STATE TAXATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2014
I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the State Taxation Legislation Amendment Bill 2014. I am going to concentrate on one particular aspect of the bill, and that is the congestion levy and its expansion into a broader geographic scope, which certainly exceeds the area that was proposed by the Labor government. I well remember the debate that occurred when the congestion levy was announced by the previous government as an opportunity to invest funds that were derived from the levy into significant public transport initiatives. The then opposition railed against the proposal. It said it was an absolute outrage, a tax grab by the government and it ought be repudiated by any fair-minded person. The current Treasurer — and I am pleased he is at the table because there are a couple of issues I want to raise with him about the local impacts of the congestion levy — railed against it. The current Attorney-General in opposition railed against it, as did the now Deputy Premier. They said it was a shocking tax grab by the government when we sought to hypothecate the funds into significant public transport improvements.
Nonetheless, we now have a change of Government.
The Treasurer sits smugly at the table and seeks to justify this extraordinary expansion of the scope of the congestion tax and also the increase in revenue that will flow from it.
Sadly the member for Mornington is not in the chamber. He has not quite understood that the congestion tax, as proposed by the previous government, was for the CBD, or the central activities district of Melbourne, which is generally understood to include the Hoddle grid and down St Kilda Road; in the general planning parlance and how we understand the capital city works, that is what we generally understand the CBD to be. It certainly does not include all of the city of Port Phillip down to the bay or down as far as Johnson Street in my electorate, as proposed in the bill. I submit to the Treasurer that it is drawing a pretty long bow to suggest that the tax reflects the CBD, as the member for Mornington suggested. This is more than the CBD; this is the CBD writ really large.
The member for Hastings is from another part of the world. He does not perhaps understand what we perceive the CBD to be. Nonetheless, the point needs to be made that this is a very significant expansion of the geographic purview of the bill. It includes a number of areas I want to talk about. In particular I want to come back to Abbotsford Convent, because the tax will have a significant impact on it. Through the debate today I will seek a further opportunity to see if we can address some of the quite serious issues that arise from the levy being imposed upon it.
I follow on from what the member for Preston said and make the following observation. In his contribution he suggested that there may be an element of gerrymander in the way — —
The member for Preston suggested that there may be a whiff of gerrymander in the way the boundaries have been framed. There is no doubt that the boundaries are included in the seat of my colleague, the member for Albert Park, who has just been admonished by you, as well as in my electorate and that of the member for Melbourne. By way of interjection across the table during the contribution of the member for Preston the Treasurer indicated that the government has used Punt Road running north. That is not quite true, because it extends right down to the river.
By any measure you would have to consider why the map has not jumped over Punt Road and gone into the seat of Prahran. Chapel Street is a major activity centre. Why would that area not be included within the broader geographic boundaries of the congestion tax? Why would you seek to expand the boundary to the north down to Johnson Street? What is the rationale — —
As the member for Broadmeadows quite rightly says, it is a logical inclusion. If you look at the history of planning policy by the government, you see it is a logical inclusion. What can you say?
There are serious implications for this. The Treasurer would know that Abbotsford Convent is known to many people as an extraordinary success story of the great people who brought the convent back from being a wasteland to being one of the great educational and tourism opportunities in the state. For those who have not been to Abbotsford Convent — and Collingwood Children’s Farm — it is truly an oasis in the centre of Melbourne. The convent is going to be impacted upon by the parking levy. People who remember the history of the site and the advocacy of myself and others for it, will know that it is one of the great legacies of the Bracks government.
One of the key requirements for the Abbotsford convent was that it had to be self-funding and self-sufficient, and by any measure it is doing a superb job.
But now, Treasurer, it has this unexpected impost which has been placed upon its car park. It is a not-for-profit organisation, as you know — —
The Treasurer knows it is an organisation that is a not-for-profit foundation.
It is doing fantastic work in terms of offering arts, cultural, tourism and educational opportunities in my electorate, and I simply say to the Treasurer that the Abbotsford Convent wrote to him in good faith in January expressing its concerns about the potential impact of this proposal on it, and it has received absolutely no response whatsoever from either the Treasurer or from his department. The convent has genuine concerns about this, and I think they are legitimate concerns. I ask the Treasurer in good faith if he will take up the opportunity to see if the concerns of the Abbotsford Convent can be addressed.
The Melbourne Zoo is exempted from this, as is the MCG. The Melbourne Olympic Park Trust is also exempted from the congestion tax, and I would simply put to the Treasurer that there is a powerful case to be made for the Abbotsford Convent to be included within that broad ambit that involves the Melbourne Zoo. It is in fact a logical exclusion.
Can I say the Melbourne Zoo is a great icon for Melbourne, and the Abbotsford Convent is a similar icon, and I ask the Treasurer to look at exempting them.