Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Calling time on tax cuts
The Greens have a difficult sell ahead of them


At a time of mass cynicism about gutless, weathervane politicians who believe nothing and are looking out for their own interests, we should try to pause and acknowledge genuine policy bravery when it comes along. By opposing the whole pre-election budget package of income tax cuts proposed by the government, including the first stage offering low- and middle-income earners $10 a week, the Greens’ leader Richard Di Natale is trying to engage voters in a very different kind of conversation. He is trying to move beyond self-interested, hip-pocket politics, towards a discussion about what kind of country we want to be.

Paul Keating once said “never get between a premier and a bucket of money” and you could say the same thing about the dangers of getting between voters and a tax cut. A cynical view would be that we love a tax cut, against our better judgement, even when we say we don’t in opinion polls.

Today, the Parliamentary Budget Office released analysis of the income tax cuts, first requested by the Greens and tabled at Labor’s request at the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, which is inquiring into the government’s personal income tax cuts and will report in a fortnight, before the legislation is introduced. On ABC Radio’s AM this morning, Di Natale said the PBO analysis (available here), shows that the tax cuts will “massively increase inequality” and if the whole thing is passed, by the end of a decade will cost $144 billion.

As a doctor, Di Natale, has a powerful line against tax cuts, which he used at the party’s recent national conference in Brisbane: “When I hear tax cuts, I hear crowded emergency departments. I hear people having to pay more to go and see their GP. That’s what I hear. Could you imagine that instead of this bidding war on tax cuts, we invested that money in our health system so that people didn’t have to wait for years to have their hip replaced. Or so that they didn’t have to spend a night in an emergency department waiting for their child to be seen.”

It’s a big deal to call “time out” on decades of income tax cuts, which got underway in earnest in the late 1970s and early 1980s when John Howard was treasurer under Malcolm Fraser, the “bottom of the harbour” tax avoidance scheme was in the headlines, and the top marginal income tax rate was above 60 per cent. Back then, tax rates probably were too high. Four decades of cuts later, we are in danger of cutting off our nose to spite our face.

We have had years of downward envy and victim-blaming of welfare recipients, glossed over with hilarious poverty porn like Housos. Enough. In the real world, a friend in Newcastle recently posted on Facebook that his young son had a new mate over: “Jeez … hasnt gone to school for two days as he didn’t have lunch sad … two bowls of spaghetti Bol seemed to disappear … nice kid … made me very sad. This crap shouldn’t happen.” Or read Melissa Lucashenko’s stunning essay in Griffith Review, “Sinking below sight”, which tells the story of three mothers – black and white – trapped in a cycle of deprivation, hunger, addiction, and constant physical and sexual abuse in Brisbane’s “Black Belt”, Logan City. “Poverty continues to propel the children of the poor into the homes of paedophiles and wife-bashers all over Australia, with ongoing predictable consequences,” she writes.

As The Australia Institute’s chief economist Richard Denniss argues in this fantastic excerpt from his current Quarterly Essay, Dead Right, we do not have to tolerate endlessly rising inequality in this country, but actually have a choice: “Australia isn’t poor; it is rich beyond the imagining of anyone living in the 1970s or 80s. But so much of that new wealth has been vacuumed up by a few, and so little of that new wealth has been paid in tax, that the public has been convinced that ours is a country struggling to pay its bills.”

The Guardian is running this excellent series on life on the breadline, and Essential Media’s Peter Lewis wrote there yesterday that 92 per cent of Australians agree with the proposition that no one should go without basic essentials like food, healthcare, transport and power, concluding: “It is enough to make you think people are starting to look at themselves as part of a society, rather than just the economy.”

The Greens are unambiguously for a solid increase in Newstart of $75 a week (not per fortnight, as I wrote erroneously here last month), and for an increase in the minimum wage. It may or may not be clever politics for the Greens to argue against a low- and middle-income tax cut, and Richard Di Natale may or may not succeed, but at least he’s trying.

since this morning

Australia’s economy grew at 1 per cent in the March quarter, lifting annual growth to 3.1 per cent, the fastest pace in almost two years as the economy entered its 27th year of growth without a recession.

in case you missed it

Barnaby Joyce’s long-time rival Tony Windsor says [$] that the “whole story” about the embattled former deputy prime minister “hasn’t come out yet”, and refuses to rule out running again in New England.

The ABC reports that in the ruins of One Nation’s latest falling out, four conservative senators may form a loose voting bloc: Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, Katter’s Australian Party senator Fraser Anning, Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi and former Pauline Hanson loyalist Brian Burston.

Shaun Crowe reviews David McKnight’s recent book Populism Now! for Inside Story.

The Australian National University vice-chancellor has spoken out about the decision to pull out of negotiations with the John Howard–backed Ramsay Centre to set up a controversial degree in Western civilisation.

Former Nationals leader and farmer John Anderson cautioned [$] Malcolm Turnbull against what he says is politicising the current drought by attributing it to climate change.

by Quentin Sprague
‘The Field Revisited’ and ‘Robert Hunter’ at NGV Australia
Two exhibitions re-examine landmark Australian art

by Richard Cooke
Tired of Winning
Christ on a bike
The strange case of Jordan Peterson

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.

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