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Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2024

Senator TROETH (10.57 a.m.) —I rise to speak on the part of the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No.4) which deals with providing a rebate to taxpayers who undertake approved expenditure of at least $10,000 on certain conservation work to buildings. I must declare an interest in this debate as I have been a member of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) for some 30 years. I note that Senator Ian Macdonald is present in the chamber, and I understand that he is a member of the National Trust of Queensland.

Senator Panizza —And you are both doing a good job.

Senator TROETH —I thank Senator Panizza very much. The introduction of the tax incentive rebate for private owners of heritage properties represents a most important initiative for heritage conservation in Australia. I know that the national trust movement and other heritage organisations have lobbied for a long time for the introduction of a scheme such as this. Those people who are living in or who own historic buildings have an onerous responsibility not only for the maintenance of the physical fabric of the building but also to look after those buildings in the hope that they will continue to survive and mean something to succeeding generations.

  Many of these property owners have inherited their property through the family and the property may have been in that family for many generations. But with the upsurge of interest in the conservation movement, many of these owners have also acquired them in recent years as a result of taking a genuine interest in historic buildings. At a time when we do look back and consider our nation's history as we approach the year 2000, there is a growing interest in our heritage. We can only hope that the National Trust and other heritage bodies will benefit from this renewed enthusiasm. Through what one could only describe as a paucity of financial resources, it is not possible for the trust and other bodies to help owners maintain their buildings through the provision of financial help. It is a long overdue reform for tax incentives to be made available for building owners.

  While welcoming this initiative, it is important to realise that not all heritage properties are high value large buildings, such as Como in Victoria or Vaucluse in New South Wales. Many of the heritage buildings which are so important to our sense of nationhood are much smaller and represent the lives of earlier settlers who came to Australia to make a better life for themselves and their families. It is for that reason that the coalition wishes to amend this legislation to make the approved expenditure level $5,000 instead of $10,000.  I am thinking in particular of the many small stone and timber cottages dotted throughout Victoria and of the efforts made to save them by dedicated individuals who are prepared to devote time and money to retrieving part of the national heritage.

  Not all of these owners would be able to reach the level of the minimum $10,000 expenditure requirement. I ask that all senators support the coalition amendment that the minimum expenditure requirement be reduced to $5,000 in one year. This would mean that certain groups in the community, such as low income earners, would not be disadvantaged in their efforts to restore their homes.

  In advocating the introduction of this scheme, I am sure it was never intended that it be elitist in nature, but by reducing the minimum expenditure amount to $5,000 many more property owners would be given the incentive to maintain the property. Much of the maintenance work required in restoring and maintaining old houses, such as the provision of dampcourses, rewiring, reroofing and so on, involves considerably less expenditure than $10,000. Indeed, many owners embark on a small-scale but nevertheless constant attempt to spend a certain proportion of money on their property in order to keep it free from damp and other invaders. But the expenditure may not necessarily reach the $10,000 level, and I am concerned that many property owners would be put off attempting further restoration if it did not reach the $10,000. If we reduced the level to $5,000, a start could be made on conserving our heritage for future generations.

  The other amendment that the coalition has foreshadowed is the one dealing with the recognised heritage register. I know that the National Trust has concerns about this. This legislation proposes that applications for a provisional certificate must be for historic buildings or structures listed on the Commonwealth or state territory registers. The trust and the coalition are concerned that this is a flawed argument. Major discrepancies exist at the state and territory level about the comprehensiveness of the respective lists and, therefore, whether there is a level playing field when it comes to assessing applications. For example, Tasmania does not have state heritage legislation and therefore does not have a state register. Western Australia and the Northern Territory have introduced heritage legislation only in the past few years and therefore their register lists are relatively small. In Western Australia, for example, there are about 230 places on the register.

  Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that a large percentage of the Commonwealth or state and territory registers are in fact listings of public buildings and many of the listings are duplicated on these registers. The National Trust classified lists are far more substantial and contain a large number of privately owned properties. It is for this reason that the coalition has moved that, for the purposes of the meaning of heritage conservation works, the National Trust classified lists are, until 30 June 1995—that is, in something like 14 or 15 months time—deemed to be a recognised heritage register. This would allow the Commonwealth and state territory register lists to be overhauled and advanced to a level where they could form a feasible level for looking at these properties. For those reasons, I join with my colleagues in advocating the adoption of the amendments moved by the coalition.