Fire taxes and people taxes - Are we seeing the genesis of what could well be the next tax imposition for the people of Victoria to pay for the population growth that the state forces on us?
It’s been clear for many years that population growth is costing us all big time in Australia and that’s just the money side of it. I’ll set aside the impact of population growth on the environment, the welfare of other animals, our amenity and livability for another discussion.
About 10 years ago, it dawned on the people I know that population growth was not just something that happened on the outer fringes of the capital cities where we never go but that it was pushing its way into the established suburbs. At first, relatively unnoticed but as the rate and volume increased, we all watched in dismay as neigbouring suburban gardens disappeared, houses were demolished for larger, bulkier edifices and our familiar mix of built and un-built environment was transformed into something that would be unrecognizable to anyone who had been absent for a decade. The word “infrastructure” then insidiously crept into our media lexicon ad nauseum. Services such as sewerage and roads and provision of power that we took for granted as being provided by various arms of government suddenly seemed to be in a crisis of ageing and inadequacy. We all knew that there was a cost to this, ultimately payable by tax payers, but most people I spoke to saw this as being long into the future to the point they did not need to worry about it.
Dr Jane O’Sullivan http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=10137 in March 2010, highlighted and quantified the inevitability of this burden with a reasonable assumption that the average lifespan of infrastructure would be conservatively 50 years so that on an annual basis this would amount to no more than 2%. If population growth is 2%, as it had been around the time she wrote the article, then the infrastructure capacity must be doubled! This is the position our growth obsessed governments are putting Australian citizens in.
The last growth figures (to March 2012 on the ABS website show a national growth rate of 1.5%) but this is still very high for a developed country. Victoria had the largest numerical increase in population in that year of any state- 82,500
So, the next blow to Victorians is that a planning academic called Roz Hansen has suggested to the state government that they impose a levy based on the value of people’s properties (and therefore adding to house price inflation) to pay for the additional infrastructure necessitated by population growth. This might be OK for someone like Roz Hansen, who we might reasonably assume has a hansome salary as planning adviser to the Baillieu government, but for people on retirement incomes living in ordinary suburbs, it could well mean not being able to afford to stay in their homes!
The Premier is in the clear so far, having said “no” to this idea. It is now on the agenda, however!
The Municipal Association of Victoria does not want the collection of such a tax to be imposed on councils and points out that people do not have unlimited resources. Victorians will also be paying a fire levy from July 2013 and the government proposes doubling the population of bushfire prone townships such as Warrandyte and urban suburbs by allowing 2 houses per residential lot.
Any tax based on the price of a property can become unaffordable to the resident as population growth drives up the price of housing without creating any more real wealth. Although the Georgists http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgism advocate a tax to property owners based on land value, in a “Geoist” world there is no income tax on wages. Hansen’s suggestion is Geoism without the benefits, although I doubt that this would be a conscious all encompassing tax philosophy on her part. She would still expect us to pay income tax with land-tax a new and additional impost.
What is frightening is that the population growth that drives such draconian potential policies is inflicted upon Victorians against their will, but our political system seems to provide us with no means to stop what over 70% of Victorians manifestly do not want. If a related new tax or charge is imposed, we also have almost no chance of stopping it, since such things tend these days to be decided in parliament, between elections and never to be submitted as items on political platforms at election time. And who can keep up with the sophistry? Isn't there more to life?