Each of the state and territory duty jurisdictions include declarations of trust over dutiable property (typically real estate) as dutiable transactions in one form or another. Without a declaration of trust head of duty, or an apt anti-avoidance provision, conveyancing duties that would by paid on a transfer of the dutiable property to B can be avoided by A declaring that property is held on trust for B though still held legally (on title) by A. Duty on a declaration of trust generally applies at full rates chargeable against the value of the dutiable property and differs from the head of duty which applies to declarations of trust which are not made over dutiable property to which a concessional duty or, in some states and territories, no duty will apply.
Duty eagerly assessed on the mention of a trust
So the Commissioners of State Revenues Australia wide are eager to assess any document to duty which purports to contain a declaration of trust over dutiable property which could be viewed as either:
- a transfer of beneficial interest in the property in substance; or
- a disguised transfer.
Integrity of the state revenues
That zeal can be understood in the context of the integrity of state revenues. In New South Wales, where a “declaration of trust” is a dutiable transaction under section 8 of the Duties Act 1997, Revenue NSW will treat documents which foreshadow or even just mention a trust over dutiable property as dutiable. Hence those who have an eye to the duty implications of deeds and documents that impact dutiable property are justifiably cautious about using the expression “on trust” in a deed or document where dutiable conveyance of the beneficial ownership of dutiable property by that document is not intended.
Ambit declaration duty rejected in W.A.
A recent case in Western Australia shows that duty on documents that state that dutiable property is held on trust can be too readily assessed as a declaration of trust by state revenue. The W.A. Court of Appeal in In Rojoda Pty Ltd v. Commissioner of State Revenue (WA)  WASCA 224 decided against the Commissioner where two deeds of dissolution of partnership in that case explicitly stated that a partner, the surviving registered owner of land, held dutiable property on trust for other surviving partners of the partnerships. The Court of Appeal found that the dissolution of two partnerships involving family members, whose business included property ownership and investment, were not declarations of trust and were not dutiable as declarations of trust over dutiable property.
It was determinative in Rojoda that the trusts recited in the deeds were confirmatory of trusts that already existed. It was significant that the Court of Appeal, in overturning a decision by the State Administrative Tribunal, was prepared to examine the equitable implications and the relevant legal and beneficial interests of the partners just before and on the execution of the deeds of dissolution of the partnerships. The Court of Appeal found that the legal and beneficial interests of the partners, just before the deeds were executed, were sufficiently comparable to the interests set out to be on trust in the deeds and thus held the deeds established no new trusts and thus did not declarations of trust in the context of the W.A. head of duty.
Identifiable new trust needed for a dutiable declaration of trust
The land had been used as partnership property of the partnerships. The Court of Appeal found that the wife, who was the surviving registered proprietor of the land, already held the land for the partners, which included the children of the wife and the husband, or their representatives. They thus had specific and fixed beneficial or equitable interests in the partnership properties before the deeds prepared for the dissolution of the partnerships were executed. These interests, reflecting their respective proportionate share of partnership property, were comparable interests to those said to be held on trust in the deeds. Thus the Court of Appeal found the trusts set out in the deeds were not new trusts declared over property dutiable in W.A.
The High Court has granted the Commissioner of State Revenue special leave to appeal in Rojoda. This case will likely inform what amounts to a declaration of trust dutiable in state and territory stamp jury jurisdictions.