Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

An unfair go
There’s taxpayer largesse for the wealthy, austerity for the poor

Source: Twitter

Two stories today say everything that’s wrong with aspirational politics in this country. In the Nine newspapers this morning, multimillionaire Dick Smith reveals that he complained to the Australian Tax Office about receiving half a million dollars in “ridiculous” franking credit refunds under a policy he knew nothing about. Meanwhile, Guardian Australia reports that the Department of Human Services has resumed issuing robodebts in Townsville after a brief respite following February’s devastating floods, as the program ramps up again in the wake of the election. Why is it that Australia can afford to shower billions of taxpayer dollars each year on a tiny number of retired millionaires, but is so cruel hearted that we push half a million of the country’s most vulnerable people to the brink with a dodgy robodebt system that’s raised debts totalling $1.25 billion over the past three years? How is that fair? Answer: It isn’t.

To his credit, Smith says he was unaware of the franking credit refunds until he received an enormous cheque from the ATO, and that “it’s outrageous for wealthy people to be getting money from the government”. Politically, it may have had more impact if Smith had said the same thing before the election. Smith’s stand echoes the outburst of multibillionaire US investor Warren Buffett, who wrote a famous op-ed in the wake of the financial crisis pointing out that he paid a lower rate of tax – 17 per cent – than anyone in his office, including his secretary. President Barack Obama proposed what is now known as the Buffett Rule: a minimum tax rate for the mega-rich, which the Greens support here, and which has had some support on Labor’s Left in the past.

In Guardian Australia today, Luke Henriques-Gomes writes that the Department of Human Services has raised more than 500,000 robodebts since it began in 2016–17 – of which more than a fifth have been partly or fully waived or otherwise reduced, because the averaging methodology is dubious at best. Roughly a third have been referred to an external debt collector. The amount recovered is measly, from a budget perspective, but the stress for welfare recipients is enormous. The Greens’ Rachel Siewert, who chaired the first Senate inquiry into the robodebt program, wrote [$] recently in Crikey that at nine hearings across Australia, “what will always stick with me, is that at every single hearing, we heard from or about people having suicidal thoughts or a severe deterioration in mental health upon receiving a letter”.

The government’s base instinct – kick down – never ends. Like Treasury’s bizarre attempt yesterday [$] to blame “stubborn” workers for wage stagnation, because they were failing to switch jobs often enough. Thankfully there are signs that Labor may be about to draw the line on some of this, with a growing number of Opposition MPs pushing for a substantial raise to Newstart. Let’s just call the politics of aspiration what it is: the politics of greed, and winner takes all. Larding the budget up with upper- and middle-class welfare – from refundable franking credits to private health insurance subsidies to public funding for elite private schools – while punishing the poor is uncharitable, un-Christian and un-Australian. The country can’t afford another three years of such gross unfairness.

“Liberal MP Julian Leeser, a supporter of the voice, was co-chairman with Labor’s Pat Dodson of the 2018 joint select committee report … It made clear the notion of the voice was flexible and evolving, with the report seeking a model that considers ‘national, regional and local elements of the voice’. Wyatt is interested in the regional dimension. Leeser said a local or regional focus could be distinct from or in addition to a national approach. This signals the direction in which the Liberals are likely to move.”

Paul Kelly, The Australian’s editor-at-large, on the way forward on constitutional recognition following Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt’s National Press Club speech last week.

“I’m really proud of the achievements in the recent election … These are tangible demonstrations of the value of working together. The information that was provided to Georgina Downer was information that was [on] an application to the Commonwealth Government. She was a candidate to be a member of that Government.”

South Australian health minister Stephen Wade makes no apology for telling federal Liberal candidate Georgina Downer about confidential hospital funding deals to boost her election chances in the key seat of Mayo.

Guarding the henhouse
Almost two years since changes were implemented following a royal commission into youth detention, tear gas is again being used on children in the Northern Territory. Russell Marks on Don Dale.

The amount that Clive Palmer’s Queensland Nickel paid to his wife in one of a series of “extraordinary” transactions in the days before the company collapsed owing creditors more than $200 million.

“The Government will: (i) Ensure that APRA has sufficient powers and flexibility to prevent inappropriate directors and senior executives from being appointed or re-appointed to regulated entities …; (ii) Consider changes to APRA’s regulatory framework including a review of penalties, amending its private health insurance licensing powers and providing APRA with the power to appoint a person to undertake a review of a regulatory entity; (iii) In establishing the Financial Regulator Oversight Authority, streamline and improve the effectiveness of both APRA and ASIC’s accountability arrangements; (iv) Outline its expectations for APRA on superannuation in its next Statement of Expectations; and (v) Work with APRA and the Australian Public Service Commission to … ensure APRA can attract and retain high skilled staff.”

The treasurer responds to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority Capability Review, chaired by former ACCC boss Graeme Samuel.

The list

“As China’s economic might is being felt around the world, and as it flexes its military muscle in our region, the country’s soft power is also becoming more sophisticated. Once, China’s cultural exchanges were a little hokey: ping-pong diplomacy in the ’70s, serried ranks of terracotta warriors marching on Australian soil, and the presence of some 500 Confucius Institutes around the world ... Times have changed.”

“The federal government’s subsidies to restore water to the Murray–Darling river system have fallen dramatically short of their yearly target, recovering less than 3 per cent of what was anticipated by the end of the financial year. Department of Agriculture figures on efficiency gains suggest that of the government’s forecast 62 gigalitres to be recovered by June 30 this year, only 1.3 gigalitres have been achieved.”

“Chairman and founder Gautam Adani’s transformation from a small struggling businessman in the state of Gujarat, a trading state with a vast coastline, to one of the richest and most feared industrialists in India is a story that runs parallel to the opening of the Indian economy since the early 1990s. It is a story of ambition and enterprise, as well as of the proximity of business to politics, which allows those who know how to work the system to make huge gains by ensuring that rules, if not bent, are suitably interpreted in their favour.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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