It is with great pleasure I rise to speak on the State Taxation Acts Further Amendment Bill 2019. I am a fan of taxation. I am big fan of taxation because I think taxation, and the taxation system, is an enabler for our community. It provides us with the wealth and the funds to ensure that we have the services and the infrastructure that we so desperately need across all aspects of our community. It does not leave society in a Hunger Games type of mentality where people, depending on their wealth, survive or not. Rather, a taxation system seeks to redistribute some of the wealth in our society and ensure that there is some levelling of the playing field in terms of decent living standards, and it ensures that everybody in our society can contribute through the taxation system.
Of course we know the taxation system in this state and in this country has many different facets to it. I am a fan because I do think that it means that we can all make a contribution. That does not mean that we tax everybody to the hilt of course, but there has got to be measured and reasonable taxation to deliver the services and meet the needs of the community Of course taxation is so important in this state because it contributes so much to our infrastructure. We have got enormous amounts of infrastructure investment going on in Victoria as we speak, and that cannot be done without a contribution through our taxation system. It also means so much to the levelling of our education and health playing fields.
We hear it often in this place, you would think it was doom and gloom, and yet when we walk outside of this place—we know, for example, that our health system is one of the best in the world. Sure, it has got its flaws; that does not mean that we stop working hard to deliver the best possible health care that we can right across the board. It is important that we are able to fund those things. It is so important to the entire Victorian community that we do have world-class health facilities, health services and health professionals, and to do that you have got to have funds. We recognise the importance of education in this state. Indeed I think when you drive around Victoria and you see on numberplates ‘Victoria—the Education State’, and you look at the investment that this government has made in the areas of both primary school and secondary school, in universities and in TAFE, it backs up and franks that very small slogan on those numberplates.
It is something that is very near and dear to so many people. We understand that at the core of providing for the young people in our state so they can productively contribute to society when they leave school is the need to provide them with the best possible education system that we can. In recent times we have made the announcement about early learning in three-year-old kinder, the rollout that is going to occur over the next couple of years and the importance of that to the development of our youngest citizens in the state, to their development and their ability to be the best that they can be. It means that we as a society need to make that investment, and we do that through the collection of funds, through our taxation system, so that we can reinvest those funds in the important aspects.
So I am an enormous fan of our taxation system. Mr Ondarchie interjected. Mr GEPP: No, Mr Ondarchie, I am a fan of taxation as a general principle. As I said earlier in my contribution, it is about measured, appropriate levels of taxation in the right areas and making sure that everybody contributes fairly. One of the great shames of course about taxation in this country is that some of the richest in our society, both individuals and corporations, spend so much in avoiding their taxation responsibilities. They spend an enormous amount of money trying to avoid paying taxes. The average salary and wage earner in this country does not get the luxury, if they are having a bad year financially, of bailing out of the tax system, but of course those who can afford it and can pay their accountants and financial advisers to set up systems so that they can avoid paying tax have those means to do so. Mr Ondarchie interjected. Mr GEPP: No, I’m not a fan of increased taxes.
I am a fan of taxation where it is appropriate and where it is necessary to provide the services and to support the values that we espouse in this place as often as we can. It is a pity Mr Quilty is not in the chamber. I have heard him say things similar to some of the interjections coming from across the chamber. He has been critical of the taxation system many times over just in his short stay in this place, but I wonder if he had the same view when he was actually part of the taxation collection system. When he worked for the tax office, when he was drawing an income, when it was feeding his family, did he have the same views? Perhaps he did, and it would be interesting to hear. I hope he is on the list of members to contribute in this debate. I throw out the challenge to Mr Quilty: if you are going to oppose this bill and pour bucketloads on the taxation system in this state and in this country and, you know, how it impinges on the freedoms of individuals, and if you want a Hunger Games style of community where the strong and the wealthy survive, I wonder if you harboured those views when you were drawing a salary from the tax office and you were part of the taxation collection regime. Or was that just a bit of a faux opposition back then? I look forward to that contribution. In terms of taxation in this state, of course the Andrews Labor government is now into its second term of office. I go back to our first term when we delivered tax cuts to almost 40 000 businesses by increasing the payroll tax-free threshold from $550 000 to $650 000—a deliberate attempt to support businesses throughout Victoria. We understand the enormous contribution that businesses small, medium and large make to this great state of Victoria, and we think it is important that we do some of the heavy lifting for those businesses by giving them tax relief so that they might reinvest in their businesses and assist in the growth of the economy. Of course in the 2019–20 budget we are building on those reforms by increasing that threshold to $700 000 in two instalments of $25 000 from 1 July 2021.
So we continue that program of investment. In an Australian first—and I know this all too well in my own electorate of Northern Victoria—we cut payroll tax for regional Victoria in our first term. As I said, and as we have announced in this year’s budget, we are cutting regional payroll tax even further, down to 25 per cent of the metropolitan rate. This will be implemented over a three-year period, with the rate falling by around 4 percentage points each year from 1 July 2020. Of course we will cut payroll tax even further for about 3500 businesses, supporting companies in regional Victoria to grow, and it is so important in my electorate that we are doing so. We have also provided other significant tax relief for Victorians—for example, through getting rid of stamp duty for first home buyers purchasing houses that cost $600 000 and applying concessions to purchases of up to some $750 000. In the first two years of that program more than 62 000 Victorians have claimed stamp duty concessions and exemptions, saving them in excess of $1.1 billion.
To go back to Mr Ondarchie’s interjection earlier, that is about responsible taxation. That is about making sure that the taxation system is working for all Victorians, particularly those who need it, and where we can provide the necessary tax relief to give greater opportunities for those people then, as we have demonstrated, we do so. I will not go through all of the aspects of the bill. Mr Rich-Phillips has touched on many of those and he has talked about some of the areas of concern to the opposition. No doubt when we go into the committee stage later on those concerns will be addressed by the government in greater detail. So I will not take up the chamber’s time in rehashing some of the areas that Mr Rich-Phillips talked about. Rather, while I am on the business of tax reform, I might also talk about 2018, when we doubled the first home owner grant to $20 000—again, particularly targeted at regional Victoria—to make it easier for people to build and stay in the community.
Since July 2017 more than 17 000 people have taken up the first home owner grant, saving some $238 million for Victorians getting into their first homes. From July this year we have delivered a 10 per cent concession on the transfer of commercial and industrial property in regional Victoria. This will increase by 10 percentage points each year until it reaches the full 50 per cent concession. This will save businesses around $69 million over the next four years and provide benefits on an expected 2400 transactions each year. That just underscores that the taxation system that we have in place in Victoria is making Victoria the economic powerhouse of this nation. It is targeted, it is measured and it is appropriate to deliver the services that Victoria needs.
We have talked about the record investments that this government has made in the health sector. Yesterday the Minister for Health spoke in a ministers statement about the increase this year of $100 million in the Regional Health Infrastructure Fund, which is so important to areas such as my electorate in ensuring that those regional health systems have a pipeline of funds available to them to improve the services that my constituents and those of other regional electorates throughout Victoria so desperately need. In conclusion, I reaffirm my commitment to taxation. I think it is a virtue for any decent society to have a good, decent, healthy taxation system that contributes to the development of our society. That is what we have before us. These changes to the system the minister will no doubt address in the committee stage, and I am sure he will convince the house that they should be supportive of these changes, as I am.