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Local Government (Rateable Land) Amendment Bill

28 June 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The bill that I am introducing today aims to address one of the issues that has been faced in the City of Adelaide over a number of years; that is, the way in which rate exemptions are applied. I should note that I am a City of Adelaide resident, so I have an interest in what occurs in the City of Adelaide, but this issue is much broader than simply the City of Adelaide. The principle extends to other council jurisdictions and is of interest to all South Australians who are facing an increase in their council rates at this time.

Our skyline has witnessed significant transformations in recent years. Buildings such as the Festival Tower now loom over our Riverbank Precinct. While these buildings have been erected on Parklands, they are not contributing their fair share to the people of Adelaide.

This bill would empower the Adelaide City Council to levy rates on the area where the Hajek Plaza used to be and where the Walker Corporation's Festival Tower is now under construction. Rate income is valuable to contribute to the upkeep and development of our city, and organisations such as corporations and casinos should not be exempt.

Rates are the lifeblood of local government, enabling the provision of essential services, maintaining infrastructure and enhancing the quality of life for residents and businesses. While ratepayers across the state are seeing their rates rise due to the current economic crisis and high CPI, it is only fair that large corporations pay their fair share. Why is one of Australia's richest people, a multibillionaire, being given a rate exemption?

In 2020, The Advertiser reported on the Walker Corporation's rate status in an article titled 'Walker Corp building on Festival Plaza could become test case on council rate exemptions'. At that time the article claimed that the Walker Corporation being exempt from rates was costing the City of Adelaide $150,000 in lost revenue each year. Given the increases in rates since that time, there is the potential for that revenue to be much higher.

At that time, The Advertiser also reported that SkyCity Adelaide was not paying any rates. However, we have been advised that that situation has been remedied, and I understand that SkyCity is now paying rates to the City of Adelaide as the land title has been transferred. However, how was it that we had a casino being built on Crown land that was not paying any rates? How did that occur? This private member's bill will close that loophole, make it very clear that casinos should not be granted any rate exemption, and make it very clear that the Walker Corporation will not be granted any rate exemption.

It is really important that we establish this principle, particularly if we are going to see a second tower blighting our city landscape, as I understand is under contemplation by the Malinauskas government. I must say what an outrageous deal this is that the Walker Corporation has been granted over our public space. A bucketload of taxpayer money is being poured into that project, if media reports are to be believed—a huge amount of taxpayer money being spent on that Festival Plaza.

You have a private corporation seizing our public land, which could have been returned to Parklands and, to add insult to injury, they are not even paying rates. What an amazing deal for the Walker Corporation; what a dud deal for the people of South Australia. It is outrageous and, quite frankly, I find it disgusting that the Labor and Liberal parties could allow such an appalling exploitation of the people of South Australia and our public land to occur. It is a disgrace, an absolute disgrace and this bill seeks to remedy that.

It is worth noting, too, that the City of Adelaide does forfeit a significant amount of rates through exemptions. A workshop was conducted back in November 2021 by the City of Adelaide, which was reported in The Advertiser. Whilst I was on the city council at that time, I was not present at that workshop—I was away—but I have read the papers of the workshop. They are publicly available and available to members of this place on the City of Adelaide website.

That report notes that 27.4 per cent of rates income is forfeited through exemptions and rebates. The report claims that the impact of this is disproportionately allocated across the community. Well, 22.7 per cent of rates income is forfeited through exemptions in Adelaide. It should be noted this is very high when compared with the City of Melbourne, which only forfeits 12.2 per cent of their rates through exemptions, and again that is according to that report.

The report goes on to include a map, which highlights areas where rate exemptions apply. I would encourage members of this place to have a look at that. While some of those areas where rates are not applied are council-owned buildings or recreational reserves, there are some that are businesses operating for private profit, like the Walker Corporation and, as I understand, previously the Casino.

By holding profit-making corporations accountable through rates we can ensure that our community resources are equitably distributed, fostering a sustainable environment for all residents and businesses to thrive. The community requires shared responsibility, not a system where big business does not have to contribute to the running of the city or the maintenance of our public realm. An interesting debate has been occurring at the moment around the state of our public streets and, in particular, around the state of North Terrace. Why should not one of Australia's richest people have to contribute to maintenance of the public realm? Why should the Walker Corporation be given a free pass? This bill is closing off that loophole, and with that I conclude my remarks.