Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. R.I. Lucas:
1. That, in the opinion of this council, a joint committee be appointed to inquire into and report on—
(a) valuation policies of the Valuer-General and their impact on some residents of retirement villages; and
(b) options available to both state and local government to alleviate any impact on SA Water and local government charges of these policies.
2. That, in the event of a joint committee being appointed, the Legislative Council be represented thereon by three members, of whom two shall form a quorum of council members necessary to be present at all sittings of the committee.
3. That this council permits the joint committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it thinks fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being reported to the council.
4. That standing order 396 be suspended as to enable strangers to be admitted when the joint committee is examining witnesses unless the committee otherwise resolves, but they shall be excluded when the committee is deliberating.
5. That a message be sent to the House of Assembly transmitting the foregoing resolution and requesting its concurrence thereto.
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (15:57): I support the select committee because, hopefully, it may bring about a resolution to this issue which has been outstanding since 2015.
The issue was sparked by the Valuer-General's policy. Historically, the Valuer-General's policy was to create assessment numbers for each section, allotment or certificate of title from the Lands Titles Office. The exception to this rule was for retirement villages where the Valuer-General provided a separate assessment number for each housing unit within a retirement village. This was so that individuals who were eligible for the pensioner concession were able to receive their discount.
Prior to 2015, SA Water was responsible for approving concessions for sewerage and water rates and councils were responsible for attributing concessions for council rates. Both agencies attributed the concession against the assessment number where eligible pensioners lived. However, in 2015 the responsibility for pensioner concessions was transferred to the department for communities and social inclusion, now the Department of Human Services.
This agency did not need an assessment number to attribute the concession to. Instead, it attributed the concession to the person and maintained within pensioner file. Although separate assessment numbers for each unit within a retirement village were no longer needed, in 2015 the Valuer-General introduced a policy to assign an assessment number to each individual living unit, which was completely inconsistent with their practice and treatment of similar multiple occupation properties.
The justification behind this was that there is inconsistency in the manner retirement villages were valued. Approximately two-thirds of the villages in the state were valid separately, which meant that each unit had its own assessment number. One-third of the villages were valued as a whole with a single value and assessment number attributed to the entire village.
However, a consequence of this action was that villages that were only receiving one SA Water bill, and only charged one supply charge per village, suddenly started to receive a bill for each individual living unit in the village. For one village, this translated to a 660 per cent increase in SA Water rates. Any new retirement village constructed after 1 July 2015 is subject to the new assessment policy.
One argument put by the Valuer-General in support of separate assessments was that unit occupiers wanted to be assured that any difference in valuation between individual units was reflected in the rates payable. However, it is still possible to achieve this by having the Valuer-General assign a tenancy apportionment of value for each occupation when there is only one value for the entire complex. This is how other multiple occupancy properties, such as flats, offices within complexes and shops within shopping centres, are valued. It should be noted that SA Water has no discretion but to follow the lead of the Valuer-General when assessment numbers are created.
At present, supply charges are levied against all properties that have an assessment number. For some retirement villages and unit complexes, this results in each individual unit having to pay the supply charge notwithstanding the fact that SA Water does not supply anything to the unit. All infrastructure, from the meter to the unit, is the responsibility of the village owner. If there is a burst water main it is up to the owners of the village to fix it, rather than SA Water. I do not understand why these people would be charged a supply charge because there is nothing that is being supplied to them. It would make much more sense for SA Water to charge supply charge per meter, rather than per assessment.
Whilst a memorandum of understanding has been signed by all relevant stakeholders to suspend the issuing of separate rates to individual living units, this only affects those villages that were valued and assessed as one village prior to 1 July 2015. Other retirement villages, which were valued and assessed per independent living unit prior to 1 July 2015, continue to receive separate rates per unit. This causes an issue because it results in vastly different rates and taxes being paid on properties that are very similar. I have been pushing for a solution on this matter since 2015, and look forward to the committee's final report in the hope of an equitable resolution.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer) (16:02): I thank the Hon. Mr Darley for his contribution and also other members who, whilst they have not spoken, have indicated privately that they support the motion for the establishment of a joint select committee. As I indicated in my opening contribution to the debate, this was a commitment that we gave prior to the election, and we were intent on following it through.
The Hon. Mr Darley has been the most assiduous parliamentary pursuer of this particular issue, both in this chamber and in various Legislative Council committees, such as the Budget and Finance Committee. I, too, join with him and hope that the members of the committee, who will include the Hon. Mr Darley, will be able to find a satisfactory resolution to this particular issue. It is not a simple solution. I guess if it was, the former government may well have resolved it.
Nevertheless, it remains a challenge for the new government to resolve, and we look for either advice on an option or, indeed, perhaps a series of options that the government might be able to contemplate in relation to resolving the issue. Should this be supported by the House of Assembly, which I anticipate it will, I wish the members of the joint select committee success in resolving the issue.