Queensland Budget Week: Beware of Sausages

A cartoon illustrating the idiom about laws and sausages

What a banger (pun intended) the 2022 Queensland Budget Land Tax “reform” was!
The sittings for 2023/2024 are on 13,14,15 and 16 June. There will be a lot of work one thinks to make sure the Treasurer doesn’t get a flogging as he did on 10 November 2022 in relation to the Land Tax debacle: see Hansard.

“Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.” The most likely originator of this aphorism is Otto von Bismarck but no one quite knows.

Well, The Tax Reformer (TTR) can attest to the wisdom of Bismarck’s comment.

At the Lucky Dip Sausage Co., the bones and other inedible, indigestible, unsavoury parts are supposed to be dumped in a big garbage pail and discarded. In Queensland, tax policy and tax drafting are often settled by committees. And we know the old saying about camels are horses designed by a committee. There is no clear function between the QRO and Queensland Treasury as there is between the ATO and Treasury. The Tax Reformer has never heard in his 6 odd years in the QRO of any protocol as there is for the ATO/Treasury. See, for example, this link and flowchart.

The Government usually pops through a “Revenue Legislation Amendment Bill” at the same time as releasing the Budget. Why? Because it then is protected from general consultation and comment before it gets into Parliament by the claim it has been before Cabinet. No consultation by the public is necessary, only, we are told “key property, tax and accounting bodies”. This totally disregards the requirements of s. 4 of the Legislative Standards Act 1992: “4.(1) For the purposes of this Act, “fundamental legislative principles” are the principles relating to legislation that underlie a parliamentary democracy based on the rule of law.” Those principles are not just wishful thinking. They are part of the law. They have to be in mind right from the policy stage to the Bill (and Explanatory Note) and to the Act.

The Explanatory Notes to the Revenue Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 stated at page 23:

“In relation to the amendments to the Land Tax Act, confidential consultation was undertaken with key property, tax and accounting bodies in relation to unintended consequences and issues relating to implementation of the land tax reform. This included the provision of a consultation paper which was provided on a confidential basis to targeted bodies positioned to comment on the issues within scope. All bodies consulted were given an opportunity to provide written submissions. Submissions received during this consultation were taken into account in settling the amendments to the Land Tax Act and the timing for implementation of the land tax reform.”

OK. But who were the “key property, tax and accounting bodies in relation to unintended consequences and issues relating to implementation of the land tax reform.”? And if those bodies had the opportunity to provide written submissions”, then how much time were they given? And why can’t taxpayers see the consultation paper and the reasons (if any) at an earlier stage?

To comply with the rule of law with respect to the failed 2022 amendment of the Land Tax Act would have been to open the proposed amendment to unrestricted public consultation. What could possibly have been the reason to keep those proposed amendments secret? There can be no reason except to keep taxpayers in the dark.

One feels sorry for the Treasurer who had to get the flack in Parliament. One wonders how far down the Queensland Treasury/QRO hierarchy the undoubted subsequent reprimand went.