Public consultation for Victoria's Local Government Rating System Review winds up this week with two days of public hearings in Melbourne.
Pressure placed on government by the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) initiated this review, and our members have been involved with the review process every step of the way.
In presenting to the review panel this Thursday, the VFF will send a strong message that council rates are broken and are producing inequitable outcomes for all rural ratepayers, not just farmers.
We will also call for a complete overhaul to how rates are collected across the state.
You know the system is broken when a $300,000 property in Kerang pays $2400 in rates and a similarly valued property in Toorak pays just $390.
If we are ever going to see a fair and equitable rating system for farmers, we must first deal with the serious inequities between Melbourne and our regions.
That's why the VFF is calling for a comprehensive overhaul of the rating system through an equalised funding model where the state government redistributes rate revenue to local government on the basis of equity and need.
The state government should establish a state-wide general rate in the dollar-based on the valuation of all property.
Revenue would then be redistributed on the basis of the state-wide minimum service and infrastructure levels, equity and need, similar to how the government already distributes GST money to local government.
This will help create robust and transparent governance within the system, provide a sustainable funding base for disadvantaged rural council and bring about greater financial accountability for metropolitan councils.
In addition to a redistribution of funds, the VFF has called for the reintroduction of minimum and maximum rates alongside five-year average valuations for property, separation of house and curtilage from farmland and mandatory differential rates for farmland.
These additional measures can and should be implemented immediately to bring about a degree of fairness for farmers.
However, if equity between all ratepayers is to be achieved in the long-term, now is the time to set about the process to create an equalised rating system that delivers for all ratepayers.