Larnoch Castle, Otago

The New Zealand Land Value Rating Association

—a Short History
by Bob Keall

The original Provinces of NZ drew their revenues from the sale and lease of land. When the Provinces were replaced by Local Government in 1876 Rates were based on the Annual Rental Value, as in England. Within 6 years it became apparent, with most properties being sold rather than rented, the Capital Value was a more realistic base. Accordingly Councils were permitted to switch to or from Capital or Rental value by resolution. Both are based on the composite value of the land and improvements and are but the capitalised/annualized version of the other.

About this time the writings of John Stuart Mill, Henry George and others drew attention to the unearned increase in land values generated by growing communities whether from pressure of population or derived from public works. As a result Sir George Grey and his associates not only introduced a Land Tax but also a measure allowing local Rates to be collected from land values alone if a poll of ratepayers required it. The measure was blocked by the Upper House for three years but in 1896 it became possible for 15% of Ratepayers to demand that a poll be held to decide whether the Rates should be collected from the Unimproved Value only, exempting the improvements. Under this dispensation hundreds of Rating Polls were held.

Around the turn of the century there was an active Single Tax League which published 5000 copies per month of the magazine called "The Liberator" advocating Henry George's ideas in general and Unimproved Value Rating in particular.

In 1924 the NZ Land Values League was incorporated with Hon. George Fowlds as President and Justice P.J. O'Regan as Vice-President and Chairman. In 1932 it appears to have gone into recess but was revived in 1943 under the chairmanship of Rolland O'Regan (son of P.J. O'Regan), with 20 members, and the name NZ League for the Taxation of Land Value (Inc). One of Rolland's early initiatives was to invite Miss Betty Noble to NZ to run Henry George classes. These commenced in 1950 along with monthly meetings to discuss topical issues. Over the post-war boom years interest flagged, members died, and U.V. Rating became almost universal and largely taken for granted, with any sporadic attention possible or necessary being undertaken by Rolland. Nevertheless Betty persisted in running classes, with or without assistance, for the next 25 years, in the YMCA, the Polytech or in her own home. She has influenced many hundreds of people with George's ideas.

In 1964 the name was changed to the NZ Unimproved Value (later Land Value) Rating Association to focus on Rating. Rating Bulletins were frequently issued to Local Government members, discussing topical issues and encouraging polls to make mandatory LV Rating even more imperative.

In 1968, Rolland recognised Land Value Taxation in any form was vulnerable to the whim of every Minister of Finance or by Local Government at every level every year. (In 1896 the gestation period of Land Value Rating had been three years in NZ's Upper House about the time when Rolland's father (P.J.) and Sir George Grey were in Parliament. Finally the dispensation was granted allowing a petition to demand a poll on the issue of Land Value Rating. Despite the rapid success thereafter at the hands of Ratepayers there remained a crafty opposition who constantly tinkered with it, confusing even the most assiduous student.)

On this basis Rolland reconsidered his inherited ascription to Land Value Taxation and submitted a paper to the 12th International Union Conference at Caswell Bay, Wales, September 1968. In this he proposed "State Leaseholds as the basis for Land Reform." That was 40 years ago. In support, he noted the established precedents in Australia and NZ and the advocacy of a leading jurist in Australia. (Hon. Justice Rae Else-Mitchell)

In advancing his case he was mindful of the political hazards of Land Value Taxation and the practical problem of the ever-diminishing tax base as the tax increased. He was also aware of those other natural resources like minerals, water rights, airwaves, some forestry, fishing, electricity generation and distribution etc. for which Land Value Taxation was impractical.

Accordingly he sought to institutionalize the principal of Resource Rental by whatever means was most appropriate. One member at the Conference regarded the proposal as the most sense he had ever heard at a conference and proposed to fund Rolland for full-time work on it. On the strength of that initial gesture Rolland published his books.

In 1980 he published "Te Ara Tika" (The Right Track/Road/Way—for NZ), elaborating his views on leasehold tenure as the basis for a stronger economy to be derived from greater integration with Australia, essential to support an adequate common defence policy. Two years later the CER (Closer Economic Relations) Agreement with Australia was signed by the National Government, but without the proposed economic base.

By 1982 hundreds of Rating Polls had been held, so that in just 86 years 90% of all Municipalities had by poll adopted Land Value Rating which accounted for 80% of local Government revenue. The main dissidents were remote rural areas, a few Counties with a dairy factory carrying a big proportion of the Rates, the old Boroughs on the Auckland isthmus largely parasitic on Auckland City, Lower Hutt (then a dormitory suburb of Wellington without its own hard core of land values), and Queenstown—a wild-west type speculators' paradise.

By the early '80s regular meetings had become impractical with a dwindling, widely dispersed membership and with Rolland's failing health. In 1984 incorporation was abandoned for those reasons.

In 1985/86 Rolland crystalised his representations on Local Government Finance and addressed them to the Labour Party Policy Council, and the Caucus Committee on Local Government With his credentials within the Party and in Local Government, plus the Labour Party's formal adoption of Land Value Rating in 1948 (of which he reminded them) he reasonably expected some progress from the new Labour Government.

The Land Tax which in 1922 accounted for 10% of the Budget had steadily atrophied to about 0.4% in 1987. Rolland steadfastly, eloquently and effectively opposed any assault on this charge and finally urged it be allocated to Regional Local Government for major works or disaster relief. A vested interest such as that would have entrenched it irrevocably, in the right place (refer "Rates Relief"). For those who see the ultimate objective as the collection of the full economic land rent at the local level this would have just about sewn it up. A quiet bloodless revolution democratically achieved. . Having had no response after a year he widened his approach, with scant response once again—ominously in hindsight. Instead the Labour Government abolished the Land Tax in mindless, futile, political expediency, at a time of Rolland's incapacitation.

In 1988, when we expected the Labour Government to crown 100 years of progress with success, it moved to destroy it.

It seems that during 1987 the then Government let it be known that it favoured Capital Value Rating—for the wrong reasons (infra). Accordingly, in 1988 devious reversions to Capital Value began. Christchurch moved from partial Land Value back to full Capital Value by Council resolution when we believe a poll should have been held. Dunedin fragmented its General Rate into Separate & Special Rates so they could then be changed by Council Resolution without recourse to the Ratepayers, and despite their vociferous protest march. The Mayor, Sir Clifford Skeggs, threatened to take his Council to Court. The Council action was not in fact illegal but clearly a misuse of its powers. In 1953 the Dunedin Ratepayers had voted for Land Value Rating with a dramatic increase in building permits as a consequence. In Wellington a year-long Rates Review Committee came down firmly in favour of retaining Land Value with an adjustment to the Differentials between City Centre and Suburbs. Nevertheless, the then Mayor contrived to have Capital Value narrowly adopted but needed an Order-in-Council to validate his procedures which a QC and the local press regarded as illegal.

In 1987/88 the new Labour Minister for Local Government began the restructuring of Local Government. In the Rating Powers Act 1988/89 the Government withdrew the traditional right to demand a poll, at the same time as it propounded the merits of "local decisions locally made!" He then promoted a reversion to Capital Value Rating wherever he could, finally proposing that wherever Capital Value Rating had been, or was ever adopted, (by Council resolution now) it would be irreversible. That was dropped. Meanwhile the grapevine had early delivered its message. So that Dunedin, Christchurch and finally Wellington reverted to Capital Value by means various, definitely devious and contrary to popular reaction. Rolland was quietly mortified. Ninety years of progress, every step democratically achieved, vandalized and undone by erstwhile colleagues prepared to do by stealth what no known enemy had dared to do.

The change to Capital Value, in his beloved Wellington especially, devastated him. His shining example of urban renewal to Auckland and the world, of a city united, cleanly and honestly run without faction, division or strife; rescued from partial to complete Land Value in 1927 by his own father reversing the Council's endeavours; now sold out, clumsily, illegally, arbitrarily, contrary to popular input and with a Knighthood for the perpetrator.

Subsequent Council attempts elsewhere to revert to Capital Value have contentiously failed due to vigorous popular opposition galvanized by this Association. So that due to Rolland's continued efforts Land Value Rating has become entrenched as the norm and any attempt to remove it excites the demand for Citizens Initiated Referenda on any issue, including Rates.

Since the time of restructuring in 1989, combining urban with rural areas the 90% of municipalities which by poll had adopted Land Value Rating has been reduced to about 40% (infra). Wherever Land Value Rating applies it has been adopted by poll of Ratepayers, representing a lot of work and profound social concern. Wherever Capital or Annual Value Rating applies it has been imposed by Government or Councils, contrary to the express wish of the Ratepayers in almost every case.

In 1990 the Minister introduced the measure that would abolish Annual Rental Value Rating and would make Capital Value Rating irreversible wherever it was in place or might be adopted subsequently. The move failed and the Government changed at the end of that year. Since then there have been several moves by Councils to revert to Capital Value. All have been so vigorously opposed by Ratepayers, even without the right to demand a poll, that Councils have backed off. A typical instance of this was the postal poll in Waitakere where a determined attempt by Council was rejected by more than 8:1, in line with others in Palmerston North, Horowhenua, Dannevirke, New Plymouth, Kaipara, Tararua, Waimakariri and Franklin. One or two moves have succeeded but have later been reversed. One or two changes have stuck—uncomfortably. Some have compromised with a mix of Land and Capital Value, for no apparent reason. In 2006 Manukau City adopted ARV. The change was fraught with dissent, illogical reasoning and has yet to be vindicated. A valid confusing consideration in the moves to revert to Capital Value arises from the amalgamation of urban rural areas (supra) which previously raised and spent their own Rates. Amalgamation can mean that a highly valued rural property might be paying for urban facilities. The solution is not to revert to Capital Value Rating, but to apply a Differential Land Value Rate which relates income to expenditure in both town and country permitting each to enjoy the advantages of Land Value Rating but not at the expense of the other.

The practical consensus now seems to be a basic Land Value Rate with Differentials to distinguish between Residential, Rural and Commercial zones and to offset the advantages of tax-deductibility enjoyed by some, supplemented by UACs [Uniform Annual Charges]. NB: The Differentials should not be extended to allow a hotch-potch of inner city zoning dispensations, or political contrivance.

Rates now required to meet the widening cost of Regional Government due to devolution from Central Government should be accompanied by the shared Land Value Rate proposed. (Refer "Rates Relief") Revenue sharing, they call it! Local responsibility for the allocation of funds is preferable to politically motivated Government grants.

Finally—The World Bank

This historical sketch shows that by about 1990 Land Value Rating had become an example to the world, and should be made mandatory, on the evidence! Significantly the Government-led assault on this coincided with the privatization of Telecom, NZ Rail, and others, largely to foreign interests, ravaging our Current Account since.

Sir Roger Douglas, Minister of Finance at that time, is said to have later become the highest paid agent for the World Bank. It has been reported he went to Mongolia to persuade them to put their natural resources on the world markets enabling "Mums and Dads" anywhere to participate in the World Bank's initiative.

For years now our senior Reserve Bank and Treasury staff have been trained at the World Bank. To them "Land" (i.e. natural resources) is just another form of Capital1, wherein Rent and Interest are synonymous, and regulating one regulates the other. It doesn't. Easy money means dear land and low wages, currently a serious topical issue. Capital should be the savings from the wages of labour. Wages and interest should move in tandem. Labour should be the Capitalist, not the "landowner" collecting Rent disguised as interest.

The assault on Land Value Rating coincidental with the sale of natural monopolies 2 exemplifies a contrived coordination of

  1. relieving natural resources of any public charges to enhance the privatized unearned speculative value,
  2. privatizing natural monopoly profits—both wrongfully, at the expense of the public sector.

It indicates an infiltration of the Labour Party by the World Bank to neutralise effective, redical opposition to the New Right global agenda of privatising natural resources: i.e. owning the Earth and privatising the rent—a sacrosanct industry!

In 1993 our paper to The Melbourne International Conference was entitled "NZ Crucible For The World". It still is, which may account for the subversion above.

In 1997 we widened our purview and where appropriate have made representations, under the heading "Resource Rentals for Revenue and Justice"—paying for what we hold or take, not what we do or make.

Land Value Rating is an expression of that and distinguishes public from private property.

1 "The Corruption of Economics"—Dr. Mason Gaffney, Prof. Economics, University of California. (Download pdf ... )

2 Natural monopolies are rights to land, water, airwaves, minerals, fisheries, hydro-power generation and supply, any public utility such as a port, airport, or the monopolistic rights to reticulate wires, pipes, rails, roads, and the like; even the right to poll.