Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Today by Sean Kelly

It seemed like Joe Hockey was having a good day . . . until he got out of bed

Image by Gary J Wood (Flickr).

It must take a great effort of will for Joe Hockey to raise himself from the bed each morning, his broad back hunched, his face creased like a peach stone in anticipation of the bad news he knows awaits him. So many enemies. So many burdens.

But not today! The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age are carrying a story about big business claiming tax exemptions worth $25 billion last year, or two-thirds of the federal deficit.

And the Financial Review has a story about Joe Hockey’s plan to target tax avoidance by big business – specially hitting profit-shifting by multinationals via imposing a “Google tax”.

In other words, the media is making the case for planned government policy. Hooray!

What’s more, the Treasurer has just flagged plans to crack down on superannuation tax breaks for the wealthy. Amazingly, given Hockey’s usual luck, Labor suggested they’d probably back him. Then, this morning, the Australian ran figures showing that the country’s most affluent retirees are getting $10 billion a year tax-free as a result of tax breaks on superannuation for wealthy people.

What luck! The Treasurer was probably dancing one of his infamous jigs by breakfast.

Oh, Mr Hockey. I feel bad for tearing down your buoyant mood. But, with a heavy heart, I must. Duty compels me.

It’s true that Hockey, Labor and the Australian seem to be together on super tax breaks. But the prime minister, when asked about “increasing tax on the super of the very wealthy”, chose instead to attack Labor, catching his Treasurer in the crossfire: “It’s so typical of the Labor Party that they immediately want to see more tax, not less.”

That would be bad enough, but Hockey doesn’t just disagree with Abbott. He disagrees with himself! The Treasurer, like Walt Whitman, contains multitudes.

On Tuesday, regarding the Google tax, he said: “I see people who do not pay the legitimate level of tax in Australia as thieves.” These are not people breaking the law, remember – they are just using a law as it stands.

But on the same day, when asked by the Sydney Morning Herald about big businesses paying much less than the 30% they are supposed to, by using the law as it stands, his office said: “The bottom line is that tax is paid by corporates at 30% of their taxable income. This does not suggest that there is any ‘missing’ tax.”

It was F Scott Fitzgerald who wrote “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” By that measure, Joe Hockey is a genius.

But, of course, by many other standards, he’s not. He, like the government of which he is a part, is just very mixed up. And he probably should have stayed in bed today.

Speaking of tax avoidance, here are some interesting figures on just how much tax the Church of Scientology owes in the US. ABC journalist Steve Cannane has a book in the works on Australian scientologists – it will be interesting to see what he unearths.

Gillian Triggs has given a robust interview to Guardian Australia in which she hits out at the government and the Australian but, interestingly, spares Attorney-General George Brandis. She also explains in detail the Commission’s controversial recommendations on John Basikbasik.

If you’ve been illegally downloading films, TV shows or music from the internet (and of course you haven’t been), prepare to receive warnings – and worse.

The Iran nuclear talks seem set to slip over their deadline into another day. On the plus side, that means they haven’t broken down yet.

The NSW election wars continue, with Bruce Hawker arguing that Labor’s focus on poles and wires was crucial to its success, Darcy Byrne claiming Labor’s vitriolic language against the Greens is unhelpful, and Janet Albrechtsen saying that Mike Baird’s win proves leaders should stand up for their beliefs (paywall).

And in the US, most young Republicans support birth control, though they see it as more of a personal convenience than essential to health-care.  

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.



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