Cynical, an election stunt and an admission that the ACT tax reform agenda is unfair – that was Opposition Leader Alistair Coe’s response to the ACT Government’s announcement of its own rates freeze.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has provided rates relief for most ratepayers for the financial year as part of the COVID-19 economic recovery plan, and at the same time moved to outmanoeuvre the Canberra Liberals who have long promised to freeze rates over the term of the next government.
Mr Barr said rates relief it was not something that could be done every year into the future, but Mr Coe reaffirmed his commitment to ratepayers that their bills will not rise for four years if the Liberals win power at the 17 October election.
”You will have a lower rates bill every single year under the Canberra Liberals,” he said.
Mr Coe called Mr Barr’s move a ”flash in the pan announcement by a government in a very cynical move before the election and an admission that their rates regime is hurting Canberra families”.
”For years they’ve been increasing rates, they changed the methodology for units and made a hefty apartment tax and now, on the eve of an election, they are trying to buy their way out of the political mess and the hardship that they’ve created,” Mr Coe said.
Mr Coe would not say how the Liberals would pay for the rate freeze or where savings would have to be made, but he said it would cost a modest $175 million over fours years, or about half a per cent of revenue over that period.
”We are very confident that we can easily afford this. It’s a modest but very important commitment,” he said.
Mr Coe said the government move showed it was worried about the rates regime and suggested it was trying to backtrack after a decade of increases.
”I think Andrew Barr is massively underrating Canberrans’ ability to see through these little stunts,” he said.
Mr Coe cited the case of pensioner David from Giralang whose rates have gone form $1100 a year to $2500 a year and keep going up.
”$1400 a year for a pensioner is a massive amount,” Mr Coe said. ”Does anybody really think that their urban services are getting better as a result of their rates going up year on year? Anywhere else in the country a mayor would get tossed out.”
The ACT Labor Government is halfway through a 20-year tax reform program praised by economists for shifting to a property-based system in which other inefficient taxes and levies are gradually reduced and eventually scrapped, including stamp duty.
Mr Coe says those reductions have been negligible compared to the rate rises Canberrans have experienced.
The Liberals’ position spells doom for the reform program, which it has consistently attacked, if they win government.
Mr Barr says the government is not about to rethink the reform program, saying that after a decade the rate of increases is falling and the heavy lifting has been done.
He will hope to have blunted the Liberals’ rates attack but Mr Coe believes the issue will remain a stark point of difference between the two main parties come October.
”Families have been hurting for a long time, they need genuine relief, not just an election pivot that Andrew Barr has made four months out from an election,” he said.