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Bureaucrats demand sleep diary for three years!

Bureaucrats demand sleep diary for three years!

One CLA member has run into what he calls ‘hypocritical bullies’ administering land tax. He has had to produce a ‘sleep diary’ for three years – yes, three years – to prove he lives where he lives. What’s next – a thought diary to prove you haven’t thought any bad thoughts against government bureaucrats,

Story begins:

The Treasurer of South Australia, Mr Kevin Foley, recently promised during a radio interview to cut land tax if his government is returned in the March state election. Transcript and reader comments (including by CLA member, Trevor Cocks):

Trevor Cocks writes:

My concern is not so much the land tax itself, but the way Mr Foley’s revenue department administers the tax act and how they seem to arbitrarily assess exemption status.

Their decisions seem to be based on ambiguous criteria that is supposed to define principle place of residence (PPR). It is a definition which varies from state to state
for each land tax act. For example, in the ACT it is defined according to whether the property is rented or not, and in NSW only properties valued over $300,000 attract land tax.

In SA the assessment of land tax exemption is far more complicated and it has become clear to me that not every home owner is treated equally.

Although land tax was supposed to be abolished when the GST (goods and services tax) started, state governments continue to charge some property owners with land tax. The administrative process for collecting this tax varies between the states, but in SA it appears to be based on very arbitrary guidelines that can make their decisions quite discriminatory and unfair. I can illustrate this with my own experience:

Mr Foley and his department, Revenue SA, asked me to produce a diary of overnight stays for the past three (3) years in order to get land tax exemption for my PPR in Adelaide, the only property I have in SA. It seems I lost its land tax exempt status because of a Revenue SA error: they posted me a bill that was returned unclaimed because they had sent it to the wrong address.

I was temporarily in Canberra at the time when a staffer in RevenueSA incorrectly addressed the bill. When I complained about this and applied to have my exempt status reinstated, I was asked to prove that I slept at my Adelaide property more nights than not over the past three years. I refused on the grounds that such personal and security information about a citizen should not be collected by governments for fear of potential misuse.

I asked SA Legislative Councillor John Darley to represent me in discussions with Mr
Foley about my situation, but the outcome was much the same, except for a list of even more sensitive requirements to prove PPR. Apparently, there was an attempt to discredit me by suggesting RevenueSA had taped telephone conversations of me that prove I only occasionally live at the Adelaide address and that they had visited the property and found no one at home. When asked to produce what would have been illegal tapes, they backed off and admitted that no one had actually visited the property.  In other words, someone working for Mr Foley appears ready to use a fib and bully tactics until challenged. This surely is a dangerous misuse of bureaucratic power.

As a form of additional punishment for complaining about their treatment, I had to provide daily sleep diaries for my whereabouts over the past three (3) years in both SA and interstate!

I also had to produce copies of income tax returns, insurance papers and answers to a set of other intrusive questions, all of which seem somewhat unrelated to their
published criteria for PPR. When I provided some of this information (eg. comparative contents insurance for my PPR and a small country house that I was renovating and using as an office for a small part-time interstate business), this was still not enough. They wanted those sleep diaries!

Mr Foley made it clear that it is entirely my choice as to whether I provide more information to his department…but, if I don’t, I have to pay land tax on my principal place of residence, even though it was RevenueSA’s error that abolished my existing exemption.

While members of Mr Foley’s state government seem quite sensitive about any questioning of their own sleeping arrangements (such as in the case of the Premier, Mr Rann), they obviously have no respect for the privacy of the sleeping arrangements of their citizens.

I am looking forward to voting against hypocritical bullies at the state election.

Trevor Cocks,
Adelaide, SA

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