Stamp duty reform: the states and territories leading the way
Stamp duty is a big revenue raiser for governments, however it’s also a major hurdle for first-home buyers already struggling to save enough for a home deposit.
The tax also influences existing homeowners when they’re looking to upsize or downsize, delaying or restricting the number of homes that are able to come onto the market.
As home prices rise and housing affordability declines, calls have been growing ever louder for governments to replace hefty, up-front stamp duty costs with smaller and more incremental land taxes.
President of the Real Estate Institute of Australia, Hayden Groves, says stamp duty remains a major hurdle to first-home buyers, those wanting to move around the country or invest in much-needed rental supply.
While most states and territories offer stamp duty rebates for first-home buyers, Mr Groves said the decision by NSW to add existing homes to its stamp duty exemptions was a welcome change, given some states only applied concessions and waivers to new homes or vacant land.
“However, more needs to be done with the implementation of a deferred stamp duty payment option that works like a ‘HELP’ (HECS) debt is a necessary reform that would free up property markets across Australia,” he said.
Replacing stamp duty with a land tax would boost housing supply by freeing up more homes for sale. Picture: Getty
“NSW and ACT have implemented a version of this model, but both have adopted an approach that saw either huge increases in land taxes or a deferral of stamp duty that follows the property not the individual, further distorting the market.”
Following its election this year, NSW Labor scrapped the previous government's stamp duty reforms for future homeowners, which gave first-home buyers the option to pay stamp duty or an ongoing annual land tax when they purchased a property.
Instead, NSW Labor leader Chris Minns lifted the purchase price threshold for first-home buyer stamp duty exemptions from $650,000 to $800,000, and concessions from $800,000 to $1 million.
ACT the 'standout' in stamp duty reform
Having started a 20-year journey to phase out the tax in 2012, the ACT has been leading the way in stamp duty reform.
The territory has been slowly phasing out stamp duty while raising council rates, as part of a two-decade process to make it as equitable as possible for residents.
Last month, the ACT government took another step in that journey after expanding the stamp duty exemption to include dual occupancies and encourage homeowners to build a second home on their properties.
Proptrack senior economist Angus Moore said the ACT was the standout leader in replacing stamp duty with a broad-based land tax.
“It’s easier for the ACT because it’s a combined state and local government, so they don’t have that split between the state taxes and council rates,” he said.
“But the model is certainly one that other states could consider. The 20-year transition is a long time, but it has helped bring stamp duty burdens down pretty significantly in the ACT compared to where they otherwise would have been.”
Mr Moore said Victoria was also making in-roads on stamp duty reform, however not in the residential space.
Earlier this year, the Victorian government announced plans starting from next year to abolish stamp duty for commercial and industrial property.
From 1 July 2024, buyers of these types of properties will have the option to make a one-time stamp duty payment or pay it annually over a 10-year period.
“It’s a different model to what we’ve seen elsewhere and it’s an attractive way to undertake that transition,” Mr Moore said.
Why reform is so hard
Governments fear that replacing large, upfront stamp duty payments with smaller ongoing land tax payments will lead to holes in funding during the changeover period.
"For a tax that was supposed to be abolished with the commencement of the GST, state and territory governments revenue take from stamp duty is 10-30% of total revenues,” Mr Groves said.
While stamp duty reform is challenging, the benefits would go a long way to addressing Australia’s housing crisis.
NSW Premier Chris Minns scrapped the land tax option for future homeowners in the state. Picture: NewsWire / Monique Harmer
If stamp duty was reformed, the REIA estimates property listings would increase between 5-40%, depending on the jurisdiction, freeing up supply and easing the current housing shortage.
It says it would also provide governments with a more stable source of revenue that doesn't fluctuate as much, given the volatility of the housing market.