State Taxation and Treasury Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 Speech

I am delighted to be following the member for Sandringham in these matters. It gives me pleasure to speak on the State Taxation and Treasury Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. We all know about the Andrews Labor government’s record on the implementation of a progressive taxation system, but I would like to reiterate the fact that across our term in government we have cut or abolished taxes and fees 57 times. Who is counting? I think both sides are doing a bit of counting, and that is my contribution to the count. The member for Sandringham indicated that he did not like taxes, especially payroll taxes, and then he went ahead and named all the taxes that are here in this state of Victoria.

He then offered that notion of tax as waste, with an emphasis on the tax and no elucidation on the waste. When I came into this place, once I worked out what the hell I was doing here I had to think about what would be the mantra for me, and the answer was to look for a Victoria that is fair, productive and compassionate. I keep repeating that, and I quite understand that there is no good wanting something compassionate if there is no productivity to support that compassion, and the same with fairness. But I do have a problem with some of the rhetoric, if you like, that one hears from the other side here and then federally about tax. The late Prime Minister was fond of saying—and I have repeated it actually,so I am as bad as him—and kept saying, ‘It’s your money, it’s your money, it’s your money’, and variations on that theme, like, ‘It’s your money. It’s your money. It’s your money’. That to me was problematic because at no time was there any attempt to say, ‘Well, with these taxes we will be producing these goods’. Instead of that we salve our conscience by saying, ‘All you’ll be producing is waste, and therefore, because you’re producing waste, taxes are wrong’. It is a fairly vacuous argument in my opinion. One really has to say that taxation is there and, while no-one would say they highly embrace taxation, we have to recognise that there is a common good being served in taxation. I would simply repeat that in responding to the member for Sandringham and his dislike of taxes.

Let us talk about the Andrews tax cuts. We have increased the payroll tax free threshold twice since coming into government. Maybe I need to repeat that: we have increased the payroll tax free threshold twice since coming into government. Now fewer small to medium-sized businesses pay any payroll tax at all. Last July we cut the regional payroll tax to 1.2125 per cent, just a quarter of the metropolitan rate and the lowest in Australia. After all, it is because of measures like this that we have seen regional unemployment fall to 3.2 per cent, the lowest in the nation. Even in the pandemic our payroll tax cuts saved Victorian businesses $1.7 billion up to 2021–22 and will save them around $4 billion over the forward estimates. These are more than just bland statistics; they are the results of an approach that has balanced the needs of business, individuals and our government to create Australia’s best economy.

Now let us turn to farcical coalition list of 42 new or increased taxes. This appears to have captured their imagination, and they have gone on with monotonous regularity almost to the point of actually believing it. It is genuinely beyond me how the opposition can count the point-of-consumption wagering and betting tax, which they both voted for and supported vocally, on this list. They have also chucked in the mental health levy, which they have finally decided to support after wavering for yonks. How desperate can the opposition get? I understand being scared after the weekend’s results, but this is patently absurd. How about the absentee landowner surcharge for foreign purchasers being on the list six times? I did not think it was such a controversial idea that we should work to improve housing supply. For those opposite: it is a fact that taxes on foreign purchasers are not taxes on Victorians. I know by now that we are used to these bad faith arguments from the opposition, but it is clear to all of us that the Andrews government has been a fierce advocate for all Victorians and all Victorian businesses.

What about the increased tax on electronic gaming machines? Now, this is an interesting one. One of the key changes within this bill is that from 2023 Crown’s electronic gaming machines will be subject to the same tax rates as those operated by not-for-profit community-based venues like RSLs. Now, fancy that. Now I would like to take a moment to speak about the harm of these gaming machines. In 2019 Victorians lost $2.7 billion on these machines. They lost $460 million in Crown Casino on the pokies alone. I am sure we are familiar with the scourge of pokies in this state. The addiction and ultimate consequences that these machines can visit upon their victims is a modern tragedy, and now the first group of changes in our response to the royal commission includes the coalition-introduced laws that prevented the state from changing regulations in respect to Crown without having to pay compensation. This is a change that makes our tax system fairer. Crown does not deserve preferential tax treatment. Indeed I am going to read to you a selection of Ray Finkelstein’s words used to describe Crown Melbourne, which formed a headline in the Age: ‘Disgraceful, illegal, dishonest, unethical, exploitative, alarming’—otherwise everything is okay. These are not words used to describe an organisation that deserves preferential tax treatment, and indeed I am thrilled that this government has boosted funding to the new regulator, the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission. Crown may have kept its licence, but it is vital that it comes under intense regulatory scrutiny and that the ramifications are felt not just at Crown but across the entire gambling industry. I am sure we have all seen recently that they already commenced disciplinary proceedings against Crown Melbourne. It is not just one regulator taking issue with Crown, though, as a statement of claim was lodged by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre for contraventions of anti money laundering and counterterrorism financing laws. The case for this change is clear, and I am glad that oversight of Crown is not a lottery anymore.

The windfall gains tax is another one that it just surprises me people are shedding—well, probably crocodile—tears over. As we are aware, the 2021–22 budget saw that the government introduced the windfall gains tax on rezoning decisions that create an increase in land value of more than $100 000. This will allow the community to receive their fair share of the value from the government rezoning decisions. It will allow us to avoid a Fishermans Bend situation, as we all know how the Leader of the Opposition rezoned this area, granting a huge profit to a litany of Liberal cronies. It is no surprise that the remnants of our Victorian Liberals’ federal counterparts have been opposed to a federal independent commission against corruption with their state branch up to this kind of mischief.

As part of our consultation with stakeholders during the process of developing this measure, we as a government agreed to an up-front exemption on land by an Australian university in certain circumstances. To apply, the university must satisfy the commissioner of state revenue that any revenue derived from the rezoned land will be used for the charitable purposes of the university. I am glad that this state government backs universities, and I am excited to have a federal government that appreciates these institutions as well. Whilst many elements of this bill may appear to be incremental, together they combine to significantly improve our taxation system.