House of Representatives

Treasury Laws Amendment (Housing Tax Integrity) Bill 2017

Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Fees Imposition Amendment (Vacancy Fees) Bill 2017

Explanatory Memorandum

(Circulated by authority of the Treasurer, the Hon Scott Morrison MP)

Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights

Prepared in accordance with Part 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011

Annual vacancy fee

3.98 This Schedule is compatible with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments listed in section 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011.

Overview

3.99 This Schedule aims to create a larger stock of available housing in Australia by creating an incentive for foreign persons who own residential property to either occupy that property or make it available for rent on the rental market through the creation of a vacancy fee which will apply if a residential property is not occupied for at least 183 days in a 12 month period.

Human rights implications

3.100 This Schedule engages the following human rights and freedoms:

·
the right to protection from unlawful or arbitrary interferences with an individual's privacy; and
·
the right to be free from discrimination.

Right to privacy

3.101 Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prohibits unlawful or arbitrary interferences with a person's privacy, family, home or correspondence. It also provides that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. The Human Rights Committee has interpreted the term 'unlawful' to mean that no interference can take place except in cases envisaged by law, which itself must comply with the provisions, aims and objectives of the ICCPR. The Human Rights Committee has also indicated that an interference will not be considered to be 'arbitrary' if it is provided for by law and is in accordance with the provisions, aims and objectives of the ICCPR and is reasonable in the particular circumstances.

3.102 Privacy is a concept which is broad in scope and includes a right to information privacy. The Schedule directly engages the right to privacy under Article 17 of the ICCPR because it requires the provision of information to the Commissioner of Taxation (Commissioner).

3.103 It is anticipated that the approved form will require an individual who is a foreign person who has an interest in a residential dwelling in Australia to provide the Commissioner with information relevant to the dwelling's occupancy during the 12 month period called the vacancy year.

3.104 If a person fails to submit a vacancy return the person may be liable to a civil penalty of 250 units. Further, a failure to submit the vacancy return will result in a deemed vacancy for that dwelling in the vacancy year. These measures are designed to encourage compliance with the vacancy fee regime.

3.105 The information collected under this statute may only be used or disclosed for the purposes authorised by the Privacy Act 1988. This minimises the risk of information about identified or identifiable individuals being used or disclosed for an unauthorised purpose.

3.106 The circumstances in which information may be collected and used are clearly defined by the Bill and are therefore a lawful interference with the right to privacy. Moreover, as it would not be possible to achieve the objectives of the statute without collecting some information about identifiable individuals, these limitations on the right to privacy are reasonable in the circumstances and do not interfere with the right to privacy of those individuals more than is necessary to achieve the legitimate objective of determining that a residential property is occupied.

Right to be free from discrimination on prohibited grounds

3.107 Article 26 of the ICCPR recognises that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination to the equal protection of the law. Article 26 further provides that 'the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as national origin. However, the Human Rights Committee has recognised that 'not every differentiation of treatment will constitute discrimination, if the criteria for such differentiation are reasonable and objective and if the aim is to achieve a purpose which is legitimate under the Covenant'.

3.108 The Bill also generally engages the rights protected by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Paragraph 1 of Article 1 of International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination defines the term 'racial discrimination' to mean 'any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field of public life'. Under Article 2(a)(a) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, [E]ach State Party undertakes to engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons or institutions and to ensure that all public authorities and public institutions, national and local shall act in conformity with this obligation'. Under Article 5 of International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination States Parties 'undertake to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to ...national ...origin, to equality before the law' in the enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the 'right to own property alone as well as in association with others'.

3.109 The Bill limits Article 26 of the ICCPR and Articles 2 and 5 of International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination because the core obligations imposed by the Bill only apply to a 'foreign person'. While an Australian citizen who is not ordinarily resident in Australia may be a 'foreign person' for the purposes of this Act, it is anticipated that the majority of individuals who are directly affected by this Bill will not be Australian citizens.

3.110 While the Bill, if enacted, will primarily affect individuals who are citizens of countries other than Australia, there is no less restrictive way of achieving the objectives of the Bill. Accordingly those limitations are reasonable, necessary and proportionate.

Conclusion

3.111 This Schedule is compatible with human rights because to the extent that they may limit human rights, those limitations are reasonable, necessary and proportionate.


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