Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (17:31:23) — I would like to rise and make a few brief comments about the State Taxation Acts Further Amendment Bill 2017, that being the second state taxation bill we have seen before this house. I do not think I can possibly go to the detail that Ms Shing or previous speakers have gone to, but in going through this bill, I see it amends at least 10 acts and implements some of the fiscal policies that this government took to the election. Certainly we have heard them wax lyrical about them. The bill also makes technical amendments to remove some loopholes. But as we know, the overriding purpose is the protection of the state’s revenue base. It is a supply bill, so it is one that I would not oppose, and obviously I will support this bill.
I will just touch on a few of the issues that have been raised with my office while this bill has been meandering its way through this house over the last many months. Regarding the valuations and the issue of centralising annual valuations, I have met with many of the local councils in Northern Metropolitan Region and I have met with their associations, and I am certainly content that the changes the government has made to the centralised annual valuations scheme have met the satisfaction of most, if not all, local governments. It certainly appears to me that it will provide us with greater transparency in valuations and the ensuing taxes that evolve from those valuations. It will save councils money and allow for an opt-in scheme.
Ms Shing quoted Rob Spence, the CEO of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV). The local government sector does actually feel, as has been reported back to me by not just Rob Spence of the MAV but also CEOs of local councils, relatively satisfied with the way valuations are to be centralised now. They feel that indeed it probably would save them money and it would in the long-term provide far greater transparency not only to the community but also to local government.
As I have foreshadowed, I will be moving small amendments to this bill with respect to the congestion levy. They are very small amendments. If we could just circulate them now.
Australian Sex Party amendments circulated by Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) pursuant to standing orders.
Ms PATTEN — As we know, the congestion levy applies to parking spaces within defined regions around Melbourne. Certain areas have already been exempted from this; for example, the Royal Melbourne Zoo. This removes pressure from the patrons of the zoo, but it also enables the zoo to use that money for the upkeep of the zoo.
This is what I am trying to do with the Abbotsford Convent, which unfortunately has fallen within the region of the congestion levy but considerably relies on the income it receives from the car park to maintain the gardens and what is a beautiful precinct. There are acres of land open 365 days a year for free to the community. There are 11 historic buildings and gardens. It was recently listed as the 111th site on the Australian National Heritage List. It is in fact Australia’s largest multi-arts precinct. It is owned by a foundation, and that is a community-led foundation. It is not-for-profit. It gives back to our community in so many ways, whether it is through the 100 studios available to up-and-coming artists, the community radio station that it houses, the small school or of course the Collingwood Children’s Farm and petting zoo. It would have to pay close to $1 million under the congestion levy. The government has been able to provide a rolling exemption from that levy over the past few years, and my suggested amendment would simply make that relief permanent. I hope members of the house will support this change, as this really is a wonderful Melbourne institution. We must cherish these institutions and foster them.
I would also like to acknowledge the steps that this government has taken to curtail land tax avoidance by charities that are not conducting actual charitable works. These changes deal with exemptions for land leasing to charities, exemptions for land owned by not-for-profits and land banked for future charitable use. These are positive steps, but I still suggest that there is a lot more land tax revenue that the government is forgoing by permitting a number of non-charitable organisations to claim charitable status to which automatic tax exemptions apply.
There are commercial enterprises owned by religious institutions. They should be subject to the same legal and financial laws as other commercial entities, but they are not. I will take one example, and that is Catholic Church Insurance. That is based in Melbourne, underwrites property and workers compensation for the Catholic Church in Australia and in 2016 generated $13 444 000 in profit. It is a large insurance company, except it is not called a company and it does not pay many of the taxes that its competitors do. Taxing these types of businesses is common sense, and taxing them fairly does not inhibit their ability to generate profit for the churches or the other religious institutions that they are generating profit for, but it ensures that we as a state benefit also.
Just as Kellogg’s, the world’s second-largest snack food company, is able to pay tax and return profits to its shareholders, so too could its breakfast cereal competitor and so-called charity, Sanitarium, which sells millions of serves of Weet-Bix a year, all while receiving tax exemptions as a church-run supposed charity. Genuine charitable organisations should be tax exempt — organisations like the Salvation Army that provide great levels of community service and are genuine charities — but we can all surely draw the line at multinational breakfast cereal companies.
This is not a foreign or unusual concept in other jurisdictions, although it may be here. Not taxing organisations that are not feeding the poor and are not actual charities but claim some sort of charitable status because of their relationship with another organisation is not usual in Canada, the US and most European countries. Certainly the clauses in this bill that amend land tax do go some way to bringing those organisations to task and to reducing the amount of time that they can just sit on land without paying land tax. I think that is a positive step.
As I said, I would like to go further, but with that said, I do not think it is my role to interfere too deeply with this bill. With the exception of my small suggested amendment to protect Abbotsford Convent from the congestion levy, I commend this bill to the house.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (18:54:05) — I move:
1. Suggested amendment to the Legislative Assembly —
Clause 3, line 27, omit ‘1995.”.’ and insert “1995.”.
2. Suggested amendment to the Legislative Assembly —
Clause 3, after line 27 insert—
‘(4) A parking space is an exempt parking space if—
(a) it is provided on land described in Vol.10894 Fol.151; and
(b) Abbotsford Convent Foundation (A.C.N. 098 462 474) is the registered proprietor of the land within the meaning of the Transfer of Land Act 1958.”.’.
My suggested amendments add further exemptions to the congestion levy, being for the Abbotsford Convent, but this is described in a far less exciting way as ‘Vol.10894 Fol.151’, which is related to the Abbotsford Convent Foundation. As I mentioned in my second-reading speech, this is a fantastic community organisation that provides open space to our community 365 days a year plus assistance to many arts organisations, small businesses and community groups. It actually does not receive any state funding, and so the revenue that it does receive from the car park is absolutely intrinsic to its upkeep and its viability, so I commend my amendments to the house.