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Land tax rebels tell Libs: "See you in court"

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The proponents of a proposed new Liberal-tearaway party have warned the Marshall Government they could wind up in court if they are blocked from using the name “True Liberals” to front their land tax fight.

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A group of traditional Liberal supporters have registered the moniker with ASIC and have warned they will proceed with the formation of a political party if the Government proceeds with its planned aggregation reforms.

More detail about the reforms is expected to be known by next week, when Liberal party-room MPs descend on the Barossa for their biannual ‘love-in’.

But the Government has dismissed the ‘True Liberal’ challenge as falling foul of the Electoral Act, which under the former Labor Government was changed to ensure an application for the registration of a political party may be refused by the Electoral Commissioner if its name resembles that of an existing party.

Individual candidates are further unable to use an existing party’s name on their ballot paper without written permission from that party – authorisation Treasurer Rob Lucas today suggested would not be given.

“I can’t imagine either the Liberal Party or the Labor Party would be agreeing to another party calling themselves practically the same thing,” he said.

Next year’s double whammy of aggregation and revaluations will inevitably send South Australia’s property market and economy into deep recession

But Richard Solomon – who registered the ‘True Liberals’ trademark and is a partner in an Adelaide law firm – said he believed the Electoral Commissioner “may well decide that the name of the proposed new political party, whilst containing the word ‘Liberals’, will not confuse the public and therefore allow the use of the name”.

In a letter responding to inquiries by InDaily, he said: “This discretion of the Electoral Commissioner is not an absolute discretion and his or her exercise of this discretion can be tested by either the proposed political party or the existing political party in the appropriate court forum.”

“At this stage the supporters of the currently proposed True Liberals Party are hoping that the SA Liberal Government will call a halt to their intended land tax aggregation amendments… so that the naming discretion of the Electoral Commissioner does not become an issue,” he wrote.

“If it does become an issue then the resulting publicity of a court case by the proposed or existing party could be regretful.”

He told InDaily: “There’d be lawyers other than me, called QCs, that would be directing that.”

“It would be regretful if the SA Liberal Party interfered with the exercise of this discretion.”

His letter called for a “return to the pre-mid-June budget land tax situation but with a significantly reduced single holding land tax rate”, but added advocates of the ‘True Liberals’ “would also be open for the Liberal Government to call an inquiry into land tax generally so that all opinions can be looked at instead of proceeding with … an oppressive and unsustainable land tax regime”.

However, Lucas ruled this out, saying “it’s been raised and rejected”.

“We’ll put out a draft bill in the very near future, and it will be open for public consultation and a decision will be taken [in parliament] by the end of November,” he said.

Land tax is likely to dominate discussion as the Liberal ‘love-in’ becomes a party-room showdown on Tuesday in the Barossa.

However, it’s understood land tax is not listed as a specific item on the agenda sent by the Premier’s office for the joint-party-room ‘love-in’ – much to the chagrin of many MPs.

“I think it will be 90 per cent of the agenda,” said one, with others insisting it would be raised whether or not Steven Marshall flagged it.

The Premier did get support for the aggregation changes from one side of politics today however, with Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young telling ABC radio “what Steven Marshall is trying to do is address a problem that does exist”.

“There is a loophole that is exploited, and if you’re rich enough to be able to have several properties and use that corporate loophole then you can pay less than the average home owner,” she said.

“So I do think it’s something that needs to be addressed… obviously what Steven Marshall has is a Liberal Party problem, not a policy problem.

“The policy, in principle is right.”

But that’s not the view of the Property Council, whose president Steve Maras wrote in a scathing missive to stakeholders today that if Marshall failed to shelve the aggregation measure “next year’s double whammy of aggregation and revaluations will inevitably send South Australia’s property market and economy into deep recession”.

“I have explained to Treasurer Rob Lucas that the impacts of aggregation will mean people will have little choice but to sell their properties as they simply won’t be able to sustain or cover the increases,” he wrote.

“Unfortunately, we have a Treasurer who doesn’t understand Property 101 – he believes that if people are forced to sell because of the State Government’s proposal, it’s their prerogative and life goes on…

“The State Government is sending a very poor message to existing and future investors. Their message is effectively to sell up, and invest elsewhere, just not here in South Australia.”

That view was echoed today by prominent property investment adviser George Markoski, who told InDaily interest in investing in SA had dried up.

“Everyone’s worries about what’s going to happen, and everyone’s sitting on their hands,” he said.

He added he was advising clients “don’t do anything in SA, because we can’t do anything till we know what the parameters are”.

“Even if the land tax [reform] doesn’t happen, it’s hit the economy already,” he said.

“We had a Labor Government we thought wasn’t doing the right thing, and suddenly the Liberals are doing a worse job.”

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