Must try harder, Part 2
According to standard economic theory, the least distorting of all taxes is a land tax. This point can be pushed too far – for example, most land is improved to some extent, and that may be capitalized into land values. Nevertheless, given the financial difficulties of state governments, their failure to make use of this revenue source is an indictment, especially since they impose much more distortionary taxes on transactions involving land, such as transfer duties. All states exempt owner-occupied homes and primary producers from land tax, while taxing land sales and purchases across the board. The effect is to benefit existing landowners (except owners of rental housing) at the expense of new home-buyers and tenants.
It appears to be beyond the realm of political possibility to change this, but a government facing a supposed financial crisis, and looking for luxury items to cut, could start with land tax exemptions. As you might expect, Queensland has both a high threshold ($600 000) and a low rate (1 per cent increasing gradually).
None of the usual justifications for Queensland’s low tax effort apply here. Land tax exemptions do nothing to attract business to Queensland. They are a straightforward handout to landowners, mostly wealthy households with investment properties.
Unsurprisingly, this handout attracts zero critical attention from the Commission of Audit which states “Queensland has historically maintained a competitive taxation environment compared to other states.” This is entirely wrong as it applies to land tax. Since land is immobile, there is nothing competitive about low rates of land tax.