David Jochinke: Fire services levy too high

THE Victorian Farmers Federation has called on the State Government to review the new fire services levy, which it believes is slugging farmers on the urban fringe and other areas with high land values.

The influential lobby group has met staff at the Treasurer's office and written to the State Government requesting a review of the tax, which it previously described as a fairer system but which has doubled the price some farmers pay.

Federation vice-president David Jochinke of Murra Warra said farmers on the outskirts of the city and towns and in coastal areas were hit particularly hard.

Mr Jochinke said the federation supported the new levy, which funds the state's fire services and was a recommendation of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, but the model needed to be tweaked.

"The levy shouldn't be so high,'' he said. "It would be fine if the land had houses all over it, but it's open farmland, it's no different from farmland anywhere else in the state.''

He said it was unfair that the levy was based solely on capital-improved values it should instead be based on the capital-improved value minus the site value.

The Property Council of Australia has also raised concerns about the controversial new levy and its impact on building owners.

Under changes that took effect in July, municipal councils collect the levy through rates, replacing a previous levy on insurance premiums.

State Treasurer Michael O'Brien said the federation had strongly supported the Coalition reforms to the levy, and the changes were a significant win for its members.

"Farmers have historically been the strongest supporters of moving to a property-based levy and these reforms save Victorian farmers around $17 million a year," he said.

He would not say whether the levy would be reviewed.

"Every dollar raised by the fire services levy goes to funding our fire services, which are now receiving more funding than at any time under the former Labor government,'' Mr O'Brien said.

Fourth-generation Phillip Island farmer Bill Cleeland, who is also the branch president of Bass Coast VFF, said he was shocked to discover his levy had risen by 200 per cent under the changes, from $455 a year to $1062.

While he supported a levy, he said the model was unfair because it did not reflect a farmer's fire risk or capacity to pay.

"If you have a farmland, like us, which is on the coast and has sea views, you will pay a high levy,'' he said.

"The capital-improved value of the farm has no reflection on its capacity to produce.''

Shadow treasurer Tim Pallas, who has previously called for a review of the new levy, said the government seemed unconcerned about the negative impact of the tax on many Victorians.

He called for new powers for the Fire Services Levy Monitor, now headed by Professor Allan Fels.

"They should have the powers to look into the operation and give policy advice to government on what they can do to improve the system and take away some of the obvious glitches and unintended consequences that the levy is having,'' Mr Pallas said.

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