24/06/2010 - 00:00

Personal attacks a bit rich in tax debate

24/06/2010 - 00:00


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Sensible debate seems to be missing with regard to the proposed resources tax.

WHEN politicians have a go at each other in parliament it’s accepted as part of the rough and tumble of politics. Contained in Canberra we can all live with it.

But when others cop the flak in the name of public debate it does make me wonder if Canberra understands the civility with which the rest of us live, all without the protection of parliamentary privilege.

The resources tax debate is one area where political combat has spilled into the domain of business, with the federal government’s leadership seemingly unable to debate without personalising the argument.

From the very outset, miners have been labelled as greedy fat cats – either corporate grey men of the multinationals or obscenely wealthy individuals. Rio Tinto’s Tom Albanese and BHP Billiton’s Marius Kloppers are the former, while Andrew Forrest, Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart represent the latter.

These individuals are painted in some form of demonic light because they want to protect their wealth or that of their shareholders. In most cases, those shareholders are you and I, either directly or through our superannuation. These business owners have also made the argument that much of the wealth they generate cascades through the community via their spending on projects, distribution to investors and the already high taxes they currently pay.

This attack by the government is a very dangerous one that all Australians would reject if they understood it.

They are attacking the aspirations of those who want to better themselves. I don’t need a corporate jet or a second house in Eagle Bay, but I don’t mind those striving to attain that if it’s their thing. In fact I welcome the economic prosperity they bring.

The truth is that most in the mining industry don’t reach those elevated heights of wealth. There are many failures and, let’s face it, most wealth that is made is lost within three generations – that is natural distribution that doesn’t need an expensive bureaucracy to bungle it.

Greed or envy

WHAT is wealth anyway?

By world standards, Australians are super wealthy.

Isn’t it hypocrisy to be claiming, in the name of ‘fairness’, billions of dollars to spread around one of the richest countries in the world while, at the same time, telling some of the world’s poorest people there simply isn’t room for them here?

To a refugee from Sri Lanka or Afghanistan, the average Australian – even one in resource-poor Victoria – is rich beyond compare.

We have free health care, clean cities, longevity, low infant mortality, the ability to travel freely, paid holidays, vast choices for leisure and time to enjoy them.

To a refugee or many others trapped in poor countries, possibly with wars or repressive regimes, these are the real trappings of wealth.

We ought to be careful questioning someone’s need for a corporate jet when much of the world has far more reason to be jealous of each and every one of us.

Sovereign risk

ALONG much the same arguments as above, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ought to take care with his challenge to the constitutional construction of our federation by claiming ownership of the states’ resources for the Australian people.

If the sovereign rights of Western Australia’s resources can be trampled on because the federal government needs more money, where might this stop? Is it possible the rest of the world could have an equal claim to Australia’s resources? Let’s face it, Australians didn’t invent iron ore or forge the diamonds.

It worries me that the principles of sovereignty are so easily discarded by Mr Rudd. If he doesn’t believe in them, how will he defend them when the boot is on the other foot?

Again, look at the example of refugees. If Canberra doesn’t recognise WA’s sovereign rights, why should boat people recognise Australia’s?

Having a voice

THERE has been a lot of discussion about the right of the mining industry to voice its opinion in the debate around the resources tax debate.

I have seen, and heard, numerous variations on the line that no-one voted for the Minerals Council of Australia, so how dare they stand against the elected government of the day.

The pomposity of this argument is astounding and quite frightening for anyone who lives in a democracy. I did not elect the Wilderness Society, the Australian Council of Trade Unions or the Catholic Church, but I respect the right of each of these organisations or any individual member to speak up against anything they consider inappropriate.

The union movement spent untold millions campaigning for Labor at the last federal election. I didn’t agree with much they had to say, but that is the price of democracy and an important principle of that – freedom of speech.

Elected governments do all sorts of stupid things (as we see especially in Canberra right now) and unelected people stand up to them. Who knows where we’d be if they didn’t.

In this respect, advertising is a valid and very transparent way of influencing public opinion. Remember, freedom of speech is not just about being able to say something, but also to be able to receive the information you require to make your own decisions.

This argument gets even sillier when we hear complaints that mining companies can get a tax deduction for their anti-tax campaign. And, so what? If I donate to the Conservation Council, I can get a tax deduction too – and it’s not even related to my business. There may be an argument for removing the tax deductibility of political campaigning but that would affect all manner of charities and not for profits who lobby for a wide variety of things. Demanding more road safety, spending on hospitals, extra homeless shelters or more stringent environmental protections is all political activity.

Furthermore, it is likely to be a bigger deduction in percentage terms that any mining company receives because the personal tax rate is higher for a large proportion of the community. So arguably, the removal of tax deductibility should start there, because it is more expensive to the government.



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