Possible rates levy creates uncertainty

PHOTO: Supplied

By Ali Goddard and Michael R. Williams
A NEW draft provision in State Parliament could allow councils to increase rates outside of the standard annual budget.?
The purpose of this provision would be to allow councils to bounce back after COVID-19, but the State Government has assured peak bodies that it could use “existing powers” to defend industries from “unfair and inequitable” council rate increases.?
It comes under a proposed amendment to new COVID-19 laws introduced last year, which are due to be debated in Parliament this week.
Three peak bodies have welcomed the State Government’s assurance including The Queensland Resources Council, Queensland Farmers’ Federation, and AgForce, who campaigned for the assurance in a joint submission to the government’s Economics and Governance Committee inquiry into new COVID-19 legislation.?
Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) CEO Dr Georgina Davis said the draft provision could lead to unfair and inequitable’ council rate increases for the agriculture sector.
“According to the Queensland Audit Office, over half of Queensland councils spend more than they earn and a lack of accountability and transparency in local government budgets has seen Queensland farmers increasingly bear the burden to make up this shortfall,” she said.
“The agricultural sector is facing significant challenges as it continues to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, and in the lead-up to the winter harvest, farmers cannot be expected to soak up further unpredictable and unjustified costs.
“While we welcome an assurance by the Queensland Government it can use existing powers under the Local Government Act to intervene if necessary, we continue to advocate for a predictable rate system and compliance with the principles set out in the State Government’s Guideline on Equity and Fairness in Rating for Queensland Local Governments.”
Ms Davis said QFF is also advocating for a review of funding for local governments that provide critical services to our communities, particularly in regional and remote areas.?
“Local governments must have the money they need to provide essential services but not through gauging local businesses who are already struggling with workforce shortages and other rising input costs.”
Queensland Resources Council Deputy Director of Diversity and Media, Caroline Morrissey said QRC seeks rate increases that are justified and transparent through the budgetary process as well as engagement with ratepayers on increases.?
“Other jurisdictions in Australia already employ a range of methods for limiting the amount a rate can increase to protect the ratepayer,” she said.?
“In the short term, QRC is seeking action from the Queensland Government to mandate the Guideline on equity and fairness in rating for Queensland local governments.?
“Currently the Guideline is only voluntary.”
She said from a long-term perspective, a broadscale review of local government rating powers and funding is needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of our regions, in line with other Australian jurisdictions.?
“QRC supports Local Governments’ power to apply different categories to ratepayers to reflect local government services, asset maintenance and broadly services to the local community,” she said.
“QRC understands rates will need to change to ensure local governments are adequately funded, however, these changes must be guided by principles of fairness and equity, which include a level of predictability on rate increases. Very few businesses can soak up a 100 per cent rate increase with no prior warning.
“QRC tries to assist its members by encouraging regular and consistent engagement with their local government to understand their challenges and pressures.”