THE rates issue is going to be a challenge for Labor. However, manipulation of the community by the Liberals plays straight into the government’s hands.
It seems the Liberals have been caught red handed using a Legislative Assembly committee as a springboard for their own campaign on rates.
They had called on community members to submit through a Liberal Party site rather than, more appropriately, directly to the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee.
It gets worse. Not all of the submissions made through the Liberal Party site were passed on to the committee.
Opposition Leader Alistair Coe suggests that these submissions were caught up in the spam filter. However, he only did so the day after the Assembly decided to do an inquiry into allegations that the Liberals have attempted to “corrupt the process”.
The committee’s “Inquiry into the Methodology for Determining Rates and Land Tax for Strata Residences” is a serious business impacting on a high proportion of Canberrans. The terms of reference of the committee identify that “in 2017 the government made changes to this methodology as part of the ACT’s broader tax reforms agenda” and the committee seeks input from the public through submissions.
Mr Coe tabled a petition in the Legislative Assembly in February with thousands of signatures calling on the government to reverse the way it calculated rates on units. This was followed by a motion to refer the matter to the Public Accounts Committee – which was successful when it gained the support of the Greens. Then the Liberals decided to play games with their own website.
On the flip side, Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr has made it clear that he prefers to bypass mainstream media and avoid serious questions about the fairness in the ways rates are levied in Canberra. Applying the equity principle in levying rates was always going to be a challenge.
At the time when former MLA Ted Quinlan was Treasurer, the Labor government took the bold step to seek a fairer tax-raising system so that those who could best afford to support the community would pay more. The idea of reducing stamp duties and finding the money through increasing the value of land makes sense. The progressive taxation system is certainly fairer in principle.
However, even Mr Quinlan has identified problems in fairness in regard to the implementation.
He told ABC radio he was concerned about how the current rating system was being applied to home units. His concern was specifically directed at larger complexes where ratepayers are paying proportionally higher rates than those in smaller complexes.
These are matters that ought to be sorted out through the committee processes. At the time of writing, the Public Accounts Committee had published 66 submissions. No doubt there are many more in the pipeline.
The Assembly had little choice but to set up a Privileges Committee, to examine the conduct, or misconduct, of Members of the Assembly and to make recommendations on appropriate actions. The committee, to be chaired by Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury will examine the behaviour of Mr Coe and two other Liberal MLAs – Elizabeth Lee and Candice Burch.
It was only after this inquiry was established that the Liberals admitted to failure to pass on 19 submissions. The “lost-in-spam” explanation is either a really bad excuse or the Liberals’ website management is extremely poor.
The excuse seems really lame when Mr Coe pointed to Assembly processes for submissions to committees as being outdated and cumbersome. At least they work!
It is little wonder Labor backbencher Bec Cody was challenging the Liberals’ approach after they had made the claim that ALL submissions to their website were passed on unchanged.
She argued that there was no evidence to support the contention and was concerned that the Public Accounts Committee had been undermined and even “biased” or “corrupted” through the Liberals’ actions.
One of the great strengths of the ACT Assembly since its inception has been the committee system. It has been used to investigate, to find compromises, to seek solutions and to make recommendations. The last thing we need is to have the strongest part of our Legislative Assembly undermined through political games.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.