One of the most dishonest and unethical things that politicians commonly do in this country is to find a way to increase taxes on specific sections of the Australian population – but present it to the public as a measure to improve life for ordinary people.
We’re seeing this currently with attitudes to citizens who seek to establish a business by letting a property they own to tourists and other short-term visitors to the area.
These kinds of properties typically use systems like Airbnb or Stayz and they’re popular with travellers who prefer to stay in a house or an apartment rather than a motel or a hotel room.
And of course they’re perfectly legal and a reasonable thing for property owners to do to create a sustainable business.
But local authorities have seized on this as another way to raise revenue.
Many local councils have started hitting these owners with massive increases in rates and fees – and have then tried to claim that they’re doing it to improve the rental shortage situation.
Let me tell you, these politicians are being dishonest and misleading when they do that.
This is nothing more than a cash grab, dressed up to pretend to be a measure to help ordinary people.
The Brisbane City Council has done this. The City of Melbourne has announced it’s doing it. The Hobart City Council has said it will also do this.
Pretty soon every council in the nation will be doing it, because they’ve identified another brilliant way to use the property industry as a cash cow, while being able to claim they’re trying to help everyday Australians.
There’s what I would say to those politicians.
If you truly believe this activity is bad or harmful, then ban it.
And while you’re about it, let’s extend the idea to other areas where politicians have increased taxes theoretically to discourage a harmful activity.
If cigarettes are a lethal drug, then make them illegal like marihuana and various other illicit drugs.
If foreign investment is truly the cause of poor housing affordability in Australia, which some politicians have claimed, then ban it. Pass laws to make it illegal for non-Australians to buy real estate here.
If you believe short-stay options like Airbnb are the reason we have a rental shortage crisis, then make it illegal.
But in every one of these instances, and others, politicians have not done that.
Instead, they have increased taxes on these things.
In other words, they allow an activity they see as harmful to continue, while using it as a means to raise revenue.
It’s unethical and frankly it’s disgusting.
But unethical and disgusting tends to describe many of our politicians.
Here’s another way politicians could approach these issues.
Whenever there’s a perceived problem, politicians have two basic choices in their approach to try to fix it – the carrot or the stick.
The carrot approach means providing incentives to encourage people to make changes to improve the situation. The stick approach means punishing people for doing whatever they’re doing, even though it’s legal and reasonable.
Given the choice between the carrot and the stick, politicians invariably choose the stick approach.
They scapegoat a section of the community, demonise them and hit them with new or increased taxes.
In doing so, they create division and disharmony in the community – and this approach seldom achieves the stated objective.
It simply provides a new source of revenue for the council or the state government or the federal government.
Slugging mum-and-dad investors with new taxes, fees and charges won’t fix the rental shortage.
An independent university study recently concluded that Airbnb was not the cause of the rental shortage.
But councils don’t care – they see a way to extract more cash from the housing industry and they’re happy to be dishonest in raising that revenue.
What is needed to fix the problem is for politicians for provide incentives for Australians to buy properties and make them available for long-term rentals.
Unfortunately, at the moment there are numerous disincentives, all of them created by politicians, which is why we have the rental shortage in the first place.