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Land tax backlash "not as bad as being booed for closing schools"

Politics

Treasurer Rob Lucas says he’s expecting a frosty reception from land tax discontents at a public forum in the marginal seat of Adelaide this week – but insists it won’t be as bad as “being booed by a thousand people when I was closing down schools” in the 1990s.

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Frontbencher Rachel Sanderson has organised the forum for residents who have concerns about the Marshall Government’s contentious changes to the way land tax is aggregated – a budget measure that will now include a reduction in the top tax rate from 3.7 per cent to 2.4.

Invitations to attend were sent to constituents who had raised concerns with the MP, who held her seat of Adelaide by just 1 per cent at last year’s state election – making it the second most marginal Liberal seat and Sanderson the most politically vulnerable member of the Marshall cabinet.

“The government’s commitment to its land tax reform package is to reduce total revenue collected from land tax and to implement a fairer, more competitive land tax system,” she wrote to constituents last week, inviting them to attend a forum with Lucas this Friday, with residents urged to register for the free event using an online booking link.

The link has been widely shared, including by stakeholder groups such as the SA Property Council, and was shut down this morning, with the message: “Sorry, there are no more tickets available.”

InDaily has asked Sanderson’s office how many people were expected to attend, and whether the event had sold out or was simply closed off.

In a statement, the minister said the event was “a good opportunity for my local community to engage directly with the Treasurer”.

“Like any local member, I make a priority of engaging with my constituents on a range of issues and I am looking forward to hearing from the local community on Friday,” she said.

Lucas told InDaily he was “just doing this for Rachel”, at her request, but would be happy to do so for other MPs if required.

Asked whether the Liberal Party had concerns about holding Adelaide – which was won by just 425 votes – he said: “All marginal seat members have an ongoing interest in holding onto their seat.”

Party sources have suggested Sanderson could be vulnerable to a land tax backlash, with land revaluations also expected to hit hard in suburbs such as Prospect, Medindie and Walkerville.

“She’s the only one in cabinet that’s attached to a constituency like that… out of all the ministers that are there, Rachel will be the one who’s significantly impacted,” one said.

Sanderson has previously been industrious in protecting her vulnerable margin – she organised Walkerville residents to petition the last electoral boundaries commission to protest a since-abandoned proposal to shift them into the neighbouring Labor-held seat.

Lucas said he was not expecting a warm reception.

“I suspect there’ll be more representatives of the 8 per cent of individuals and 25 per cent of companies that are worse off under the changes than the 92 per cent of individuals and 75 per cent of companies that are better off,” he said.

“That would be my suspicion.”

He said “some of the people who have been pretty outspoken are unlikely to be back on board” and “I don’t think their positions are going to be changed” by the event.

“There may well be others who are there still wanting to determine their position,” he said.

“But I suspect those who are opposing it are probably trying to organise a lot of similar minded folk to come along.”

Nonetheless, he shrugged off the looming standoff, saying: “In my experience, this is relatively modest compared to being booed by a thousand people in Port Adelaide and Elizabeth when I was closing down schools [as Education Minister in the 1990s] and having more than 1000 people being egged on by Rann and Foley when we were building the Pelican Point Power Station.”

“I suspect this will be much more modest and moderate than I’ve experienced in the past… it’s par for the course,” he said.

North Adelaide resident and company director Brenton Griguol is one who will attend, after being a vocal opponent of the aggregation changes on social media.

“I know some people want to get up and rant – they’ve got to vent somewhere, I suppose, if their livelihoods are being affected,” he said.

Griguol said he believed his own land tax impost would increase from around $24,000 to around $80,000, and he had already began the process of selling off “two large properties… because of all this”.

“I’ll end up getting a bit of rent in and paying it straight back to the government,” he said.

“But we just can’t do anything until we get some clarity of where we’re going… I just want to get a feeling of what’s going on.

“One thing I’d like to ask them is ‘Why are they doing this, when it wasn’t earmarked previously?’ If they’d told us before the election that they were going to do this, they probably wouldn’t have got in.”

Griguol said he felt “hoodwinked”. He made an appointment to discuss the changes with Sanderson in her office, but “walked out gobsmacked”.

He has previously donated to her campaigns and displayed her campaign corflutes on his Tynte St balcony during last year’s election, but “I already told her ‘you can forget about that at the next election’”.

Labor is holding its own Adelaide forum next week – among a series of consultations before the Opposition determines a position.

Premier Steven Marshall last week chided the Opposition for its approach, saying: “They haven’t formed an opinion; they are going to hold a forum.”

Shadow Treasurer Stephen Mullighan said today: “Last week, Steven Marshall was dismissing Labor’s community forums on land tax, now the Liberals have belatedly decided to hold a forum of their own”.

“Steven Marshall is clearly making it up as he goes along and there appears to be an air of panic about their decision making on this,” he said.

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