State Taxation Acts and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2023 Second Reading

19 Oct 2023

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I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens to the State Taxation Acts and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2023. This bill contains a number of proposed changes to Victoria’s tax system and amends a number of acts relating to the sale of land. It seeks to extend the vacant residential land tax to include all vacant residential land, subject to carve-outs, across Victoria, whereas previously it had just been for certain metropolitan areas, but it also seeks to extend it to vacant residential land that does not have a residence on it and has been unimproved for five years or more, and it makes a number of other more technical amendments.

Under this bill that has been brought forward, which is the first legislative step in the government’s housing statement, we are still going to see tens of thousands of homes remaining vacant, and this ineffective tax is just going to cover a handful of those. It is not going to have the impact of shifting those houses onto the market – for renters or for people needing to buy their first home – to effectively deal with the housing crisis. Victorians cannot afford for the housing crisis to get worse. The Greens had really hoped for – and we gave the government every opportunity to take it – bolder, stronger action. Implement rent caps. Cap short-stay accommodation. Put in an effective vacancy tax. Instead the housing statement is giving developers everything they wanted, and we are not just going to wave through changes that will see the housing crisis get worse.

Under the current vacant residential land tax, one of the issues that we have is that it has just got poor enforcement and requires property owners to self-report or opt in. Estimates of how many vacant properties there are in Victoria range and vary. One report found in 2019 that there were 69,000 properties that were vacant. Just 1 per cent had opted in to the vacancy tax, and in that year almost as many properties were vacant as there were sold. This is a significant amount of property. What the Greens have been pushing for is that the onus should be on property owners to prove occupancy, with owners liable unless they declare occupancy or lease and provide evidence, and there should be strong penalties for false declarations. When you look at the Vancouver model, failure to declare should result in the property being deemed vacant by default, and we certainly think revenue that is collected through it should be supporting affordable housing in areas where it applies. We recently had a Parliamentary Budget Office costing that looked at stronger enforcement. That meant that the tax would cover not hundreds of properties but thousands of properties, and it would be a much stronger incentive to shift those houses onto the market.

As I said, under the broader housing statement housing affordability is just going to keep getting worse. We are still seeing housing as a commodity, as an investment, rather than as a human right. When it comes to the future, rents are still going to go up. The public housing waiting list is still going to go up. Homelessness is still going to rise. We have got 30,000 people homeless in Victoria every single night. More than half the people that are accessing homelessness services are getting turned away due to lack of government funding. You have got the public housing waiting list above 120,000 people, a quarter of them children. People are waiting years to access public housing, yet the government has got a privatisation agenda for our public housing estates. And what is the increase in social housing that is planned in that? Well, out of 6660 public homes across 44 towers it is an additional 440 social homes – 15 per year over the life of that project.

For renters in general there are unlimited price hikes, record levels of housing stress. You have got landlords reaping windfalls from the overheated private rental market. We have got another year staring down the barrel of massive rent increases. What we have put on the table for the government is to freeze rents, cap them in the long term, but the government is choosing not to. When it comes to the short-stay accommodation for Airbnb we need to cap the number of days properties can be listed on these sites. You have got cities like Tokyo, London, Berlin regulating short-stay in this way. It can be done in Victoria too. We need to shift those houses again onto the market. What the Greens have put forward first of all is the principle that, just like essential services like public health and education, governments have the responsibility to make sure everyone has a secure, affordable, safe place to call home. That is why we have put forward rent controls, that is why we have put forward short-stay regulation with a 90-day cap on how long it could be put on those websites, that is why we have put forward inclusionary zoning, that is why we have put forward stopping plans to privatise public housing and the wholesale demolition of public housing estates, that is why we have put forward a stronger vacant land tax that actually is effective and shifts those houses for renters and first-time home owners, and if the government does not take those actions, again the rents are going to keep rising, the housing waiting list will continue to grow and house prices will remain unaffordable.

So we are not in a position to support this legislation that is going to see the state’s housing crisis get even worse. That said, we are willing to work openly and constructively with the government to solve this state’s worsening housing crisis, not like the Liberals who seem to be in a very fierce competition with the government to see who can cave into property developers the most. When you just hear that constant talk about tax and debt you can only be led to the conclusion that what they are looking for or what they would be putting forward is a permanent state of austerity here in Victoria. That is not what we want, but what we cannot have as well is Victorians in need. They cannot afford for the housing crisis to get worse. You cannot have a housing plan that puts private profit before the public need in our communities. We cannot support a plan that abandons renters to unlimited rent increases. We cannot support a plan that is laying the groundwork for carving up and privatising our public housing estates. We need bold and we need progressive steps to fix our state’s housing crisis.

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