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