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Libs prepare for standoff as Marshall hopes to end winter of discontent

Politics

Premier Steven Marshall will face party-room opposition on two fronts tonight with his policy positions on both mining and land tax set to ignite debate at a meeting of Liberal MPs.

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With parliament resuming for the first time in five weeks from tomorrow, the party-room will meet at 5pm to clear the air on a range of topics that have seen the Liberal leadership at odds with its electoral base, with both farming communities and investors in outspoken opposition to measures being pushed by the Marshall cabinet.

Treasurer Rob Lucas has repeatedly flagged that he intends to keep the land tax aggregation measures outlined in his June budget, which is expected to be detailed tomorrow, as the administration seeks to control its message on an issue that insiders concede has been badly mishandled.

“I can’t think of any supporter groups they haven’t pissed off,” said one today.

It’s understood the aggregation policy is not on the formal meeting agenda, despite the Government keeping a tight rein on the draft legislation that passed cabinet today and citing the need to brief the party-room – a formality not generally honoured before public policy announcements.

While it’s being painted as a compromise Bill, the Treasurer has thus far held firm to his original intent – to impose land tax on the aggregate sum of an investor’s property holdings, but to bring forward a substantial cut to the top rate of 3.7 per cent.

That could now come down as low as 2.5 per cent – with the $1.3 million threshold at which the tax kicks in also likely to be looked at – but any measure that retains aggregation has already been roundly dismissed today by stakeholders, with chief complainant Daniel Gannon from the SA Property Council insisting: “If aggregation is part of the deal, it’s not a deal we’re going to accept.”

Opponents have also called on the aggregation measures to be grandfathered, so as to not impact on existing landowners who own property through trusts.

Marshall insisted today: “What we’ll end up with is something that will make us far more competitive as a state, and that’s always been our primary focus.”

Lucas told ABC Radio Adelaide today he wasn’t pushing the reform for the $40 million annual revenue windfall but “because it’s a fair system”.

“We’ve said all along… that we would go through this particular consultation process [and] the reason why we’re doing this particular tax bill differently is because it is complex and complicated and we therefore wanted to talk to people in relation to exactly how we would do this,” he said.

“As a result of that consultation, we now believe we can achieve the fairer system we want.”

Asked whether the draft legislation would “shut up” jittery backbenchers, he said “the intention isn’t to shut anybody up, the intention is to introduce comprehensive reforms”.

“Ultimately the decision about their response will be up to them… I believe the overwhelming majority of ‘mum and dad’ investors, our party-room colleagues and indeed others will see the fairness of the system, but in the end ultimately their individual responses will be for them to make a judgment about.”

But if he’s hoping to stave off a backbench revolt on land tax, the Premier will also have his work cut out mollifying Liberal opponents to mining reform, an issue that’s already seen a group of four lower house backbenchers cross the floor to protest a lack of sovereignty for farmers on their own land.

The standoff has seen Independent MP Geoff Brock move to establish a commission of inquiry into land access under the Mining Act, with his motion to be debated when parliament resumes this week.

It’s understood Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan hopes to resolve the Government’s opposition to Brock’s inquiry at tonight’s meeting – a move which will doubtless further inflame tensions in the party-room.

Independent MP and former Liberal Troy Bell, who seconded Brock’s motion, told InDaily the inquiry was “a sensible move”, with “both the mining industry and the representative groups of farmers seeking certainty [which is] pretty much what this seeks to do”.

Narungga MP Fraser Ellis – who led the charge of Liberal discontent against the Government legislation – said he had spoken to Brock about the proposed inquiry and supported aspects of it, but added: “I’m cautious that without government support any independent review won’t have the resources or time necessary to do the cause justice.”

Asked whether he would consider again defying his own party to support Brock’s Bill, he said: “I don’t want to pre-empt anything… I’ll have future discussions with my constituents on the merits of the Bill.”

In a statement, van Holst Pellekaan’s office confirmed the minister’s “commitment to commence the next phase of consultation after the passage of the Bill to determine further improvement for all parties”.

The Mining Bill is yet to face the Upper House, with at least two Liberal MLCs already flagging their intent to vote against it.

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