State Taxation and Mental Health Acts Amendment Bill 2021

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (14:52): I rise to make a brief contribution this afternoon on this bill, which would seek to basically hit a great section of Victorians with more taxes. Living in the country and seeing the effect that our lockdowns have had on regional Victoria is most heartbreaking. It is most heartbreaking to see the empty streets during lockdown number four. Normally busy, bustling streets are empty, and, what is more, the shops are empty. Before I came in yesterday I walked down to Bourke Street to get something, and I was horrified to see, from the top of Spring Street walking into the centre of the city, the number of empty shops—not just every now and then and not just closed shops but empty shops. Our city, our beautiful Melbourne city, is dying from the inside out. Our beautiful regional towns and centres are being forced to wear a burden that is almost too hard to bear for many and they just cannot stay open.

What is the bedside manner of the Andrews government? The bedside manner is under the cover of support for mental health, which we all endorse, which we all know needs to be rectified, which we all know needs to be fixed, which we all know is broken in various facets. It is not serving the community and is not servicing those people at the very tipping point of need. But under that cover what this government is doing—and I will take up Mr Gordon Rich-Phillips’s comments—is introducing the wrong tax at the wrong time.

Recently Australian Bureau of Statistics data was analysed by former ANZ chief economist Saul Eslake, and he said Victorians were lagging behind most other states and territories on household disposable income—that is what we can find to go out and enjoy our lives, to go out and buy the things we need to buy, to go out and invest—and lagging in terms of economic productivity. We have seen that in spades as we walk down our main streets. He also found that the Andrews government is inflicting even deeper economic damage with its incompetent handling of the pandemic. We need to learn from mistakes, and this government is kind of the gold standard of making mistakes. The government needs to learn from and to address these mistakes. If it can turn its head to what is the best outcome for Victorians, then we can all look to that space, we can all look to that future. But at the moment this government is choosing to lock down our state and bring in taxes.

He also said, in finishing his commentary, that Victoria has become a relatively poor state, with an annual disposable household income per person which is $5300 less than New South Wales. Now, it is no wonder that we hear stories of internal migration across the border, across the Murray to New South Wales, to Queensland and to other states, because Victorians are just fair dinkum and they are sick of this position.

This bill amends five acts: the Duties Act 2000, the First Home Owner Grant Act 2000, the Land Tax Act 2005, the Mental Health Act 2014 and the Payroll Tax Act 2007. What we see in this bill, as I have said, is new taxes that are really putting Victoria’s economy at risk. You cannot tax your way into recovery. Last year’s consecutive lockdowns in regional Victoria caused so much distress, with the hotel quarantine, with the events and tourism industry just brought to their knees. Our pubs, clubs, restaurants, entertainment all took a hit, and as I have said, many of these will not remain open. Business support grants were difficult to obtain and applicants were often desperate to access this scattering of funds. I have had examples of where some of our local hotels spent six months, even though they achieved the criteria, ringing weekly to try and get some of these funds back to them.

Sole traders have had a significant blow, and we see again that there is no help from this government for those earning under $75 000 even though they have ABNs and they operate businesses. It is a slap in the face for those business operators when they call the Victorian hotline. JobKeeper certainly kept Victoria afloat, but it is not the sole responsibility of the federal government to reach in and to support Victorian businesses to stay open. This government is taxing those businesses as we go through lockdown 4.

The other thing that this bill seeks to do is to really tap into and target the housing market and affect housing affordability. It has been one of the casualties of COVID, so I find it quite concerning that this government wants to slug potential home buyers even more with another level of tax just to put roofs over their heads. The Property Council of Australia has said:

The Victorian Government has given itself a massive 13 per cent pay rise this year thanks to increased property taxes and new taxes on families, jobs and investment.

Acknowledging the stagnancy of wage growth and unemployment at 6.1 per cent, Danni Hunter, the council’s Victorian executive director, suggests also that now is not the time to raise taxes and introduce new ones. At the core of this level of taxing we see that among the new taxes from July this year property transactions with a dutiable value of more than $2 million will be subject to a premium—get that; hit me again—of $110 000 plus 6.5 per cent if the dutiable value exceeds that $2 million mark. What this proposed tax will do is further add pressure to the property sector, which again is going to make it more and more difficult to purchase homes.

And we have already seen that in 26 suburbs across Victoria the median house price is over $2 million, so in no way is this just those affluent, richer suburbs. Twenty-six suburbs have a median house price over $2 mill. Also, the Real Estate Institute of Victoria in its quarterly report showed that the median price of a house in metropolitan Melbourne has bumped up by 8.8 per cent to over $1 million. In regional Victoria there has been a 12.3 per cent increase in the last 12 months to a $500 000 median price. Now, we know why that is. Unfortunately the lockdown in Melbourne has driven people out to the country. They are feeling like they have no choice, that they need to move to the country. Now, a wise decision that will be, because country Victoria is a fantastic place to live and work and raise a family, but it also puts significant pressure on the system. The Property Council of Australia have suggested that the new stamp duty will hit 50 per cent of homes in 120 suburbs by 2030, and again, the Property Council have said:

Now is not the time for budget repair and is not the time to over-tax an industry that employs one in four Victorian workers.

This budget is supposed to be supporting the mental health system via a levy. Well, we all understand that this state has multiple needs, and the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System showed that, in terms of its recommendations to heal, support and bring about better outcomes for those with mental health issues. That is a given, but to do this in such a way, again, is such a disappointment in a government that should own its own responsibilities and own its support for mental health.

Wesfarmers, Coles, Telstra and the banking sector—some 9000 businesses—are set to be hit by a surcharge. The CEO of Wesfarmers, Rob Scott, told the Australian Financial Review, that:

… this levy targets the businesses that employ the most Australians and it diminishes Victoria’s standing as a place to do business and employ people.

If we look at, ‘Well, how should we be funding these various investments in mental health?’, let us look at the budget blowouts in all of the major projects that this government is undertaking. The North East Link was promised to be $5 billion, and it is now tipping $15 billion, almost $16 billion. That is a blowout. The Metro Tunnel was promised to be $9 billion, and it is now at $12.5 billion and growing. The level crossing removals were promised to be $5 billion and are now at $8 billion. And we remember the east–west link that was supposed to occur and would be finished by now if it had been undertaken, and that was $1.3 billion to rip up a contract. These are massive tax hikes for stamp duty, for land tax and for payroll tax, and I reiterate the position that many wise heads have put in the public domain: this is not the right tax and this is not the right time.