Robin Oliver

May 25th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Patrick Smellie at Stuff reports:

For one of the most fearsome tax minds in the country, departing deputy Inland Revenue Department commissioner is more imp than ogre.

Robin has been head of policy for for many years, and is hugely respected.

His views on what makes tax policy work are carbon copy Roger Douglas, but he can just as easily whip up a good line in class warfare when describing the kind of social balance a tax system must achieve to succeed.

Grinning, he illustrates a point by asking whether it would be “acceptable for me to retire with international investments, sit on a beach paying almost no tax and using the health system, while some family in South Auckland pays enormous taxes, working double shifts cleaning offices”.

And receiving non means tested NZ super!

His proudest moment was when a meeting of New Zealand businesspeople and accountants rejected the previous government’s research and development tax credits as bad policy.

“All the big four [accounting firms] had to pay off staff and close parts of their businesses, but they never lobbied to keep [the tax credits] because it wasn’t right in their view.”

Yes, I suspect schemes such as R&D tax credits create huge amounts of work for accountancy firms, as companies reclassify expenditure to qualify for the tax credits, It probably creates a mini-industry around how to gain the tax credits.

Mr Oliver says the big tax issues don’t change much over time – the rate, concessions versus broad base, tax everyone or only some people – and there are still only three places to turn for tax: labour income, capital income and land.

Yet he defends the lack of New Zealand capital gains and land taxes.

“It’s not purist, just a practicality,” he says, noting that IRD changed from advocating capital gains to believing it couldn’t be done efficiently.

“No one taxes the family home and, in New Zealand, what do you do about farming? The common farming career progression is to trade to larger farms. A capital gains tax would kill that. What would you do about communally owned Maori land? Capital taxes are levied at death. You can’t tax Maori land that way.”

The alternative is a capital gains tax as complex as Australia’s, where “they have whole conferences on what should be in and what should be out”.

Labur are thought to be considering proposing a capital gains tax. If they do, and win the election, I predict great times for the tax industry as lawyers and accountants prosper.

I do believe a land tax has some merit, so long as it is not about increasing the overall level of taxation.

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48 Responses to “Robin Oliver”

  1. Mick Mac (1,091 comments) says:

    No No No David.

    How can you stray? the answer is less tax!
    The simpler the better and NO envy tax at all which is what capital gains, death duties and land taxes are.
    They destroy productivity and give rise to schemes to avoid them for the richer.

    maybe an enhanced GST or financial services fee (1%) instead of income tax. but not death duties or capital gain or land tax.

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  2. vto (1,128 comments) says:

    A capital gains tax is not needed for mpst farmers as their capital gain is deemed income under the Income Tax Act. If you buy land with a view to selling it later at a higher price then that increase is deemed income and is taxable.

    The problem we have is that those farmers who do that lie like the criminal fraudsters they are when they do not declare it as income.

    Applies urban-wise as well.

    The biggest rort in the land.

    and before any goons shout me down with rubbish please carefully read what has been written.

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  3. Mike Readman (356 comments) says:

    I see why you posted this, DPF. There’s no job as cool as head of policy at IRD!

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  4. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    vto

    I have carefully read what you have written. You are stupid and ignorant and don’t understand the rules.

    Unfortunately, I’m just too bored so I can’t even be bothered telling you why. But I will suggest that rather than relying on the same set of weetbix law library cards that the mad hatter water woman uses as a basis of her “considered opinions”, you trundle off down the road and buy yourself a copy of the tax act and then read it. Let me know if there are any words you don’t understand , like “section” and “part”.

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  5. Shunda barunda (2,965 comments) says:

    “No one taxes the family home and, in New Zealand, what do you do about farming? The common farming career progression is to trade to larger farms. A capital gains tax would kill that.

    So flippin what!!

    Is that really going to damage our dairy industry if farms stay in NZ ownership? because under his model all farms will eventually have to be owned by overseas interests as they will be the only ones able to afford them!

    Typical greedy policy that will only stuff the country in the long run, there is no difference between the motivations of this system and the reasons the US is in the crapper.

    The same thing will happen here due to collective greed and a sense of entitlement to rival that of the most hardened beneficiary.

    The modern dairy industry offers nothing to the communities they exist in, but we do get to play ‘dodge the milk tanker’ on the highway, and ‘dodge the shit’ in our water, and ‘dodge the red neck’ when they occasionally mozie into town.

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  6. vto (1,128 comments) says:

    davinci

    already done. you just carry on being bored.

    you also may want to advise John Key similarly who said the exact same last week in Parliament.

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  7. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    Are you sure:

    1) you bought the NZ Act?

    2) you can read?

    BTW, I don’t recall key saying anything about criminal fraudsters.

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  8. KH (687 comments) says:

    davinci @12.41
    Why bother making comment in that mode. Puts you at the same level of uselessness as the mad woman. Try and lift the act

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  9. vto (1,128 comments) says:

    abuse. good one.

    try tertiary reading of the act. got a decent answer?

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  10. KH (687 comments) says:

    A year or three back there was great ferment around galloping house price and rents. So in the media we had lots of comment that the thing to do was a “capital gains tax.”
    Nobody was able to explain however how that move would lower rents. No connection was made. Just the usual NZ rush to a supposed solution – which wasn’t actually such.

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  11. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    Sorry KH, too bored. Last two months too much fun.

    vto

    Good. We’ve got something to work with.

    Now, please reconcile the stupid remarks you made with the relevant statutory provisions.

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  12. Macfre (15 comments) says:

    Re the mention of Labour’s possible introduction of a capital gains tax, I find it fascinating that the Labour Party website has no page where they set out vision, policy etc, its just a collection of releases. Contrast that with National’s page where everything is there to see. What does that tell you about Labour?

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  13. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    KH

    They created a story out of nothing. That’s what they do. “Evil capitalist roots teenaged donkey and puts up house rents. Need capital gains tax.”

    See?

    Macfre

    It tells us nothing that 72% of the country doesn’t already know.

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  14. vto (1,128 comments) says:

    ffs, no wonder I avoid this site.

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  15. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    Well, if you can’t read English, there’s no point in coming here. If you can, then go swot up on the tax act before labelling our tillers of the soil and haulers of the plough a bunch of criminal fraudsters based on sheer ignorance or kindergarten level comprehension skills.

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  16. queenstfarmer (743 comments) says:

    @vto – some do, and it’s good the IRD should go after them, but it’s not that simple. Very few farmers buy their land for the “purpose or intention” of disposing of it. A land tax should be considered (in addition to rates, which is a land tax).

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  17. KH (687 comments) says:

    It’s interesting to hear of French farmers who don’t pay income tax. So the image arises of somebody who does not have an accountant, and who runs the business with not much more than a cheque book out of the back pocket. Just like running the household at home.
    I find it bizarre at my business that every time I buy equipment for the computer the accountants call and ask if it is capital or running expense. For maybe a $1500.00 computer! And then I see the thing track thru the accounts for a few years being depreciated. It’s so artificial and ridiculous.
    At home if I buy a new TV I don’t account for it. It works or it doesn’t and then after hopefully many years I get another one.
    The depreciation thing around determining taxable income is an accounting construct mostly fictional. And for managing the business — cashflow concept is far more useful.
    Where does the idea come that there is some desirable ratio of Capital gains tax/ Income tax / and GST (or VAT).
    Life would be quite different if we all worked on GST only, with no income tax.
    Accounting would be so different and realistic. Not much more than what we do in the household. And the purpose of accountants would be not tax — but about how to understand your business.
    Wonder how that would go.

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  18. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    queenstfarmer

    Is today “Stupid Ideas Day”? If you want to levy asset or capital based taxes then fine. But don’t be stupid enough to limit them to one sector of the economy or one category of asset and make sure that you include family homes. Otherwise, don’t be silly.

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  19. vto (1,128 comments) says:

    davinci, you have said precisely nothing. waste of space.

    queenstfarmer, understood. My own experience is that many more than very few do it. In fact, some within our circle who have been farming more than a generation still openly admit that that is the main purpose. Many many many many do it. The farming sector capitalises income into farm values —> those farm values should be taxed as income. As the current Income Tax Act states.

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  20. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    KH

    It isn’t an accounting construct. Generally speaking, you get a deduction for assets that diminish in value over their working lives. No diminution in value = no deduction. The pointy-headed accountants also require you to reflect that amortisation in your accounts, not unreasonably.

    As for GST; you aren’t the first person to think of that. If only. As for getting your accountant to understand your business and add value – well, good luck with that.

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  21. KH (687 comments) says:

    davinci @ 1.12
    Thankyou – genuinely – for a constructive response.

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  22. Jimbob (640 comments) says:

    Pleased you posted this David, Robin Oliver makes many valid points.
    But please, no more taxes, the Government spends enough of the our pie as it is.

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  23. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    “The farming sector capitalises income into farm values —> those farm values should be taxed as income. As the current Income Tax Act states.”

    You really are very stupid aren’t you. You want to tax an industry on the basis of your in-depth kitchen table discussion.

    Aside from your ridiculous and false closing assertion, any productive asset you care to name will be priced in the market on a basis that reflects in some part its earning potential capitalised at a required rate or return. Is there any particular reason you are singling out farmers, as distinct from home-owners and investors in domestic and foreign currency denominated equities?

    Far from saying precisely nothing, I have pointed out very succinctly why everything you are saying is a complete load of irrational, unreasoned and facile hocus pocus and directed your attention to the necessity of having at the very least, a basic grasp of the relevant provisions of the tax act. Moreover, I have highlighted the fact that your weary pinko eat the farmer rhetoric in the form of labelling them criminal fraudsters ought to have at least some foundation under the laws of this country.

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  24. queenstfarmer (743 comments) says:

    @thedavincimode, all I suggested is that the IRD go after tax cheats, and that a land tax “be considered”. Which do you consider a “stupid idea”?

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  25. trout (900 comments) says:

    Mr. Oliver appears to have omitted the fourth cash cow, consumption tax (GST). A tax that has been so successful that politicians keep looking for more out of it. The point has been made that GST is socially inequitable because poorer people spend more of their income; this became obvious when GST replaced Sales Tax (which was only intended to be levied on luxury goods) and was levied universally.

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  26. dog_eat_dog (743 comments) says:

    VTO – tax is not collected on farmland that is sold and is continued to be used as farmland. As far as CB 6 is concerned, farming activity on land qualifies for the ‘business premises’ exemption as per CB 19.

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  27. vto (1,128 comments) says:

    davinci, please point to what you have “very succinctly pointed out”.

    And see if you can make a post without using the words stupid, mad-hatter, ridiculous, false, hocus pocus, weary pinko, kindergarten, child, etc. Go on. Be a grown up for a change.

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  28. KH (687 comments) says:

    davinci @ 1.24. just fell back into abuse. Try harder. I have seen you beat this problem

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  29. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    queenstfarmer

    The latter. “Land” tax per se is inefficient and creates market distortions.

    Remember that calls for a land tax are merely a reflexion of what has been happening in the market in recent years before its recent tits up demise. And rather than taking aim first at land-owners generally and farmers in particluar, its important to remember what funded this boom: a credit explosion, excessive complexity around investing offshore, high marginal tax rates, a perception amongst this background that equites are a relatively poor performer, tax rorts around family homes and Liabour wading in with WFF that enabled people to live beyond their means. We’ve been down this path before with Muldoon’s property speculation tax.

    Capital gains taxes are just too complicated for all the reasons that Oliver is quoted as offering. There is also an argument that they only lock up assets and concessions to avoid this are necessarily complicated and arbitrary.

    There was a recommendation to Herr Doktor a number years ago that all assets should be taxed at a fixed rate, including family homes. To that extent it reflects what I suspect you are getting at. Predictably, it died a death in a blaze of media hyper bullshit.

    My beef is that it if you are to introduce a tax on land per se, it should be done right across the economy. Furthermore, it ought not be a windfal gain to the tax base, but in fact should be used to reduce the current income tax burden. That way, if you are an evil capitalist pig and live in a big house, you pay more tax than some creepy hand-wringing socialist like vto. If you choose to invest in shares instead, then good for you and you’ve also taken some heat out of the real estate market so that vto doesn’t have to camp under your hedge.

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  30. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    vto

    You seem to be going out of your way to avoid admitting that you labelled farmers as criminal fraudsters without any understanding of what you are talking about and that you wouldn’t recognise the provisions surrounding the taxing of land if they jumped up and poked you in the eye.

    Your criticism of my abusing you for the fuckwit that you are doesn’t disguise your ignorance or the populist slander that you are endeavouring to recycle on this particular issue.

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  31. vto (1,128 comments) says:

    davinci, You pointed out precisely nothing of the sort. You just screamed “you’re a fucking idiot and wrong”. Nothing more. Prove that you did point out something other than that. Go on. Where did you so point out? Which post? At what time?

    Also, got any other terms of abuse? Its’ quite funny watching you try to up the ante with every hate-post you make. Keep going..

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  32. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    “You just screamed ‘you’re a fucking idiot and wrong’.”

    I did no such thing although, I must confess that was my first instinct.

    You’re the one making the case that farmers are criminal fraudsters by virtue of not meeting their legitimate tax obligations. I initially pointed out that I was too bored and couldn’t be bothered explaining why you are ignorant in a technical context but generously directed you to the taxing act and invited you to read its provisions as they govern the taxation of land. I have subsequently invited you, as the hurler of this slander at our rural brethren, to substantiate your slander by reference to those statutory provisions. It would follow that if you have indeed established the veracity of your perspective, then my own argument as to the state of your fuckwittedness would fail. However, in that regard, I have made other comments in relation to the rationale of a land tax that are also relevant to my hypothesis that your are a fuckwit and I invite your view on those issues and arguments in the event that the impossible occurs and your slander is proven in law. That would in turn enable me to consider whether your fuckwit status need be reviewed in part or in whole.

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  33. bka (135 comments) says:

    vto, I suspect you are being directed to the “taxing act” because whether the farmers’ capital gain is deemed income is actually a matter of case law, not the Income Tax Act.

    I’ll take for my authority this article http://tinyurl.com/4l4ek6b which is also an interesting read on some of the difficulties and anomalies caused by not having a CGT. It’s Robin Oliver in 2000.

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  34. nickb (3,659 comments) says:

    Come on Labour. Just try and implement a capital gains tax and new top tax rate. I am needing a new overseas holiday.

    Accountants and lawyers are creaming it already from the confusing and inept new GST and LAQC law changes, Labour will make things more complicated.

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  35. nickb (3,659 comments) says:

    Unfortunately, I’m just too bored so I can’t even be bothered telling you why. But I will suggest that rather than relying on the same set of weetbix law library cards that the mad hatter water woman uses as a basis of her “considered opinions”, you trundle off down the road and buy yourself a copy of the tax act and then read it. Let me know if there are any words you don’t understand , like “section” and “part”.

    lol, well said sir

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  36. Tauhei Notts (1,604 comments) says:

    Nickb complains about accountants creaming it with the complexities of tax law.
    I have told people that paying accountancy fees must make them feel good; because the money is going to a good cause. I have watched listeners choke with rage.
    But seriously; Roger Douglas, the devil incarnate, wanted a flat tax rate in 1987. I have just seen a family’s tax situation; four people each with a taxable income of $44,000 (so as to maximise the Independent Tax Earner Credit) and the rest taxed at 30% because they have a company structure. This is a joke.
    Sir Roger’s flat tax rate would have avoided this sort of nonsense and the dickwits of society cannot see it.
    I get the impression that it is only tax accountants like me who can really appreciate the visionary nature of Sir Roger.
    It was a delight to read the wisdom of Robin Oliver.

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  37. nickb (3,659 comments) says:

    Nickb complains about accountants creaming it with the complexities of tax law.

    I’m not complaining, I meant I’m the one creaming it!

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  38. nickb (3,659 comments) says:

    Tauhei what do you make of the new GST and LAQC changes?

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  39. CharlieBrown (889 comments) says:

    I bet labour believes (and national would want you to think they believe) he is an unconscionable rich prick that is only concerned about living of the hard working lower classes. The fact is many people on the right wing don’t vote as they do because they gain from it. They, like myself actually know that a lower, flatter and simpler tax system with minimal government spending and interference will make us all better of in the medium to long term.

    Labour and national are only interested in appealing to the swinging voter, the selfish ones that ask “what do I get from it now?”. The die hard labour supporters vote for labour as they are addicted to welfare and being told how to live ie, “nanny state “. Welfare and nanny statism to the country is alot like heroin to a junky, it is addictive when you get to much of it, and to rid that addiction you have to go through a brief but tough and difficult withdrawal period… too many NZ’ers are junkies are as keen a junky to rid themselves of their vices.

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  40. Anthony (766 comments) says:

    We already have a selective capital gains tax which accountants and tax lawyers love as its all based on case law which only they know!

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  41. nickb (3,659 comments) says:

    Wrong Anthony. It is in any copy of the income tax Act.

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  42. grumpyoldhori (2,410 comments) says:

    KH, you are at some risk in suggesting that the government of the day robs us through GST only.
    Have you no heart, imagine the amount of accountants and tax lawyers starving on the street.
    Hmm, the idea has merit :-)

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  43. Anthony (766 comments) says:

    Wrong nickb – the application is governed by case law – the tax law essentially says if you purchased with the intention of resale then the sale is taxable. But how you apply such a stupid law is governed by case law!

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  44. Tauhei Notts (1,604 comments) says:

    Nickb asks what I think of the new GST measures and the Loss Attributing Qualifying Company regime.
    I have looked at the new GST measures and thought that now I have entered semi retirement I can delegate that sort of thing to the younger people. The change of use measures are just too tough for me to comprehend. The zero rating (as distinct from exempt), for GST purposes, of land transactions is long overdue.
    I believe that the new Look Through Companies will be a good idea. But I do not know why the present system needed to be changed, and what good the new changes will achieve.
    As regards tax saving measures; the best one I have seen is to pay your accounting fees invoice twice. That will save tax!

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  45. Anthony (766 comments) says:

    While I have great respect for Robin Oliver, he is simply wrong on the issue of capital gains tax. It is quite simple to tax any gain on the sale of any asset that has been used in a business whether it be farming or a rental business. If you start trying to index for inflation, etc then it gets complicated but the tax system doesn’t worry about inflation in other areas so it needs to do to everything or nothing. A low rate broad-based tax system is the way to go.

    And all you idiots that somehow think capital gains are sacred – we tax the gain on trees which are harvested 25 or more years after they are planted. Why not tax a rental property that has money poured into with the expectation of a capital gain?

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  46. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    Or a house, shares, your boat. And why a realisation basis? We tax capital gains on financial securities on an accrual basis.

    Why not do what that report 10 or so years ago recommended and tax ALL assets at an annual benchmark rate (as far as I recall, it proposed taxing assets by deeming income at something like the government bond rate). Then reduce income tax rates. In the process, we remove the inducement to invest in non-productive assets and stop discriminating against people who choose to save and invest instead of upgrading homes with capital gain expectations, not to mention dealing to the fuckwit vto’s “criminal fraudsters” in the form of the farming community. End of real estate bubble, WFF. People who don’t have homes have enhanced saving ability and people who choose not to buy no longer have to subsidise those who do through the current tax system.

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  47. smallgovernment (5 comments) says:

    Why should assets be taxed? Read about what’s happened in France as a consequence of their foolish wealth tax (short summary – almost everyone with any money has left). Trying anything along those lines here would just push us further towards a communist state, and lead to the flight of the few remaining people who actually own or produce anything.

    We need LESS tax taken by the government, and a land tax or a wealth tax is the most egregious method of all for increasing tax take. The country is already hobbled by the ever-increasing beneficiary class, and to further punish producers and savers would be ghastly.

    Not that I expect either of the vote-buying centrist parties to do anything substantially helpful.

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  48. thedavincimode (6,530 comments) says:

    smallgovernment

    The idea underlying capital gains taxes is to tax economic gains – something the present system doesn’t do because primarily it doesn’t tax capital gains. There are some exceptions to this in the area of taxing land and debt instruments where capital gains are taxed.

    From what I can recall of the proposals (it was 10 years or so ago) you were assessed on an arbitrary flat rate (close to if not the government bond rate) on all assets held. If you made no income or if it was less than the income you were deemed to earn, bad luck. If you earned more, good luck. This had a number of benefits including simplfying overseas investment, broadening the tax base and encouraging expenditure on productive assets. It addressed the issue raised on this thread regarding real estate because you got taxed on holding it and addressed the negatives of capital gains tax (discouraging sales or giving rise to excessive complication).

    It was not ever proposed as a revenue raiser; merely to tax all forms of economic gains and thereby broaden the tax base. The corollary of this change would have been a reduction of income tax rates. It would have addressed the arguably inequitable discrimination in favour of those who invested in housing (tax-free capital gains) and those who could not or preferred not to and chose instead to invest in taxable income-producing and productive capital assets.

    It certainly took a bit to get your head around it, but if it had been introduced it would have had a significant impact on patterns of investment (without creating a preference in favour of capital gain investments) and most of the abuse on this thread wouldn’t have arisen. Likely, house and land prices would not have soared and crashed as they have done and there would have been no rorts on housing.

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