VFF wants council rate freeze

By Country News

A review into Victorian council rates has been labelled too little, too late by the VFF, which says a rate freeze must be implemented until the review is completed.

The Andrews Government announced an independent review of the rates system including current local government rates and charges a few weeks ago, but VFF president David Jochinke said the move was little comfort for those who had been waiting since the November election for a review.

‘‘It has taken five months for this promise to be actioned and now we discover that rural and regional ratepayers will need to wait another year for the report to be delivered,’’ Mr Jochinke said.

‘‘Premier (Daniel) Andrews and Minister (for Local Government Adem) Somyurek claim they are seeking improvements for a fair and equitable outcome — but farmers across the state are really starting to question this rhetoric.’’

He said farmers had experienced rate increases of more than 50 per cent.

‘‘While farmers absolutely want to contribute to their local communities, they should not be underpinning the councils’ operations, particularly when many of them do not receive council services provided to townsfolk.

‘‘Farmers across the state are trying to make ends meet after a number of very challenging seasons.

‘‘Many farmers simply cannot afford to pay their exorbitant rates bills, so in the interests of fairness and equity, Minister Somyurek must put a freeze on rate increases until the review is finalised.’’

The review will examine a number of areas, including: current rating exemptions and concessions and their application to various classes of land, including farmland; the autonomy of local governments to apply a rating system; and the impacts any recommended changes would have on councils, ratepayers and residents.

‘‘This is about ensuring we have a rating system that is fair, equitable and effective for all Victorians,’’ Mr Somyurek said.

‘‘The system we have now is complex and in need of review — we need a contemporary rating system that gives people a fair deal.’’

However, Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh has called for the government to do more, labelling the review a ‘‘sham’’ for not specifically reviewing the Fair Go rates cap.

Under the rates cap, any general rate rises are capped in line with the Consumer Price Index, which for 2019-20 meant rates could rise by no more than 2.5 per cent.

‘‘Farmers waited months for the government to get cracking with this review, and now we learn Daniel Andrews is excluding his failed rates cap from the scope of the inquiry,’’ Mr Walsh said.

‘‘It’s also frustrating the review’s scope excludes looking at the adequacy of the valuation system and that it will ignore other sources of local government funding like state and Commonwealth grants.

‘‘Farmers who got hit with huge increases last year are rightly very nervous about the next rates assessments, which will be hitting mail boxes soon.’’