Dear Sunday Age Letters Editor _______________ (9 May 2022)

Joanna Wriedt’s Letter “When did it go so wrong” (Sunday Age 8 May) concerning the grand dream that was once Canberra demands a serious answer. The national capital received its name officially on 12 March 1913 during what has become known as the Progressive Era. As political corruption and real estate speculation were not welcome following the 1893-97 depression, the Australian Capital Territory was founded on a leasehold system of land tenure. In 1969, however, Prime Minister John Gorton decided to abolish collection of ACT land rent.

The federal tax office had been founded to administer the 1910 land tax which ran in conjunction with land taxes at state and local government levels as the major source of Australian revenue. This changed with the introduction of income taxes.

In a 33 minute parliamentary speech on 24 February 1953, Labor Party leader Arthur Calwell vehemently attacked Prime Minister Menzies’ for having abolished the federal land tax the previous year, saying “We have always believed in the land tax, and when happy days come again we shall restore the measure, imposing the tax to the statute book of this country.”

But, no, in 1963 the Labor Party’s new national secretary Cyril Wyndham decided to write the land tax out of the ALP’s 1964 policy platform without the mandatory party vote. 

And so it was that from 1964 at national level both major parties had agreed that there should be no federal land tax to keep a lid on the property speculation and political corruption in which Australia has since become engaged.  

Bryan Kavanagh