Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 17, 2023


Stamp Duty

The Hon. S.L. GAME (16:55): I move:

1. That a select committee of the Legislative Council be established to inquire into and report on the impacts of residential, agricultural and commercial stamp duty, with particular reference to:

(a) the impact of stamp duty on residential house prices for South Australian residents;

(b) the impact of stamp duty on business outcomes for the state;

(c) the impact of stamp duty on the primary industries sector;

(d) the impact on businesses of the suspension of stamp duty payments on commercial transfers of lots;

(e) the potential impacts of reducing or removing stamp duty for—

(i) first-home buyers; and

(ii) pensioners who downsize;

(f) any alternative proposals to the current stamp duty system, including an annual land tax in lieu of stamp duty; and

(g) any other relevant matters.

2. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.

The stamp duty regime in South Australia has not been reviewed in over 15 years. Where other states have established stamp duty exemptions and concessions for first-home buyers and pensioners who do wish to downsize, South Australia offers nothing comparable.

I have previously called on the Treasurer to conduct a review of our outdated stamp duty legislation by way of an earlier motion. I now seek to establish a select committee so that our parliament can investigate the impacts of South Australia's stamp duty regime with a view to modernising it. I believe South Australia is overdue for a genuine inquiry into this issue to hear firsthand from the community about how the stamp duty regime impacts residents, businesses, and the primary industries and not-for-profit sectors.

Enabling this chamber to hear from those most impacted by this tax will ensure that any review or update of the system will be informed by those who are most knowledgeable. We pay amongst the highest stamp duty rates in the country. In South Australia right now, the purchase of a $500,000 home will attract a $21,330 stamp duty bill. This is almost double that of the Australian Capital Territory, where they also offer a first-home buyer's exemption, as well as concessions for pensioners who wish to downsize.

Whilst it is true that Victoria and the Northern Territory attract slightly higher stamp duty rates, both jurisdictions offer exemptions or concessions that are non-existent in this state. The ACT and New South Wales have been first movers in reforming stamp duty, with our biggest state recently giving new home owners the option of substituting the significant one-off payment with an annual land tax of 0.3 per cent. The Australian Capital Territory is halfway through its 20-year plan to reform its property tax system, where it is aiming to 'abolish a number of inefficient and unfair taxes'.

A particular policy proposal that peaked my interest in this issue came from the South Australian Dairyfarmers' Association. In their election policies 2022 document, they proposed a stamp duty rebate on the purchase of non-productive land that is returned to commercial production within a year of the transaction. This, they argue, would allow for any immediate revenue lost to government to be regained by way of increased productivity and jobs in South Australia.

In my dealings with the business sector, community organisations, primary industries and residents more generally, the high cost of stamp duty has been frequently raised as an inhibitor to growth, investment and moving freely around South Australia. Stamp duty has been described as archaic, inefficient and attacks on productivity and competitiveness by many economists and policymakers.

With all the modern technologies of the 21st century, it is hard to disagree that paying over $25,000 for what is currently a median price house in South Australia just to officially stamp a document appears excessive. This is particularly so when we live in the very state that invented the Torrens title system almost 170 years ago, a comprehensive property register that ensures governments know who owns what piece of land at any point in time.

Stamp duty these days has grown to become a significant source of income for state governments, which have become reliant on it. With no review of the system occurring for over 15 years, bracket creep has meant that families purchasing a modest home in the suburbs pay the same rate as those who buy multimillion-dollar properties. It is hard to see how the community could view this as fair and just.

It is overdue for state and federal policymakers to revisit the debate about replacing stamp duty with a more efficient and less punishing taxation measure. South Australia needs to be a competitive place to attract working families, businesses and primary industries and it is in that vein that I wish to establish a select committee to inquire about the impacts of our current stamp duty regime. I commend the motion to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.T. Ngo.