12/10/2004 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Pollies have us over a pork barrel

12/10/2004 - 22:00

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Thankfully Australia’s 2004 general auction, oops, sorry, election, is over.

Thankfully Australia’s 2004 general auction, oops, sorry, election, is over.

If it had lasted another week we’d all be in hock several more thousand dollars because Australia’s two big bidders – one time Sydney lawyer John Howard and former Sydney suburban mayor Mark Latham – had embarked on a massive vote-buying roller coaster.

Precisely where taxpayers would have found themselves if the campaign had lasted another month is anyone’s guess.

Most days of the 42-day campaign brought a new so-called initiative – meaning bigger spending commitments, starting this financial year.

There’s no doubt that Sydney, which blazes the trail when it comes to property prices gained at auctions, has dramatically affected party behaviour through both Sydney-nurtured party leaders.

Sydney’s real estate psychosis has, unfortunately for taxpayers, now completely infected Australia’s political realm.

Both big town bidders weren’t long into the campaign before they turned to pork barrelling.

By the time ‘auction 2004’ had reached week two State Scene couldn’t help but recall a poignant speech delivered at a Labor conference either in the late 1980s or early 1990s – it’s so long ago that a year or two this way or that is difficult to recall.

After two days of debate and approval of motions (then) Labor Finance Minister, Western Australian Senator Peter Walsh, rose to remind delegates that since 9am Saturday, when the jamboree began, they’d passed more than 100 conference proposals.

He said he’d quickly tallied up (costed) during lunch hour each adopted motion and estimated what the total potential cost would be if all were implemented.

Unfortunately the huge price tag he quoted has now slipped my memory.

But whatever it was, and it was in the several hundred millions, it was nowhere near what big town Sydney bidders John Howard and Mark Latham have been calling during the 42-day campaign.

However, what stunned the conference delegates a decade and a half ago was to be told by Senator Walsh that not one motion had urged future or current Labor Governments to make savings; that is, to trim spending or manage programs more efficiently and effectively.

Labor conferences have degenerated into blatant talkfests where shadow and serving ministers are told to go on bigger super-spending sprees.

And election campaigns are now exactly the same.

No party leader today even considers entering a campaign with an array of genuine reforms that could save taxpayers money.

No leader ever hints at the possibility of such an approach.

No leader, let’s be frank, any longer actually leads.

They simply bid with current and future taxpayers’ money in the hope of gaining or retaining power.

Terms like ‘savings’, ‘greater efficiency’, ‘more streamlined ways of implementing programs’, ‘enhancement to public policy’, ‘eliminating duplication’, most especially between State and Federal Governments, are never uttered during campaigns.

It’s simply, and only, spend, spend and spend more.

What comes after Howard and Latham depart public life with their lucrative taxpayer-funded pensions and post-parliamentary perks, like free air travel for the rest of their and their wives’ lives, is of little concern to them.

And it’s apparently of no concern to their equally culpable party political colleagues and advisers.

Neither leader will be around as a leading light in national affairs in a decade’s time.

Both will have entered parliamentary pension land.

Those who will be left carrying the debt and higher taxing cans will be Australia’s younger generation – the new taxpayers.

Australian politics at both State and national levels has degenerated into a series of contests between our big spending social democratic party – Labor – and the two big spending conservative parties, Liberal and the Nationals.

The Greens, well, all they specialise in is blocking or objecting to projects where a sod of dirt must be moved; in other words, stalling and stultifying development, thereby limiting the size of the nation’s wealth and tax base.

Even in the steadily tax increasing latter years of Robert Menzies’ government, voters were sometimes cautioned about overspending.

But those days are now well and truly over.

Both the major parties, particularly Labor, have become conduits for ever-greater public outlays and, therefore, ever increasing taxation.

Whenever parties promise to boost spending, just as night follows day they must eventually boost taxes.

There’s no other way unless you turn on the printing press to full revs to boost money supply, and then sit back and watch inflation skyrocket.

With Australia now having nearly the full range of taxes – income, capital gains, and goods and services – it’s patently obvious a major new tax will soon need to be introduced.

State Scene can think of several – a wealth tax or the imputed rent tax, to name two – that could fit the bill.

But the one that’ll probably really appeal to Latham-led Labor is death duties.

These are struck on the death of a taxpayer, meaning the losers, to the taxman, are those in line to inherit what can be classified as unearned income.

The attraction to death taxes for social democrats is that they strike hardest at the wealthy.

Can’t imagine Latham Labor having trouble with that.

Justification could be something along the lines of the Latham attack on so-called wealthy schools.

State Scene will be amazed if death duties aren’t incorporated into the taxation system within a decade – within about three Federal auctions.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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