The Guardian May 31, 2000


Taxing the poor
Caravan tenants penalised

There are hard times ahead for caravan park tenants if the Government 
does not back down on its decision to apply the GST to long-term park 
tenancies. Not surprisingly, park tenants are mobilising forces to show 
their local politicians that community issues count.

Tenants paying rent for a flat or house will not have GST charged directly 
on the amount of rent paid. But that does not mean tenants will not face 
rent increases because of the GST. The GST will apply to building, public 
risk and other insurance policies, to repair and maintenance costs, to real 
estate agents' management fees and other services paid by the landlord. 
These additional indirect GST costs will flow-on into rents charged.

But caravan park rental  by and large paid by poor people who cannot 
afford to rent a flat or house  is not GST exempt. Not only will all the 
indirect GST charges be loaded on to their rent with consequent rent hikes, 
but they will also be charged the 10 per cent GST directly on to their 
rents.

The Government has made a token concession for long-term caravan park 
residents where more than 70 per cent of sites are long-term and a person 
has been a resident for more than 27 days. They will be charged GST on 50 
per cent of their rent.

The Government has apparently based its decision on a belief that caravan 
park tenants  and boarding house tenants who are similarly affected by 
the GST  are "commercial" in some way while rental of a flat or house is 
not.

Community's poor are hardest hit

Families paying rent for caravan park accommodation are usually single 
parents, unemployed people, people on disability benefit and so on.
They gravitate to parks because, while the rents are still expensive for 
them, in particular the access costs (eg bond payments) they are not as 
unaffordable as a house or flat. Some have been referred to caravan parks 
by government departments like Community Services and Housing.

These tenants do not have legislative coverage at all for the first 30 days 
of occupation. Some park owners have developed the habit of shifting them 
from site to site to ensure that they can never make use of even the 
limited rights of security against eviction provided by the Housing 
Tribunal.

So far as the GST is concerned, these low income earners will be hit hard 
by the GST, paying the tax on their full 27 days. And what if they get 
shifted after 27 days? Is the ATO or the ACCC likely to be interested in 
their plight?

These are reasons why caravan park residents are doubly irate. There is 
anger over both the GST and the fact that they are being discriminated 
against on such a basic right as the right to shelter.

Community information program draws crowds

Currently the Park and Village Service is running a joint community 
information program on parks legislation with the Affiliated Park 
Residents' Association around the countryside.

There have been meetings up and down the NSW coast, and now they are moving 
further west. The hot issue at every meeting is the GST which usually 
dominates question time  not only how to cope with it, but how to stop 
it.

Some of the meetings have been very big  more than 250 attended the Tweed 
Heads meeting and at other meetings audiences of more than 100 are not 
uncommon. Some of these meetings are in marginal National Party or Liberal 
Party seats, which happen to have large numbers of park residents in them.

Tweed Heads meeting

At the Tweed Heads meeting, the off-sider for Larry Anthony the National 
Party MHR for the seat of Richmond, quickly got Larry on his mobile to 
hotfooted it to the meeting. Mr Anthony knows that well over 6000 
constituents live in caravan parks while he is sitting on an electoral 
margin of only 0.8 per cent.

Larry Anthony is one of the Coalition politicians who has been assuring his 
constituents that they would not be affected by the GST.

At the meeting he did not admit error and merely provided a copy of a 
letter from the Treasurer which tried to pour oil on the anger by saying 
that caravan park owners need not apply the GST if they chose not to  
depending on whether they wanted to claim tax credits or not.

Larry Anthony claimed that he was on their side and was trying to persuade 
the government to change its tack. Unfortunately for Mr Anthony, somebody 
at the meeting taped his comments and fed them back to the Labor Party. He 
said: 

"It's an issue that I'm taking extremely seriously, because I do believe, I 
do believe that in some of the drafting of legislation there is not an 
appreciation that caravan parks, you know if you look across the country, 
are not what is here, or some other parts of Australia when you've got 
people who are permanent residents, where they have equity in their own 
home or in your home, which is no different to a home... I know a lot of 
you personally, and this is a big issue. And I hope I can come back to you 
shortly, and I will through your representatives and hopefully there can be 
a change. Thank you."

Again, unfortunately for Mr Anthony, the very next day Howard's Cabinet 
decided to stand firm and make no concessions, while the ALP used the tape 
to devastating effect in Parliament.

Little wonder marginal Coalition MPs are worried. A week or so later, after 
some further such meetings on the south coast, the Liberal MP for Gilmore, 
Joanna Gash admitted the Government had committed a "stuff up" by applying 
the GST to caravan park tenants.

Little wonder, also, that a number of park residents held a demo at 
Parliament House, recently, and got some coverage. This won't be the end of 
it.

* * *
Acknowledgement to Harvey Volke, Tenant News, May 2000

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