Australia's tax system – Past & Future ...|
|"The whole of the people have the right of the ownership of land and the right to share in the value of land itself,
though not to share in the fruits of land
which properly belong to the individuals
by whose labour they are produced."
— Alfred Deakin (1857-1919),
Prime Minister from 1903-1910.
Timeline: Australian Prime Ministers
institutions with an active interest in tax and transfer policy
"There is increased interest in land taxation in Australia and internationally, as reflected for example, in the Henry report on tax reform in 2010...."
Taxes on Land Rent
Tax and Transfer Policy Institute
PDF: TTPI - Working Paper 6/2016
Dr David Ingles, Senior Fellow, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University
There is increased interest in land taxation in Australia and internationally, as reflected for example, in the Henry report on tax reform in 2010 and the UK Mirrlees Report in 2011. This interest stems from the immobility of land as a factor of production, which stands in contrast to other factors such as capital and labour. Logically, immobile factors can be taxed more heavily and with less efficiency cost than mobile ones. The interest in land taxation revisits the work of the 19th century reformer Henry George but in fact has antecedents going back to Ricardo and before. By making land more expensive to own, we can (somewhat paradoxically) make it cheaper to buy. At the extreme a 100 per cent tax on land rent reduces the capital value to the annual rental value; that is, to around 3-5 per cent of the untaxed value. A 5 per cent tax reduces the capital value of land by half, and a 1 per cent tax reduces it by 17 per cent. However the lump-sum nature of land taxes – and their high visibility to taxpayers – makes them politically very difficult to raise. The theoretical revenue available, which is one-third to one half of all Commonwealth tax revenue, may be practically unavailable.
Critique of abstract.
1. "...expensive to own, we can (somewhat paradoxically) make it cheaper to buy."
The land would be less difficult to buy, e.g. no deposit or bank loan with interest or stamp duty required, and a home would be affordable to lease. Location, location, location is everything.
2. "However the lump-sum nature of land taxes..."
As Milton Friedman and others have recommended, if you wanted to reduce the burden of the lump-sum annual land tax, 'the way to do it would simply be to provide for an effective method whereby it could be withheld at source, in small payments and that would eliminate a large part of the objection to it'.
3. "...their high visibility to taxpayers – makes them politically very difficult to raise."
All taxes are difficult to raise. Good government leads.
A major 'tax-shift' needs to be clearly explained:
That economic rent theorem represents a self-supporting system 'flow'; cycling of 'user-fees' or economic/resource rent into the community has rewards in equitable shares of surplus which enhances or maintains rather than degrades or destroys society (shades of Alfred Deakin).
4. "The theoretical revenue available, which is one-third to one half of all Commonwealth tax revenue, may be practically unavailable."
This conclusion isn't based on empirical evidence. "Revenue available" does not represent a revenue stream. It is a surplus, representing effective fiscal management. After outlays and expenditures, surpluses can be shared as dividends, aka "Citizen Dividends".
|“Since even quite common men have souls, no increase in material wealth will compensate them for arrangements which insult their self-respect and impair their freedom.” — R.H. Tawney (1890-1962),
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1926.
During a January 2012 lecture on philosophy and economics, Australian economist Dr John Tippett debated questions amplified in A Philosophers Take on Economics (2012):
– What are the implications of the global financial crisis on current thinking and living?
– Have recent events been fair and just?
– How may we live together in communities in prosperity, unfettered by the strictures of necessity?
– Have we been set free by the economic activity of the past 20 years?
"Science explains and understands the world of matter; philosophy explains and understands the world of spirit. Economics is the meeting place of these two worlds. Whilst the immediate concern of economics is policy in the 'world of matter', the key participant in economic life is the human being, whose ultimate purpose of participation is to do with the 'world of spirit'. Hence economics meets these two realms, stands at their interface. Its task is to ensure the rule of justice"
– Dr John Tippett, 2012
View larger and earlier maps here
On 21st December 1817, Governor Lachlan Macquarie recommended the use of the name “Australia” instead of “New Holland”. The name had been suggested by Matthew Flinders (1774-1814), first English navigator and cartographer to circumnavigate and map Australia, in his sea voyage journal, published in July 1814: A Voyage to Terra Australis: Undertaken for the Purpose of Completing the Discovery of that Vast Country, and Prosecuted in the Years 1801, 1802, and 1803, in His Majesty's Ship the Investigator.
Crown land grants
In his 1974 John Murtagh Macrossan Lecture, The Honorable Rae Else-Mitchell's (1914-2006) describes the impacts of Crown land grants at the settlement of Australia. In many instances, Crown land was granted to British aristocrats who'd never set foot on Australian soil, reminiscent of the American "Reformation Restoration Colonies" (McIlvenna, 2009).
When Captain Arthur Phillip, with his band of colonists one thousand or more strong, established the first settlement on Australian soil at Sydney Cove in 1788 the title to all the east coast of the continent from the 135th meridian of longitude became vested in the Crown. Sir Francis Forbes, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, said in 1834:
"It is a matter of history that New South Wales was taken possession of, in the name of the King of Great Britain, about fifty-five years ago. This Court is bound to know judicially, that an Act of Parliament passed in the 27th year of King George the Third (cap.2), enabling His Majesty to institute a colony and civil government on the east side of New South Wales. The right of the soil, and of all lands in the Colony, became vested immediately upon its settlement, in His Majesty, in right of his Crown, and as the representative of the British Nation. His Majesty by his prerogatives is enabled to dispose of the lands so vested in the Crown. It is part of the law of England that the prerogatives can only be exercised in a certain definite and legal manner. His Majesty can only alienate Crown lands by means of a record — that is by a grant, by letters patent, duly passed under the Great Seal of the Colony, according to law, and in conformity with his Majesty’s instructions to the Governor" – King v Steel: Legge’s Report 68-69.
Australia became an independent nation on 1 January 1901
when the British Parliament passed legislation allowing the six Australian colonies to govern in their own right as part of the Commonwealth of Australia. – Federation Gateway: The National Library of Australia
Australia's Founding Fathers were aware that land and resource monoply could be prevented by directing the flow of increased land values into the National Treasury. Hence, Henry George's interpretation of Classical Political Economic theorem, aka Georgism, underpinned the movement toward Australian Federation and became the cornerstone of Australia's tax system with the launch of the Australian Tax Office (ATO) in 1910).
Marxism wanted both land and capital to become public property.
Georgism recognised private property in capital but wanted the community to recover the full Economic Rent 'value' of all unimproved land from landowners.
On March 6, 1890, Henry George (1839-1897) and his Australian wife, Annie Corsina Fox-George (1845-1904), arrived in Sydney for the start of a 98-day public lecture tour, covering 34 cities and towns across the country: a cheering crowd marching in procession with a brass band accompanied the Georges in a four-horse coach, to the Town Hall, where the Lord Mayor made an official speech of welcome
– Association For Good Government
John Pullen Ph.D. documented this history in Nature's Gifts: The Australian Lectures of Henry George on the Ownership of Land and Other Natural Resources, (2014) which geography professor John Holmes (2015) credits as the first "critical study of reforms proposed by Henry George – equal rights to land; land taxation; land prices; land rents; land nationalisation; and free trade and protection."
"Pullen's day-to-day chronicle and thoughtful appraisal of Henry George's fourteen-week Australian tour in 1890 provides much-needed further insight into a formative period in Australian political history. ... Pullen observes that this tour was actively supported by nonconformist ministers but hardly ever by Anglican or Catholic clergy. ...Of particular value is Pullen's informed scrutiny of the fundamental principles and the common misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Georgism ..."
– John Holmes, Australian Journal of Politics and History: Vol 61/3, 2015, pp. 450-483
While the Anglican Church of England's "Landed Gentry" might not be supportive of the Land Value Tax movement, the Roman Catholic Church chose a pro-active stance (see more references here): In 1891, Pope Leo XIII reined-in the growing number of priests and laity supporting Henry George's work by issuing an encyclical, Rerum Novarum – "of revolutionary change" – Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor – thus formally categorising "Land" as capital when land doesn't 'turn over' in the sense of capital turnover. Professor Mason Gaffney's 1997 lecture, updated and expanded in 2000, provides a thorough analysis of the Vatican's role in shaping economic history.
Download the PDF:
Gaffney, (2000). Henry George, Dr. Edward McGlynn, and Pope Leo XIII
1891 - 1901
The Commonwealth of Australia
In April 1891 a National Australasian Convention was held in Sydney to discuss the joining of the colonies in a federal system, culminating in Federation in 1901. "The phrase 'Washminster' has been used to describe our system of government, as it blends features of the British Parliament and US federal model." – Parliamentary Education Office
An international competition to design Australia's new capital city was won by the American architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, both of whom had worked closely with Frank Lloyd Wright and were supporters of the ideas of Henry George.
The Australian Tax Office (ATO) was established in 1910 under laws specifically designed for collection of Economic Rent via a land tax which is still in place in The Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
(PDF: Federal land tax, archival document: Land Tax Act 1910)
How Victoria Adopted Site Value rating, 1919
Excerpt from Forward
by A. R. Hutchinson, B. Sc. A.M.I.E. Aust.
The years since World War II have seen a remarkable growth in the numbers of Victorian municipalities which have abandoned local taxation of buildings and other improvements and have turned to the rating of the site-value (unimproved land value) instead for their local revenues. … This rapid recent growth makes it timely to review the setps by which ratepayers secured the right of self-determination in the system by which their rate payments are computed.
An Act had been passed on 3rd February, 1914, to provide for optimal powers to make this change. This was the culmination of the efforts of many people but there was one fatal blemish. The measure was not to come into operation until proclaimed by the Governor in Council and this was not done until the value of land were assessed over the whole State under the Land Tax Act 1910 and available for use by municipalities. There were not forthcoming and indeed are not available from that source even today, some 48 years later. By 1919 it was evident that unless other means were provided to enable municipal councils to make their own valuations this praiseworthy Act would remain a dead letter.
To Hon. E. L. Kieran is due the credit of introducing the small but vital measure needed, as a private member’s Bill, and pressing it through Parliament with the blessing of all parties. This was indeed an achievement and it is encouraging to read the tone of the various members’ speeches during the progress of the debates as recorded in the Hansard extracts which follow.
Hon. E. L. Kiernans contribution did not cease with success in getting the vital measure carried. … (pp.1-2)
Debate in Legislative Council 19th November, 1919
From Hansard No. 20
(Bill read first time 29th July, 1919)
The Hon. E. L. Kieran moved to second reading of this Bill. He said – This Bill should not require a great deal of discussion. It’s object is to amend the Rating on Unimproved Values Act 1915. That Act contained one section which has prevented municipalities taking advantage to it. Section 4 provides –
Download the pamphlet in pdf format here
According to Bryan Kavanagh, Land Valuer (Ret.) Australian Tax Office,
"Australia had a federal land tax from 1910 to 1952. Our valuations are updated and accurate ('highest and best use') assessment is produced once every two years by each municipality, and each State relies on this municipal valuation. The ideal would be to assess the actual land rental, rather than striking a rate in the dollar on the site's capital value, but that's a long way off here in Oz."
Assessment could be done every time there is a land transaction (sale or lease).
Unlocking the Riches of Oz –
A Case Study of the Social and Economic Costs of Australian Real Estate Bubbles, 1972-2006
by Bryan Kavanagh (2007).
During his tenure as Director of the Land Values Research Group and Land Valuer at the Australian Tax Office (over 30 years), Bryan Kavanagh produced his study on the long-term effects of property bubbles:
Download the 2007 report here.
Download his submissions to the Australian Treasury tax review.
1. Ineffective demand: a picture of a tax-induced economic depression
2. Mr. Kavanagh's private submission.
Mr Kavanagh's findings
According to Mr Kavanagh's study, collection of Resource Rent (Economic Rent) would allow Australia to remove all taxes on productivity, i.e. income, sales, pay roll tax – all business taxes. Mr. Kavanagh's research revealed, in May 2007, that if the Australian government collected just half the 'rent' due, there would be:
1. Sufficient funds for all public services and public infrastructure.
Basically, we can remove taxes on productivity if we switch to 'user fees', aka economic/resource rent. Government would become efficient if funding had to rely on 'user-fees'.
2. At 2007 value, an annual tax-free surplus-based 'Citizen Dividend' between AUD$34,000. and AUD$49,000, can replace welfare, social security, and unemployment payments.
Why should everyone receive a Citizen Dividend?
Because we are all shareholders in the global commons. When we pay the 'rent' we can then collect an equal share of the surplus, after all government services have been funded.
A cautionary note from Dr Fred Foldvary:
"The adoption of basic income would be an economic revolution, but it will fail if the source of funds is even higher market-crushing taxes. A complete and successful revolution towards economic justice and prosperity requires the funding of basic income from a land value tax."
– Fred Foldvary, Ph.D., San Jose State University
The AIM: Tax private use of land and resources, and ...
• Take taxes off improvements
• Take taxes off labor
• Take taxes off people
• Take taxes off income
• Take taxes off wages
• Take taxes off business and industry (Source)
Achieve individual liberty, limited government & free markets
by eliminating taxes on everything – except land and natural resources.
During the transition, restrict taxes to socially generated values, but quickly graduate to fees, leases, dues, etc.
Social and economic benefits:
- Removal of taxes on productivity will encourage innovation.
- No more tax accounting or reporting.
- Removing land from speculative growth cycles will provide affordable land (and homes) for everyone.
- No need for a bank mortgage to access land.
- A 'Citizen Dividend' would support vocational choices with free education.
- End needless suffering, poor health, and the misery of involuntary poverty.
A turning point for 'moving forward' together
Setting the stage: Bryan Kavanagh's study, Unlocking the Riches of Oz, was released in May 2007 and Kevin Rudd was elected Prime Minister in November 2007, following the August 2007 stock market crash which led to the 2008 GFC.
In early 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd commissioned Australian Treasury Secretary Ken Henry's tax review: Australia's future tax system (2010). The review confirmed the original intention of Australia's Founding Fathers: Collection of Economic Rent aka Resource Rent is the only efficient sovereign solution to detrimental effects of speculative real estate 'Boom-Bust cycles' and complicated tax-avoidance schemes.
Land-based revenues are sufficient to allow total abolition of company and personal income tax, according to former Australian Treasury official Dr. Terry Dwyer who undertook his PhD on the history of taxation theory at Harvard University. See Dr. Dwyer's submission to the Henry Review, The Taxable Capacity of Australian Land and Resources, Australian Tax Forum Vol 18 No.1 (2008).
"Most of us would like to have something for nothing. But the truth is we can't have that, so what we should do is to make sure our labour and our effort is untaxed and that the 'free ride' is enjoyed by us all collectively through the community, instead of making sure valuable natural resources end up in the hands of a select few who can grow fat on the labour of others." – Dr. Terry Dwyer
Australia's Future Tax System
The Australian Treasury Department tax review, Australia's future tax system (2010) deemed collection of Resource Rent, aka Economic Rent via a Land Value Tax, the tax system of choice.
"Land Value Tax is efficient because the tax reduces the price of land but does not affect how it is used, or how much is used."
– Dr. Ken Henry, Treasury Secretary, Australian Gov. (2001-2011)
Henry Review Recommendations (Treasury 2010b)
C2 — Land tax and conveyance stamp duty
Recommendation 51: Ideally, there would be no role for any stamp duties, including conveyancing stamp duties, in a modern Australian tax system. Recognising the revenue needs of the States, the removal of stamp duty should be achieved through a switch to more efficient taxes, such as those levied on broad consumption or land bases. Increasing land tax at the same time as reducing stamp duty has the additional benefit of some offsetting impacts on asset prices.
Recommendation 52: Given the efficiency benefits of a broad land tax, it should be levied on as broad a base as possible. In order to tax more valuable land at higher rates, consideration should be given to levying land tax using an increasing marginal rate schedule, with the lowest rate being zero, with thresholds determined by the per-square-metre value.
Recommendation 53: In the long run, the land tax base should be broadened to eventually include all land. If this occurs, low-value land, such as most agricultural land, would not face a land tax liability where its value per square metre is below the lowest rate threshold.
Recommendation 54: There are a number of incremental reforms that could potentially improve the operation of land tax, including: a. ensuring that land tax applies per land holding, not on an entity's total holding, in order to promote investment in land development; b. eliminating stamp duties on commercial and industrial properties in return for a broad land tax on those properties; and c. investigating various transitional arrangements necessary to achieve a broader land tax.
40 year projection
Parliament of Australia, Library Section Briefing, 2010:
"As stated in the Report’s preface, the Review took a long-term perspective and intended the Report to be a guide for reform of the tax and transfer system in Australia to meet the challenges from the economic, social and environmental changes envisaged over the next 40 years. The 138 recommendations made in the report are therefore intended to be viewed in the medium to long-term perspective and not in the short-term context of a three-year Parliament." – Bernard Pulle, 2010
Stage One: Australia's future tax system (2010).
In 2001, mining companies paid approximately 40% of their profits as royalties to the state governments. By 2009, they paid less than 20%. Intending to lower taxes on the Australian business sector, Ken Henry called for an increase in revenues from the minerals resource sector via a Mineral Rent Resource Tax (MRRT) aka resource super profits tax (RSPT).
Source: Australia’s Future Tax System: Report to the Treasurer p. 47
Deputy PM Julia Gillard's Opportunity
Public servants are well informed of wide ranging possibilities for responsible government planning, but they are constrained by political directives, hence Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's directive to the Treasury Department provided an historic opportunity to be prepared, but, instead, he lost his 'job' to Deputy PM Julia Gillard. Following a massive lobbying and advertising campaign by the Minerals Council of Australia, Gillard's 'talks' with key members of the mining industry led to her agreement not to implement MRRT if 'selected' Prime Minister.
Tax reform is fundamentally political.
|Sometime this century, after four billion years, some of Earth’s regulatory systems will pass from control through evolution by natural selection, to control by human intelligence. Will humanity rise to the challenge?
– Professor Tim Flannery
A close study of the history of Classical Political Economics will show that the suppression of The Law of Rent theorem has been THE leading cause of our environment, public health, economic, and governmental troubles. Collection of economic rent instead of taxing productivity represents a well-engineered government business model which could have been in place by now, but for key historical and ongoing points of suppression by vested interests. Consequently, urgent sustainability issues across the spectrum are, to say the least, inadequately managed:
See a Short History of Economics here
A uniform land tax in Australia: what is the potential for this to be a reality post the "Henry Tax Review"?
Dr. John McLaren, LL.B, MBA, LL.M, PhD, Senior Lecturer - Taxation. Published ion 1 April, 2014, Australian Tax Forum: a journal of taxation policy, law and reform, 29 (1), 43-58.
Land tax was one of the main issues examined by Dr Ken Henry in his review on ‘Australia’s Future Tax System’ and the review recommended its increased importance in raising revenue in Australia. The classical economists such as Smith, Ricardo and Mill recommended the imposition of a tax on land. Henry George also strongly advocated a tax on land instead of a tax on labour or capital. They also contended that such a tax was both efficient and equitable. This paper will examine the current position with land tax in Australia and the views of the early economists advocating the benefits of such a tax. The paper will then examine the recommendations contained in the Henry Tax Review and what would be required to reform this area of taxation law. The paper will also examine the initiative undertaken by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government in abolishing stamp duty on conveyances and imposing a land tax on all real property in the ACT. In conclusion the paper will contend that a reformed land tax is of critical importance for future governments and that it may not only raise considerable revenue but also result in reduced income tax rates for individuals and companies.
Is Global Collapse Imminent?
Australian physicist and Principal Research Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne, Dr. Graham M. Turner has a warning for us in his MSSI Research Paper No. 4 (2014): Is Global Collapse Imminent? An Updated Comparison of The Limits to Growth with Historical Data (pdf)
Crikey Business Editor Paddy Manning's Oct. 23, 2014 report, A fairer share of mining profits still part of Whitlam's unfinished business, reminds us that both sides of politics feared Australia was 'selling off the farm' to foreign interests, going back to the 1970s:
"Fairly and effectively taxing the mining industry has been the Labor party's white whale for decades. ... how can the Australian public get a fairer share of the profits from the extraction of its non-renewable resources, flowing largely to foreign-owned mining companies? ... The quandary helped Whitlam come undone, as it did Kevin Rudd. As this excellent radio documentary produced in 2012 for the ABC’s Rear Vision program. – [Transcript excerpt: 'We are selling off the farm’ was a common refrain in the late sixties and early seventies, a recognition that too much of those key mining and mineral resource areas were foreign-owned.]" – Paddy Manning, 2014
“If land value is taxed, the land will not flee, shrink or hide.”
– Professor Fred Foldvary, San Jose State University
While vested interests continue to discredit the intellectual rigor driving this international debate, Australian National University's Tax and Transfer Policy Institute currently leads the academic debate in Australia: A Stocktake of the Tax System and Directions for Reform: five years after the Henry review (Stewart, et al. 2015) includes valuable insights and references:
"Tax reform is in the news daily. Calls for fundamental reform have become louder, but there are diverse views on the direction and scope of the reform that is needed. … Five years ago, the Henry Review (Report on Australia’s Future Tax System, Henry 2010a) made a detailed examination of Australia’s tax and transfer system. ... Tax reform is fundamentally political. Rather than recommending specific reforms, we aim to identify key principles and directions for tax reform and to show what we know, and where the gaps are in our knowledge of tax policy (Stewart, et al. 2015)."
Ponzi Real Estate Financing
The negative gearing effect... "a disaster waiting to happen."
John Duling, (2016), "The charts that suggest the housing bubble is out of control"
Interest only mortgage loans: One of the most contentious issues in the national political discourse at the moment.
"Over the past few years, over 40 per cent of all new mortgages originated have been interest-only mortgages....
"This is truly Ponzi financing, where home buyers only make money if their houses keep rising in value," – John Duling,
Australia's property bubble thoroughly investigated
2 May 2016
See full transcript here
Has a generation been shut out of the Great Australian Dream?
It used to be that Australians would spend 3 or 4 times their annual income on a house. Now it's 10, 20, even 30 times, putting home ownership out of reach for many, and especially for young people. The tax breaks that have helped fuel the unprecedented housing boom will be a big issue in the coming election campaign. Taken together, Negative Gearing and Capital Gains tax breaks cost the public purse 11.7 Billion dollars each year. Labor has promised to wind-back the concessions. But despite criticism of Negative Gearing from some Liberal politicians, including former Treasurer Joe Hockey, PM Malcolm Turnbull has ruled out any changes to the system. In tonight's program, experts say that Australia's housing market is already cooling. Economists are divided over whether we're seeing the start of a soft-landing, a correction, or a crash. For many in the Millennial generation, a crash is what they're waiting and hoping for.
If the banks show the international investment community that they're lending to very, very credible borrowers -- credit-worthy borrowers -- then it's very, very easy for the banks to tap into very cheap debt and to be able to sell-off residential mortgage-backed securities with a triple-A rating.
See full transcript here
Taxes on Land Rent
Australian National University
Tax and Transfer Policy Institute
PDF: TTPI - Working Paper 6/2016
Dr David Ingles, Senior Fellow, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute,
Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University
(See my short critique at top of this page)
Stamp duty is a volatile source of revenue and inferior to land tax in terms of stability and predictability. ... Land tax is levied by all States except the Northern Territory on the ‘unimproved’ or ‘site’ value of land at progressive rates including a base exemption. A range of land uses are exempt, including primary production, owner-occupied residential, child care and aged care. Land tax raised $4.3 billion in 2007-08 (Treasury 2010c, p. 260); I currently estimate up to $10 billion. This is small relative to total land rent which I later estimate at up to $200 billion. … Henry noted that the higher tax on aggregate holdings discouraged large-scale investment in land; this may contribute to the investment housing market being (inappropriately) dominated by small investors (Treasury 2010c, p. 261). Because owner occupied housing is exempt, land tax is not fully shifted back to land-owners; rather, ‘the burden of land tax on residential investment properties is probably borne by renters through higher rents’ (Treasury 2010c, p. 262). (pp. 9-10)
ACT Government initiative (excerpt from McLaren 2014, pp. 8-10). “The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government undertook a review of its tax system in 2012 and one of the major recommendations was to broaden the land tax base to all principal places of residence and to gradually abolish stamp duty on the conveyances of real property. (Quinlan et al. 2012). By the year 2032, it is envisaged that there will be no stamp duty paid by the buyers of real property in the ACT. This approach generally follows the recommendations of the Henry Tax Review... (p.33)
10. Conclusion on land tax reform
I conclude, consistent with Henry and Mirrlees, that economic rent is a good subject for taxation and it should be taxed by robust, broad based taxes with very few if any exemptions. In particular the exemption for residential housing needs to end, and taxes on that and other land need to be at a flat rate with no thresholds. (p. 27)
View full report here( pdf)
A Critique of the Decoupling Strategy:
A "Limits to Growth" Perspective'
In late 2015 the CSIRO - Australia's most prominent scientific organisation - published the 'Australian National Outlook Report' which argued that Australia can grow its economy and achieve sustainability without questioning consumerist values. In response to that report, the Simplicity Institute published 'A Critique of the Decoupling Strategy: A "Limits to Growth" Perspective' (Alexander, et al. 2017).
Download the report in pdf format here
This paper presents a critique of the decoupling strategy which underpins the dominant ‘green growth’ paradigm within sustainability discourse and which shapes both national and international political and economic policies. The decoupling strategy assumes that all nations on the planet can and should pursue economic growth in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that this is consistent with sustainability because GDP can be sufficiently ‘decoupled’ from environmental impact through a range of technological and market-based innovations. This decoupling thesis will be critically analysed by way of a detailed case study of the 2015 Australian National Outlook Report published by the CSIRO, which attempts to make the case for ‘sustainable prosperity’ via economic growth and decoupling. We show that the report contains a series of highly questionable and problematic assumptions that together undermine its case for decoupling as a plausible pathway to sustainability. Furthermore, even if the report’s most ambitious scenario were to be achieved, we show that it would still not provide a long-term sustainable and just solution beyond 2050, which further undermines the decoupling strategy. Our analysis then steps back from the specific case study to briefly unpack the key implications of the analysis and explain why the limits of decoupling support the case for an alternative ‘degrowth’ strategy of planned economic contraction. To conclude, some broader reflections on the debate over sustainability are offered, hoping to make clear the magnitude of the task for those who want to make the case for ‘green growth’ via decoupling.
Housing affordability and the changing debt burden of a typical mortgage. According to economist Philip Soos' latest report,
"Interest rates might be low, but poor wage growth means a greater burden across the life of a mortgage. This is the real problem with housing affordability. Australia’s historically high and rising housing prices are widely debated and have prompted a number of government inquiries into housing affordability. The question stands open: is housing affordable in Australia?" – Philip Soos, The Guardian, Australian Edition, January 18, 2017
"Changing the way we fund infrastructure"
What is Value Capture?
The Australian government is seeking ideas
"from other governments, from industry and the community".
...opening up a conversation on how we can make better use of value capture to fund the critical transport infrastructure needed for the future.
MEDIA Release from the Minister for Urban Infrastructure Paul Fletcher and the Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation, Angus Taylor
The need for further transport infrastructure projects is greater than can presently be funded through traditional grant funding and user charges.
Value capture can provide for a more efficient and equitable approach to infrastructure development and delivery. This is why the Australian Government has a strong interest in making greater use of value capture. >>> more
... a need to find new funding models within the constrained fiscal environment.
“Many states and territories already use value capture funding models to support major upgrades,” Mr Fletcher said. “Similarly, developer charges are commonly used by local government authorities to help deliver utilities for new housing developments. If we are to make better use of value capture, governments must first understand why beneficiaries might be willing to pay for projects; identifying who these beneficiaries are and when they might materially gain from projects funded through this method.” ... “Government is getting smarter about linking transport investment with long term planning for affordable homes, closer to where people work and closer to services like schools and hospitals,” Mr Taylor said. >>> more
‘Passive’ value capture is best
Gavin Putland Ph.D.
Submission on the Value Capture Discussion Paper:
How can we make better use of Value Capture?
'The uplift in the value of a property due to “ordinary market growth", like the uplift due to infrastructure, is not the owner's work, but rather the owner's appropriation of the fruits of other people's work. As both uplifts are unearned, the owner has no greater moral right to the one than to the other, and suffers no injustice if any part of either uplift is clawed back through the tax system.' – Dr. Gavin Putland
Dr. Putland's submission to this enquiry:
1. What factors would cause beneficiaries, in particular property owners, to see a value capture charge as ‘just another tax?’ How can these factors be overcome
Property owners will object to a value-capture charge as “just another tax” if it is imposed in addition to existing taxes. To avoid the objection, a value-capture charge should replace as many existing taxes — especially property taxes — as possible. It is easy for the same value-capture charge to replace existing taxes and pay for increased expenditure on infrastructure, because there are two separate mechanisms involved. Even if there is no increase in infrastructure spending, a new tax on land values or on uplifts in land values will generate a certain amount of revenue that can be used to replace old taxes. But such a new tax will also enable the government — and indeed incentivize the government — to spend more on infrastructure, because such expenditure expands the base of the tax. In summary, the replacement of existing tax revenue comes from applying the new tax at an appropriate rate on the existing base, while the funding of increased infrastructure spending comes from expansion of the base.
There are two basic ways to change the property-tax base so as to increase its effectiveness in capturing value conferred by infrastructure. One is to tax the land value (or site value) rather than the combined value of land and buildings (because values of buildings are fixed by construction costs, so that values due to location, e.g. proximity to infrastructure, must be expressed in land values). Examples of this approach include (at State level) replacing stamp duty by land tax, and (at local level) imposing rates on land values alone, rather than rating total property values or (worse) imposing fixed charges or “minimum general rates”. The other approach is to tax changes in values over time, rather than current values. Examples include replacing stamp duty by a capital-gains tax, or changing the land-tax base from the total land value to the increase in the value since a specified base date. In the terminology of the discussion paper, “passive” value capture can be highly efficient. (I leave it to others to debate the relative merits of these various options. I note in passing that, to the extent that any particular option depends on the States, the Commonwealth can enforce it through the conditional-grants power, or by imposing its own value-capture tax and making it fully rebatable against any State tax on the same base.)
Other State taxes that we might replace by a general value-capture charge include insurance taxes (which are largely de-facto property taxes) and payroll taxes (because we can!). Of course, replacing a wider range of existing taxes requires a higher tax rate on uplifts in land values, which in turn allows a wider range of infrastructure projects to become self-funding by expanding the tax base, so that a larger number of infrastructure projects proceed for the benefit of property owners!
Dr Putland answers the following questons here:
– How can governments accurately estimate the incremental value uplift generated by infrastructure projects as compared to uplift due to ordinary market growth?
– Are there examples of mechanisms currently being used in Australia or internationally which provide a clear nexus between payments and the benefits provided by the infrastructure?
– When identifying beneficiaries, how should governments determine the geographical boundaries around new infrastructure assets? Should governments focus on all properties directly around the new assets, within the wider region or at a city-level?
Public Seminar: 21st Century welfare and the working poor
16 February 2017
Tax and Transfer Institute, ANU
Professor Jane Millar, OBE - University of Bath, UK
More details and Jane’s powerpoint available to download here.
Ensuring adequate incomes for poor working families is a key policy challenge in many countries. The growth of low-paid and part-time work, sometimes in circumstances of unstable or temporary employment, has increased inequalities in work and means that for many people wages alone are not enough to keep the family at an adequate standard of living. This is particularly true if there is only one potential earner in the family, and so in many countries it is lone mothers and couples with pre-school age children who are particularly likely to face financial hardship. >>> more
Have we morphed from constructive industrial capitalism
into a fatal form of finance capitalism?
"Understanding the role of land in the economy was critical to classical economic analysis. Although it is even more critical today, it is ignored. Instead of surface land rent remaining near Petty’s estimation, as about 30% today, the neoclassical economist continues to promote the lie that it is now only about 1%. This Great Untruth is the main reason for the global financial collapse – and the 0.1% manage to keep it in circulation by way of the pathological study into which modern economics has degenerated. Bring back the intellectual rigour of Sir William Petty and the classicists!"
– Bryan Kavanagh Land Valuer (Ret.) Australian Tax Office
Anthem for a brazen new era:
Laissez faire economic rationalist neo-imperialism
Facing Homelessness – yet another consequence of Real Estate bubbles. Once free from 'survival mode', people can be creative.
Meanwhile, Australian families are struggling, unnecessarily.
"You really need to be 'yupped-out' now to be able to buy a house in Australia." – B. J. Wood (private communication, 2017)
1. a fashionable young middle-class person with a well-paid job.
"stereotypical 1980s obsessed with material objects and financial success."
"You really need to be 'yupped-out' now to be able to buy a house in Australia." – B. J. Wood (private communication, 2017)
Facing Homelessness – yet another consequence of Real Estate bubbles. Once free from 'survival mode', people can be creative.
Meanwhile, Australian families are struggling, unnecessarily.
The fundamental reason for the maldistribution of wealth in a free enterprise society is the private ownership of land and natural resources. We are facing the impacts of a very long history of dysfunctional economics, going back over a thousand years. Over the past century we've seen a concerted effort to privatise The Commons: aka Laissez Faire, neoliberalism, economic rationalism, market fundamentalism, Thatcherism, Reaganism, neoconservatism, neo-imperialism. The ONLY way to 'fix' the economy for everyone is to tax the value of land and resources, rather than subsidise their privatization.
Cost Offsets of Supportive Housing: Evidence for Social Work
UK study shows public housing is cost-effective.
Policy makers and advocates in industrialised economies have increasingly couched arguments for addressing homelessness in cost-offset paradigms. In the USA, there is a robust body of evidence demonstrating cost offsets of supportive housing, whereas rigorous evidence from the UK, Europe and Australia is limited. The present article contributes to the evidence base with results drawn from a linked administrative data-set including: police, prison, probation, parole, courts, emergency department, hospital-admitted patients, ambulance, mental health and homelessness services data. The results show that in twelve months when people were homeless, they used on average $48,217 (£25,776) worth of government services; in the twelve months as tenants of supportive housing, the cohort used on average, including the cost of supportive housing, $35,117 (£18,773) in government services. Although social work only infrequently draws on cost arguments to substantiate practice and intervention, the article argues that cost-offset evidence is consistent with social work’s commitment to evidence base practice. Moreover, analysis of services that people use when securely housed compared to homeless adds further evidence to demonstrate that people’s actions, and their status as clients, is mediated by resources and opportunities available.
– Cameron Parsell, Maree Petersen, Dennis Culhane (2016), Cost Offsets of Supportive Housing: Evidence for Social Work, Br J Soc Work 2016 bcw115, Oxford University Press
Supportive housing is cheaper than chronic homelessness
Cameron Parsell, Research Fellow at University of Queensland, examined the implications for Australians– "drawn from an analysis of linked government data."
“It costs the state government more to keep a person chronically homeless than it costs to provide permanent supportive housing …
Over a 12-month period, people who were chronically homeless used state government funded services that cost approximately A$48,217 each. Over another 12-month period in which they were tenants of permanent supportive housing, the same people used state government services that cost approximately A$35,117.
The significance of this cost difference is remarkable. Yes, people use A$13,100 less in government-funded services when securely housed compared to the services they used when they were chronically homeless. But, on top of that, the annual average of A$35,117 in services used by supportive housing tenants includes the A$14,329 cost of providing the housing and support." >>> more
|Good government leads!
Opportunism takes many forms.
For example –
i) "Malcolm Turnbull continues to put his own survival ahead of the national interest".
Questioning Turnbull government policy directives:
As a former investment banker and real estate speculator, identified as Australia's richest politician during the 2016 Australian federal election, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was named in the Panama Papers off-shore tax haven scandal.
ii) Sustainable energy and "The Great Coal Hoax"
“...the only reason coal is ‘cheap’ is that the cost of dealing with the carbon dioxide that comes from burning it is not included in the price”. ... Coal is by far the most expensive fuel for generating electricity, full stop — if the cost of dealing with climate change is taken into account. Now that we know the true cost, failing to price coal properly — continuing to pretend it’s cheap — would be like a restaurant pricing its menu to recover only the cost of the food, without accounting for overheads and wages — a short trip to bankruptcy. In fact the price of solar energy is now falling so rapidly it won’t be long before even the unadjusted price of coal is higher than solar." – Alan Kohler, The Australian Business Review, January 13, 2017.
Prime Minister Turnbull’s controversial plan to provide AUD$1 Billion in public funding for Adani's giant polluting coal mine!
a. Australian Financial Review: Adani's mega-mine–does it stack up?
b. Michael West exposes "the sheer WTFness of the Federal Government stumping up Adani's dud coal mine with a $1 billion taxpayer subsidy" in Seven reasons why lavishing a $1 billion subsidy on Adani is a truly inane idea.
7. “The project will help the poor of India”: Not at all
It will help poison the poor of India and cement Australia’s reputation alongside Donald Trump’s regime as the bogans, sans pareille, of world climate policy. Carmichael coal is low-energy, high-ash — not efficient, but highly damaging for the environment. Meantime, Indian Energy Minister Piyush Goyal continues to reiterate his nation’s commitment to an aggressive solar roll-out and to cease seaborne thermal coal imports by 2020. He is on track to achieve this. >>> more
Speculative 'investment' opportunities following from trade with China:
Australian consumer purchasing power flows out of the country, instead of toward supporting local productivity. Those funds are then returned in exchange for land, aka real estate investment which a very small number of people profit from. One of Australia's foremost investigative journalists, Michael West provides an overview, in the public interest:
Credit Suisse estimates some $28 billion of Chinese money has been invested in the Australian housing market over the past six years. Assuming – and there is no way to put an accurate number on this – that half of that $28 billion is black money, then that’s $14 billion of Chinese money inflating Australian house prices. >>> more
iii) "We're here to make money."
Some of our most exalted public figures share an interest in allowing foreign title to land and natural resources in Australia. Potential implications can be illustrated in just one of many vivid examples – and this includes insights reported by William Birnbauer (2003).Tapping Australia's water, The Age, May 7 2003 reporting on United Water's financial success and rising water prices, quoting South Australia's own Australian of the year 2003, Malcolm Kinnard (Obit. 2014)
"We're not here because we love the state and we've got bleeding hearts, for Christ's sake. We're here to make money. We're here to do business."
– Malcolm Kinnard, Australian of the Year 2003
But wait, there's more!
"Controversy follows the US giant Halliburton wherever it goes but little is known about its Australian operations." – until this 2005 comprehensive Sydney Morning Herald exposé of Malcolm Kinnaird (Kinhill Engineering and Kinhill Investments), whose "best friend" Robert Hill was Australia's Minister of Defence (2001-2006) and Permanent Representative to the United Nations (2006-2009). Robert Hill went on to become Adjunct Professor in Sustainability and Co-Director of the Alliance 21 project at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. He is also a Commissioner of the Global Ocean Commission. - Wikipedia
We should know better by now
In Beyond Brexit: The Blueprint (2016), Oxford-trained investigative journalist and economist (LSE) Fred Harrison is in keeping with the Australian Treasury Dept's preferred solution to current international crisis:
"... the timetable for how Theresa May’s government can expand the UK economy by slashing taxes imposed on people’s wages, and replacing the revenue with the one charge that does not distort behaviour. By raising revenue via an Annual Ground Rent, the size of the UK market would be expanded by more than what would be lost if the EU imposed tariffs on British exports. >>> more
A key factor for Australians to remember
The British Crown is the only 'absolute' owner of land in the UK and all Commonwealth countries, as prescribed in the Commonwealth of Australia Act 1900 ('the 1900 Act'):
"all other property owners hold an 'interest in an estate in land' – except in Australia, where the High Court Mabo Act of 1992 gave Aboriginal Australian people, alone, full title to their traditional land, on the grounds that, The doctrine of tenure applies to every Crown grant of an interest in land, but not to rights and interests which do not owe their existence to a Crown grant (Mabo (No. 2) v Queensland (1992) 175 CLR 1. 48 (Brennan J)."
See a quick overview of the history of land title in Australia in this google books scan, p. 45 & 46, from The Boundaries of Australian Property Law (2016) published by Cambridge University Press, edited by Hossein Esmaeili, Associate Professor of Law and the Associate Dean (International) of Flinders University Law School and Brendan Grigg, Senior Lecturer at Flinders University Law School, with a background in native title law and environmental law.
Also recommended: a "comprehensive and authoritative coverage of all aspects of the contemporary law of real property:"
– Charles Harpum, Stuart Bridge and Martin Dixon Meagre & Wade: The Law of Real Property (Sweet & Maxwell, 8th ed, 2012)
|The United States of America is the only country in the world where land title is not exclusively 'owned' by the government, harking back, for example, to the mid-1700s "Reformation Restoration colonies" when British colonial plantation land was granted in direct compensation for restoring the English monarchy under Charles II in 1660.
"The politics of the people from top to bottom had been formed in the crucible of 'Oliver’s Days' – overturning the egalitarian values of the English Revolution."
– Noeleen McIlvenna, 2009
(See excerpts from Professor McIlvenna's research here)
Avoid Ireland's mistake
See my synopsis of Chapter 8, Ireland: Serfs not citizens from the book Who owns the world? (2009) by Kevin Cahill – the first-ever landownership survey of all 197 states and 66 territories of the world.
Quia Emptores Act, 1290 AD
...The law that denied land ownership to the Irish, the Quia Emptores Act of 1290 AD, is still on the Irish statute book. It is this basic feudal law, restated, which placed the actual ownership of all physical land in the hands of the Crown. Subsequently this law was placed in the hands of the Irish Free State, thus making all ‘land owners’ in Ireland tenants of the State, having to pay rent in contradiction of their alleged status as ‘freeholders’. The underlying principle in Quia Emptores also underlaid the Acts of Settlement which evicted the native Irish ‘landowners’ and substituted English and Scottish settler landowners in the 17th and 18th Century. The basic argument in law was that the Irish ‘landowners’ were mere tenants of the Crown, and the Crown could dismiss and evict its tenants, legally, as indeed it could, under Quia Emptores and associated laws..... To be a citizen is to have the innate right to obtain and own land. There is a direct connection between the first human right, the right to life, and the right to land, which is seldom raised, especially by lawyers. >>> more
Michael Davitt (1846-1906), "Father of the Irish National Land League"
and one of the most influential leaders of Ireland’s independence movement, was an advocate of land tax:
‘I would abolish land monopoly by simply taxing all land, exclusive of improvements, up to its full value...In other words, I would recognize private property in the results of labour, and not in land.’
(Source: Some Suggestions for the Final Settlement of the Land Question, by Michael Davitt, 1902)
Declaration of an Australian Republic
Australians can't underestimate the seriousness of the task ahead for the establishment of an Australian Republic. It is a reminder that we need to consider making significant changes to our economic system, and especially our taxation system, if we really want our entire society to prosper.
true spirit of Australia's 1901 Founding Fathers
During early 2016, The Celtic Club of Melbourne ran a competition for a Declaration of the Australian Republic. The only rule was that it be 470 words, the length of the Irish Proclamation posted and read by Padraig Pearse on the steps of the General Post Office, Dublin, 24 April 1916.
And, the winner is Economist and historian Robert Glass
We the Australian people declare ourselves to be a self-governing republic, totally free of formal links to other countries in our governance arrangements, based on our established democratic traditions of a parliament freely elected by universal adult suffrage, the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial arms of government, and a commitment to the rule of law, applied equally and consistently to all citizens.
In making this declaration we recognise the continuing need to reconcile ourselves with the original inhabitants of this island, including by formal recognition in the Australian Constitution, of their prior occupation of the continent over thousands of years.
We acknowledge that this declaration is the final step on Australia’s journey to total self-government, initiated by the rebels of Eureka in 1854, and continued in the refusal to establish an hereditary (‘bunyip’) aristocracy, the extension of the suffrage to women ahead of other countries, and, belatedly, to indigenous Australians, and in the enshrinement of the fair go and respect for others as key principles in Australia’s economic and social policies, programs and institutions.
As a Republic, the citizens of Australia will continue to enjoy the rights and freedoms, now central to the Australian way of life, namely: >>> more
The debate continues...
...greater equality usually makes most difference to the least well off, but still produces some benefits for the well off. ... higher levels of income inequality damage the social fabric that contributes so much to healthy societies. – Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett,
The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009)
Vision for the future
One of Australia's leading analysts on the inter-relationship between land and the economy, Bryan Kavanagh spoke to the value of collecting Economic Rent instead of income and business taxes when I interviewed him on 18 April 2008:
There is a big discovery to be made, and this lies in an epochal change.
– Bryan Kavanagh
When it comes to economics, the reintegration of the theory of land valuation is essential. It’s the new frontier —just as we sent Voyager out to explore space.
We're at a turning point where the economy is not working for us. There is a big discovery to be made, and this lies in an epochal change—the rediscovery of Resource Rent: Shifting—transferring taxes to Resource Rent is going to open the way for a whole new development for humanity.
The implications for humanity are greater freedom, more time for relaxation, for family, more time for the arts, and far less government control of our lives. These ideas might sound mystical, but they are the sorts of solutions that could be delivered to us, once we pass through this new frontier.
It's not just land rents we want to capture. We want to capture licenses for electromagnetic spectrum, aircraft slots, all forms of forestry and mineral licenses, all resources. These would supplement our charges on land values, and add to the enormous Resource Rent pot, that is now 285 billion—more than our current [Australia 2008] level of tax revenue.
We've witnessed the progressive loss of a sense of community, and land rents represent community. If we collected Resource Rent, we'd get rid of poverty.
We have a widening gap between wealthy and poor because the wealthy are capturing Resource Rent.
We've got to rediscover the land tax system. This would open up enormous benefits. It would fund infrastructure, education, health, all of these areas that are crying out for funds, and this fund is sitting there, being grossly capitalized by individuals and causing us to ratchet up taxes to fund them. But if we decrease taxes, and capture more of the Resource Rent, we would be doing as nature intends us to do—using growing Resource Rent funds for public purposes.
"If we are born with equal rights, why are some people rich, while most people are poor? It is really about justice – economic justice. Social justice is a worthy aim, but without economic justice it is unattainable. There is a fairer way to share the earth’s bounty, so that the widening gap between rich and poor can be closed."
– Leo Foley, Hobart City Council, Tasmania, Australia
Australia's future tax system–an honourable lineage
Inspired by China's 'ancient' methods, aka Neo-Confucianism, including China's 4000 year old land tax system, during the mid-1700s, French aristocrats launched the 'Single Tax' debate, which inspired Adam Smith to write The Wealth of Nations (1776), formally launching Classical Political Economic theorem aka Classical Economics.
The purpose of all the feudal land laws, derived from the fundamental principle of the feudal system was to prevent the population owning land.
...landownership in too few hands is probably the single greatest cause of poverty. – Kevin Cahill, 2009
And of economic collapse.
And of class.
And of oppression.
The 'Single Tax' solution to Feudalism
On the 4 August 1789, following the 14 July storming of the Bastille, the French National Assembly ended feudalism via the 'Single Tax' system. One hundred years later, in 1879, a highly energetic public-spirited individual, Henry George explained the fundamentals of the 'Single Tax' system to international audiences with his self-published best-seller, Progress and Poverty (pdf).
See a Short History of Economics here