All at sea as Malcolm Turnbull channels Kevin Rudd
November 8, 2015 9:00pm
LIKE Kevin Rudd before him, our latest Prime Minister loves nothing more than the sound of his own voice. And much like Kevin, we can listen to Malcolm Turnbull talk at length and learn nothing about where he stands and what he intends to do.
Turnbull proves the adage that if you’re short on substance, then compensate with plenty of style.
Listen to his speech about the desperate need to update Australia’s taxation system and you may be impressed by broad motherhood statements about “fairness” and “incentivisation” but you will be clueless about how he intends to reform the system.
Last’s week speech at the Economic and Social Outlook Conference in Melbourne was supposed to lay down Turnbull’s road map for tax reform.
What we got instead were gaudy sailing analogies but negligible detail on how Cap’n Turnbull intends to increase revenue and cut expenditure.
“Across the board, we must acquire not just the skills but the culture of agility that enables us to make volatility our friend, bearing fresh opportunities, not simply a foe brandishing threats,” Turnbull said.
The flowery, feel-good language did not stop there. Indeed, the nation was about to be dazzled by Maritime Mal’s seafaring similes.
“Rather, it should be seen as a change of political culture that sees us like the sailor, surrounded by the uncertainty of the sea and the wind, who knows only two things for sure — where she needs to go and that she has the skill to get there. Sometimes, the sailor reaches the mark with rapid ease, her sails big bellied in a following wind; sometimes with slow and deliberate tenacity, sails close hauled, tacking into the teeth of a gale. But her vision is as clear as her destination is certain. How to get there and how quickly is the measure of her skill.
“As we focus on our future course, it requires us above all to be open and honest about our circumstances, understanding and explaining both the challenges and the opportunities.”
What was that all about?
That speech might inspire the couta boat fraternity of Sorrento Yacht Club to make bolder calls with their share portfolios, but the rest of us are shaking our heads and having flashbacks to Kevin “programmatic specificity” Rudd.
It’s all well and good for Turnbull to wax lyrical about nautical allusions when laying out his blueprint for the taxation system, but the ordinary Australian wants to know whether the GST or Medicare levy will be increased or whether their benefits will be cut in order to balance the Budget.
Labor’s Anthony Albanese made a salient point on Friday when he said: “They say they’ve got a plan, but they just don’t want tell anybody what it is.”
Turnbull did emphasise, again and again, during his speech the importance of fairness in any changes.
“Fairness is absolutely critical,” he said. “Any package of reforms which is not and is not seen as fair will not and cannot achieve the public support without which it simply will not succeed.”
BUT the PM didn’t say how “fairness” would be determined. Of course, we’d all love to live in a magical place where “every vector, every sinew of government policy” produces greater benefits for all citizens but in the real world, there are winners and losers after any policy shift.
One thing that we know is patently unfair is successive governments gouging more and more funds from a group that has contributed the most and continues to take the least from the public purse; self-funded retirees.
Australians should be grateful to this group of citizens who not only paid significant taxes but saved and sacrificed to fund their own retirement instead of living off the public teat. Whenever there is a Budget emergency, self-funded and partly-funded retirees are among the first adversely affected, with governments eager to dip into their investments.
Ignore the bleating from the usual rent-seekers who say the rich don’t pay their fair share of tax and that lower-income holders carry the greatest tax burden.
The indisputable facts are that the top 10 per cent of income earners pay more than 50 per cent of all income tax collected in Australia.
That group not only makes the greatest contribution during their working life but also take the least in benefits and services when they retire.
The current generation of self-funded retirees put aside sufficient savings to fund their golden years before we were all forced to save, thanks to compulsory superannuation contributions.
They deserve better than to be screwed over by governments scared of the welfare lobby.
Another unpalatable truth rarely acknowledged by those in power is the majority of Australians pay no net tax when you factor in government benefits and services they receive; even those in the middle quintile of households receive $2.70 for every $1 of tax they pay.
These are issues that need to be tackled by the Coalition when they communicate details of their tax policy before the next election.
The electorate deserves better than to be patronised by verbose language and pretentious maritime metaphors.
Rita Panahi is a Herald Sun columnist