The proposed capital gains tax will be a blunt instrument that will hit some people hard and leave others unscathed, writes Federated Farmers Manager General Policy, Nick Clark.

One of the key arguments made by supporters of a capital gains tax is that it will make the tax system fairer. But will it?

Each of us will have a different idea of what fairness means. With tax, most people would agree the more you earn the more tax you should pay.

But what about a tax system that results in the top 11 per cent of income earners paying 42 per cent of income tax and the bottom 19 per cent paying virtually zero?


That's how our current tax system works, even before taking into account Working for Families and independent earner tax credits which skew the numbers even more.

Read more from Federated Farmers here.

Is income alone a fair reflection of ability to pay? Should we also consider on fairness grounds taxing income from capital?

Many - perhaps most - would say yes.

But remember that we already do, both indirectly and in some cases directly.

Business assets and land used for business purposes is liable for tax on the income generated from those assets and land.

Those who buy and sell assets and land for a living as traders will also pay tax on the proceeds. Property owners also pay rates to their local councils.

So do we need a capital gains tax on top of that?


Quite a few people think so, but the biggest fairness problem with the proposed capital gains tax is that it will be a blunt instrument that will hit some people hard and leave others unscathed.

It is strange logic to suggest a capital gains tax will be fair when business assets will be captured while owner-occupier housing and personal items like boats, art collections, and jewellery will not.

How would it be fair that the sale of a $5 million owner-occupied luxury home in Auckland or Queenstown will be exempt while the sale of a $4 million farm will be captured?

One would provide a tax-free retirement income on sale and the other will not.

Farmers have been attacked for allegedly not paying enough income tax and that a capital gains tax is needed to address this.

The reality is that the amount of tax farmers pay will sometimes be low and will sometimes be high.

This is because farmers' incomes and especially their profitability are highly volatile, much more so than for any other business or any wage and salary earner.

As John F Kennedy said, farmers are the only businesses that buy retail and sell wholesale.

They are at the mercy of global economic forces and the vagaries of the weather.

These ill-informed attacks also ignore the substantial amount of tax farmers pay in GST and in excise taxes as well as being unpaid tax collectors in the form of their employees' PAYE, ACC levies and other source deductions.

And don't get farmers started on their rates bills.

Most farmers would rather be making a decent return while they are farming.

But for many the only way they can justify their businesses, to themselves, to their families and especially to their banks, is the expectation that when they sell they will be able to pay off their debt and retire with some reward for many years of what is hard and often stressful work.

This stress is not being helped by government policies being promoted across a number of fronts.

Freshwater management, climate change, indigenous biodiversity, employment, immigration, and now tax are all causing much anxiety.

Many farmers are feeling beleaguered and embattled and are not feeling understood, let alone supported, by the public, the media and by politicians.

It's little wonder that various business and farming confidence surveys (including Federated Farmers' own six-monthly Farm Confidence Surveys) are so negative and that word has been filtering through of farmers who are under severe mental and emotional stress.

Farmers are finding it increasingly tough to reconcile their view of fairness with those of the proponents of a capital gains tax or other government policies that will make life even harder for them.

So the next time a politician stands up and talks about fairness, take a moment to think about what this often used and arguably abused term actually means to those on the receiving end.