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Does the ‘brain drain’ depend on the amount of tax we’re paying?

IF Labor leader Kim Beazley wins this year’s federal election, a WA-born Prime Minister and WA-born Premier will, at the same time for the first time, govern Western Australians.

The closest West Aussies have been to such a situation was when John Curtin was Prime Minister (1941-45) and long serving and largely forgotten Premier, John Willcock (1936-45), held the reins.

Victorian-born Curtin settled in WA in 1916, while NSW-born Willcock arrived in 1897, later becoming Geraldton MLA for 30-years, where, coincidentally, Geoff Gallop was born.

Coincidentally also, Mr Beazley’s father succeeded Curtin as Fremantle MHR.

Although “t’other siders”, both Curtin and Willcock became Sandgropers, but they’ll never match a Beazley-Gallop duo in the true-blue stakes.

Mr Beazley and Dr Gallop have other things in common.

Both were educated at the University of WA; both attended Oxford, both as Rhodes Scholars; and both taught at Murdoch University.

I have been personally acquainted with both Gallop and Beazley and have always found them decent gentlemen, not something I’d say of several others who were, or are, in the upper echelons of our major political parties.

But is that enough to ensure WA successfully meets coming economi-cally challenging times? It’s some-thing needing consideration.

Mr Beazley’s long campus years help explain his launch of the expensive Knowledge Nation plank last week, as the cutting edge of his do-or-die campaign to hopefully spark electoral fervor to topple John Howard’s conservatives.

There’s little doubt he’s emulating Sir Robert Menzies’ electorally successfully pre-1963 election decision to fund school science laboratories.

Former Labor leader Bob Hawke’s constant chatter of Australia becoming a clever country also helps explains the Beazley Knowledge Nation ploy.

Both precedents show voters can be enthused by targeted boosts in education spending and clever patriotic-sounding slogans.

Mr Beazley hopes a re-run will make the difference in key electorates he must win.

But Knowledge Nation promises to be a hugely costly program, meaning taxes will rise over its 10-year lifetime.

Not insignificantly he’s been careful to sidestep costing questions.

Instead he’s contented himself in simply throwing pies into the sky, and hoping voters feel compelled to back Labor without querying the small print.

Knowledge Nation is similar to Dr Gallop’s unveiling of more than $700 million worth of election promises before February, most of which were unnecessary.

Now he finds himself struggling to balance the books, so is blaming the Court Government, saying it left the cupboard bare.

Most believe he’ll keep jacking up taxes and charges, and that this will continue throughout his premiership.

Can Mr Beazley’s record be different? To date, he’s been extraordinarily careful not to be specific about taxation.

What must, however, be asked, is whether we can continue to afford on-going, never-ending tax hikes as this century unfolds?

During the unveiling of Knowledge Nation, Mr Beazley made much of the fact that Australia was experiencing a so-called brain drain – our brightest and best allegedly leaving for distant shores.

The last time I heard this chestnut raised was in the 1960s when many British scientist emigrated to America because of high British taxes. Rather than complaining about this alleged and re-discovered drain, if it in fact exists, Mr Beazley should determine if our high taxes prompt our brightest and best opting to leave.

Such an exercise could be instructive. It may prove that lower, not higher, taxes on things like Knowledge Nation are needed.

Labor has never candidly outlined its position on the crucial tax issue.

I recall attending a State Labor Conference a decade or so back – two days of it. There were motions on the environment, Aborigines, transport, education, you name it.

Towards the end – when eyes were bleary and backsides sore – up stood WA Senator Peter Walsh, then Australia’s Finance Minister.

His said that he had sat through most of the conference and had counted the motions delegates had passed – usually unanimously. There were more than 100, all meaning extra public spending, he said.

And he said he was still waiting for one motion on the raising of revenue and how the party could make expenditure savings.

The conference was left in stunned silence, but quickly returned to moving more motions that, of course, meant more spending.

Expenditure savings and taxation efficiency are not Labor’s strongest suit and neither Mr Beazley nor Dr Gallop gets off the hook on that.

The great pity is WA Labor is still without successors to the Peter Walsh tradition of trying to live well within one’s means.

If Labor followed the Walsh lead, Mr Beazley’s alleged brain drain may not only be halted, but reversed, meaning many of the world’s brightest and best would opt to settle here for tax reasons as well as because of Australia’s other obvious benefits.

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