What’s wrong with tax?

It is hardly surprising  that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is warbling the same old tune about taxes. In his election campaign launch last year, he harped on about ‘big new tax’ five times, railing against the Mineral Resources Rent Tax. He keeps singing the tune because Labor seems to keep handing him the sheet music, first with the proposed one-off flood tax and now with the new-but-not-so-new carbon price policy. (Abbott of course is skipping the coda, where his party similarly used levies to implement off-ledger schemes such as the gun buy-back and Ansett payouts).

The Coalition may be seduced by the idea that they’re on a winner, all this fear-mongering over the prospect of tax. However, no matter how cynical people might be about government, they still expect it to do something about the things that matter.

That is why the cock-and-bull over the flood levy did not gain as much traction as the Coalition might have hoped because — after blanket media coverage of the devastation in Queensland — enough people wanted to be taxed for the sake of getting parts of that State back on its feet. Abbott’s knee-jerk reaction to the proposed levy ended up being difficult to sustain: opposing it and offering cuts in its stead suggested that he had not really absorbed the magnitude of the reconstruction. Moreover, the proposed cuts themselves, including scrapping Federally-funded schools in Indonesia, paint the picture of a supposed alternative Prime Minister who just doesn’t get it.

Abbott is similarly out of touch when it comes to the recently proposed carbon scheme. The central idea of emissions reduction — forcing industry and business to innovate energy-efficient, pollution-averse means of production — is a done deal in the public mind. This is what Abbott hasn’t picked up: People want to do the right thing by the environment.

Why else were there wait lists for the Prius before it left the factory floor? Why else are households switching to green-energy providers? Why else did the Greens pick up more seats in the last election? In brief, we are already at critical mass. Savvy business heads have known this for while, as evidenced by the uptrend in ‘green’ marketing.

The Coalition may continue to sing the tune about how horrible taxes are and shame on Big Bad Government for even mentioning them. But the fact is that taxes serve vital functions under specific circumstances. They enable government to respond promptly and comprehensively to unforeseen (un-budgeted) events, including catastrophic natural disasters. They help shape behaviours toward national goals, such as reducing carbon-based energy consumption.

Of course it is appropriate for the Opposition to challenge government initiatives that take money from people. I’m not saying that we should be taxed to an inch of our lives. But it is extremely irresponsible to argue against taxes solely from the point of short-term self-interest — as if the Australian people are incapable of engaging with long-term benefits. I’d like to think that there are enough people who understand the idea of delayed gratification. Otherwise, we truly are an infantile electorate that deserve the leaders we get.

Categories: Politics and Governance

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2 replies

  1. Do you tolerate dissonant voices on your blog, Fatima?
    Reading your material, I wish I were twenty years younger and could enjoy discussing many things about the world with you. You have so much energy.
    People want to do the right thing, but is it a “done deal in the public’s mind”? I thought the polls were showing otherwise. I want to suggest you do some research on ‘the wall of money’ that is behind monetizing CO2. Many people with honourable intentions are being used by cynical profiteers. The type of profiteers that we fought against as young people decades ago.
    So I feel for the younger generation. As we were with the Ozone Hole (it’s back), and before that with Rachel Carson’s DDT scare and Global Cooling in the 1970s (we swallowed it all), so you have with the Greenhouse Scare…been sold a pup, I mean.
    And wasn’t part of the flood levy opposition you mentioned due to government wastage in other programs, like the BER? At my child’s school they paid $50,000 for a tin shed that advertises for under $5,000 in those annoying letterbox flyers.
    It comes down to wastage. The much-reviled Lord Monckton, like yourself a Catholic, I believe, argues that the money that is being wasted on monetizing CO2 could help the world’s poor. Bjorn Lomborg who wrote The Skeptical Environmentalist argues the wasted money could provide clean drinking water for the developing world.
    Anyway, the PM is now broadcasting her speech on the Carbon Tax (it is Sunday July 9th 2011) so I better amp up the telly and have a listen. Wonder if Mr Flannery will be there too?

    • Thanks for your comments, Oksanna. You raise some fair points. But from what I can work out (excuse me if I misunderstand)
      * It is the corporatisation or profiteering that ends up sabotaging legitimate responses to structural problems. The BER, for example, partly insulated the economy from the GFC. That it was misused reflects the flaws in regulation or accountability, rather than the program itself. I’m genuinely sorry to hear that your child’s school got cheated.
      * None of those things you mention (ozone hole, DDT impacts, and global cooling) have been discredited, unless you can point me to material that says so. The idea of climate change is not something that’s appeared out of nowhere for ‘our’ generation. Back in the 1980s when my mum was teaching primary school in a small town in the Philippines, she was already teaching about greenhouse gases and global warming. It’s not a trendy cause celebre. It’s reality.
      * Finally, I am not dismissive of ideas of ‘waste’ which is a valid concern, but at the same time, I’m wary of false dilemmas. Clean drinking water doesn’t mean much to agriculture-reliant societies that live on increasingly saline fields due to rising seawater. I am for mitigating the effects of climate change, but I think that comes hand in hand with overhauling for good the way we produce and consume (which *is* linked to climate change).

      Thanks again for taking time to engage with me on ideas. Do come back.

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