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Ministry 'split on land tax' as MPs push for peace deal

Politics

Land tax dissent has spilled over into the Marshall cabinet, according to a prominent opponent of the Government’s proposed reforms who claims to have met with an “existing cabinet member” in recent days to canvass “alternatives”.

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Solomon Humble Lawyers partner Richard Solomon has taken a prominent role in the grassroots Liberal campaign against Treasurer Rob Lucas’s proposed aggregation measures – set to reap $86 million a year from next year – having previously registered the name of a prospective breakaway movement, the True Liberals.

In a social media post last night, Solomon claimed to have “met with four separate Liberal politicians over the last week or so” – including Lucas himself and another member of the Marshall cabinet.

“Three of them were greatly concerned about possible damage to our economy if this land tax aggregation proposal proceeds,” Solomon wrote.

“Two of them were backbenchers already intimidated by Lucas and therefore torn as to whether to cross the floor or not, [and] one was an existing cabinet member who felt strongly enough about this land tax saga to visit my wife and I at our home and ask about alternatives.”

He said he told the minister – whom he declined to identify when contacted by InDaily – that “a full land tax enquiry would be needed”, and that the minister undertook to raise the matter directly with Premier Steven Marshall.

Several backbenchers have previously raised concerns about the land tax measures, although a looming revolt was quelled in part by last month’s compromise draft legislation, which also lowered the top rate of tax from 3.7 per cent to 2.4.

However, Lucas has since conceded that land tax payers will be worse off under the proposed changes than they would have otherwise been, and that the mooted $70 million annual saving is a result of the previously-legislated tax-free threshold increase from $391,000 to $450,000.

The concept of pre-empting an independent inquiry being promoted by SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo with a Government-led one has been mooted within Liberal circles, with others privately advocating a land tax summit, convened by the Premier and attended by all affected stakeholder groups.

“Concerned backbenchers would like to see the Liberal Party retake the narrative of this land tax issue,” one MP told InDaily.

“The debate has been damaging to the Liberal cause, to many of its supporters and broadly the confidence of some sectors of the SA economy… I personally think we’re handling it really poorly.”

Another MP argued there was still broad confusion among affected taxpayers about the impact of the changes, despite last month’s consultation period, and suggested there was still significant opposition in the party-room, pointing out that MPs had voted to consult on the draft Bill – but not necessarily to support it.

“Unless Labor supports exactly what’s proposed it’s got no hope at all of getting through the parliament,” the MP said.

A Bill will be put to parliament when it returns next week.

But Lucas told InDaily today the Government would not support an inquiry, either internal or external.

“The decision needs to be taken one way or another – the Bill is either passed, or parliament defeats it and the Government gets on with its life,” he said.

He acknowledged meeting with Solomon in recent days, saying: “ I’ve not refused a meeting with anyone who’s requested a meeting.”

“From my viewpoint it was cordial and respectful [but] did he change his position or did I change mine? No,” Lucas said.

Asked about Solomon’s claim to have canvassed alternatives with one of his ministerial colleagues, he said: “That in itself, even if true, there’s nothing exceptional about that… people are looking at a whole range of options in relation to the Government’s position.”

However, he added, “ultimately the Government’s landed on a position and we’ll be pursuing it next Tuesday.”

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