before — and will continue to say it — this is a great opportunity for Progressive Business, possibly, to determine who may or may not get an exemption. The government could say, ‘You could come on up, have a bit of a meeting with us and determine that that is not a bad little project you have there, and we are sure it meets an exemption somewhere that we can help you out with. And guess what? We do not need to report it; we do not need to document it. Do not worry, we will just ensure that you it is looked after’.
Ms Garrett — On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, I think we should come back to the bill now. In his contribution the member is wandering well off into territory that is completely unnecessary.
Mr Burgess — On the point of order, Acting Speaker, this has been a very wideranging debate and all speakers have been given a great deal of latitude up until now. It would not be fair to stop the speaker at this stage.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Blandthorn) — Order! I ask the member to return to the relevance of the bill.
Mr SOUTHWICK — I am right at the relevance of this bill, because we are talking about the guidelines. The guidelines, which apparently exist because government members have read them into Hansard — we have not seen them yet, but apparently they exist — give discretion to of the Treasurer. The Treasurer ultimately decides who gets an exemption and who does not. Again, when you give the power to a Treasurer to determine who will get these exemptions, there is no transparency in the process. The whole idea is that you would want transparency when you are talking about planning, development and property, but there is none whatsoever. We will certainly be looking at this very carefully in the future. I suggest this will provide a great opportunity for examination by IBAC and others.
If the government were serious about this matter, it would ensure that there was transparency as to who should and should not be paying this new tax. This is a new tax, make no mistake. It is a tax, although the government said it would not introduce new taxes. It is now introducing one and thereby breaking its promise. It is a poor lot of work from this government.