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State Taxation 2020 – but no reform!

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Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (18:01): I am pleased to have the opportunity to join this debate on the State Taxation Acts Amendment Bill 2020, which of course is an annual event.

We do one of these every year, and every year it has something slightly different in it. It is part of the budget process, and yes, this year this bill does have some components that are budget related. But I do stress ‘some’, because the reality is that the overwhelming bulk of the bill is about technical reform, technical change, technical update. It is making the bill consistent with other legislation with minor changes that are in no way time sensitive.

So you do have to wonder why the government could not have been more reasonable in the approach they took to this bill. God knows the legislative agenda of this Parliament is not exactly overloaded. These technical changes could have been dealt with at any time. They could have been dealt with in the normal way—brought in, adjourned for two weeks, giving everyone the opportunity to consult, and then in all probability dealt with very, very speedily.

But for some reason best known to themselves the government chose to roll the budget changes in with these technical changes. Now, most of the budget changes were announced last week or in earlier weeks. We knew they were coming; there is not a difficulty with those. But we do not know about these other changes.

Now, in my view there are only two reasons to rush a bill through in the way this bill is being rushed through—either the government have something to hide or they are incompetent.

Experience would suggest the former; the track record of the government would suggest the latter. But whichever it is, the state of Victoria is worse off, because when you do this sort of thing it is not the Parliament that suffers, it is the legislation that suffers. It is the interests of the people of Victoria that come off second best.

I make the point that, unlike the Labor Party, the opposition—the National Party and the Liberal Party—are always prepared to work constructively to deal with these issues, and we certainly recognise the need to get the budget changes through this week. We do not, however, accept holding the second reading off until today, allowing about 3 hours for debate and expecting it to be effectively passed the same day, because that is the effect of the guillotine.

We will be talking about the budget tomorrow, which means we have had since the briefing at 8.30 this morning, and the bill will be gone by 7.30 tonight—and of course most of the day has been taken up on other issues. 

So you have to ask: why was it second read today? Why was it hidden from the public and from the opposition until today? You have to ask also: why isn’t the Treasurer handling the bill himself? If he had been handling the bill, we probably would not have had that fiasco that happened before lunch when the government had to wind back a decision of the house to adjourn the bill for two weeks.

I am sure if the Treasurer had been handling the bill he would have at least known that the bill was on the guillotine. Now, that is not being critical of the Attorney-General. It is not her bill; she was just lumped with handling it. But he would have at least known.

So where is he? Is it an RDO today? He had a big day yesterday; he has got to take the day off. He should be in this house. He should be handling this bill. He should be here to answer questions about the bill.

Now, I am sure the minister at the table, the Assistant Treasurer, will not believe me when I say this, but there was a time, even in my parliamentary career, when ministers who had carriage of a bill would come into the house, they would be here for the debate and they would be a available to answer questions when we got to the consideration-in-detail stage.

Where is the Treasurer? Not here. Not to be seen.

A member interjected. 

Mr MORRIS: Exactly right—out increasing taxes. He should have made himself available.

Now, if the Liberal and National parties had done that to the Labor party in government, the Labor Party would have been screaming from the rooftops—and rightly so, because it is an affront to the Parliament, but more importantly it is an affront to the people.

Now, eight acts are being amended. I will not go through the detail, but the member for Gippsland South and others have made the point, as I made earlier, that this is a mix of budget measures and technical changes. The budget measures we know; the technical changes we do not. And I do want to acknowledge the briefing. It was thorough.

We got the bill 5 minutes before the briefing, so it was good to have the bill, but of course you do not have the opportunity to do any preparation for the briefing, let alone to speak on it. And of course the efficacy of the briefing is somewhat diminished when you have not seen the bill ahead of time. 

Now, the Shadow Treasurer has outlined some of the concerns of the opposition, particularly around principal place of residence and the government’s form on narrowing and continuing to narrow the scope of those exemptions.

Year after year the same thing occurs. Since 2014 we know we have had 29, I think it is, new increases despite that now, I suggest, infamous Premier’s promise that, no, he would not raise taxes—29 times since December 2014, and they are at it again this year. This year it is not as blatant, but they are still doing it.

This is not the time to be imposing extra burdens on families of any form, yet we have got this hidden away in the bill: an attack on families who are helping elderly residents living in the granny flat out the back.

Now, it is entirely reasonable that in return for the support an older family member might receive, and the social aspect and everything else, from being able to live in a family’s backyard that they make a contribution to household expenses. But this bill will in return slap land tax on that aspect of the family home. This is now not the time to be doing it.

The other point I want to make is that the Treasurer says this is not a time for tax reform. If this is not a time for tax reform, then frankly, when the hell is?

We have the example in other states, and of course Victoria is the highest-taxing state, but we are going nowhere near reform. When you look at what we have got coming, when you look at the RBA Statement on Monetary Policy from earlier this month, they make the point:

… 200,000 people who left the labour force early in the pandemic and are yet to return, most of whom are in Victoria.

The government’s own documents talk about unemployment at 8.25 per cent.

We need to be doing things that will take the pressure off business—not, as the member for Yan Yean talked about, looking after the big end of town but giving the opportunity for businesses to hire people, to give them jobs, to assist the recovery.

But no, there is no serious attempt at tax reform in this bill. If there was ever a time when you should be taking up that challenge—when we as a state should be taking up that challenge—now is the time.

I again make the point that the manner in which this legislation is being rushed through without even the courtesy of releasing it to the house yesterday and giving everyone the opportunity to at least digest it overnight is an affront, in my view, to the system.

You do wonder what the government has to hide.

Clearly one of the things they are not doing is grasping the nettle and undertaking serious taxation reform. And I make the point again: if ever there was a time for serious taxation reform, it is now.