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Tax: renting a spot in civilisation

While I was reading Josh Bornstein’s excellent contribution on the subject of tax, it reminded me that progressive Australians really need to work harder at reframing this word and the whole concept of tax to make it a positive thing. The question is, how do we do this after the Right have spent so much time and effort turning tax into a dirty word?

The problem with the current concept of ‘tax’ as being something bad, something annoying, something to be avoided, is that it is impossible to even mention the word in a conversation, let alone in a budget speech, without eliciting a negative reflex. So while we should be having conversations about who in our society should be paying what types of tax and how much they should be paying, we can’t even start the conversation. As an example, I am a huge fan of the mining tax, but I am deeply offended by the GP tax. There are fair ways of generating revenue and there are unfair ways. And this is what we should really be talking about, instead of reeling at the very mention of the word.

So how do we fix this problem? How do we change the way our community reacts to taxation? I think we need to turn the payment of tax into a moral act. I’ve got some ideas about how we go about reframing the very act of paying tax.

The first key idea that needs to be communicated is that we are very lucky to be born into a country with the infrastructure that provides us with the opportunity to live the lives that most Australians live. When I say infrastructure, I don’t only mean physical infrastructure like roads and bridges, I mean everything that makes up a civilisation. This includes a banking system that enables investment in the economy, an education system, a health system, support for arts and culture, emergency services and a defence force. A first world civilisation also has an appropriate welfare safety net to protect those who need it. And the reason we have this civilisation is because we have a democratic government, whose activities in organising this civilisation are funded by our payment of tax. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the American Supreme court once said ‘I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.’ He knew a thing or two that too many people have forgotten.

I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but stick with me because this is going somewhere. It’s only a short step from understanding why paying tax is crucial to the existence of the Australian civilisation, to then understand why those who are benefiting most from this civilisation should, morally, be the ones paying the most tax. And this is where I pause to make clear that those on welfare are often the ones that tax payers perceive as benefiting most from civilisation, when really, they are the ones benefiting least. Why? Because our civilisation offers the greatest benefits to those who earn the most and the people earning the most wouldn’t have the opportunity to benefit from this position of wealth without the opportunity to live in our civilisation. Benefits like highly paid, interesting and intellectually fulfilling work. Benefits like a lifestyle where people can list their hobbies as buying nice things and eating nice food. Benefits like a safe, supportive community in which to raise a family. Benefits like an economy where there are enough well-off people to fund a range of business activities, where income from profits contribute to an increase in quality of life. It’s this quality of life that paying tax provides. And the better the quality of life, morally, the more an individual or a company (hello Google, Apple and Westfield just to name a few) should contribute for belonging to this civilisation.

The problem with the way that we speak about tax avoidance currently is the word ‘avoidance’. You avoid bad things. To avoid something is to cleverly do something in your best interest by getting out of the way of something that’s not in your best interest. So when you put the word ‘tax’ next to the word ‘avoid’, the image conjured up is positive, clever, brave even. This is wrong and is yet another example of the way in which the Right manipulate language, and spread this common-usage phrase to suit their ideological agenda.

So how about this for a new frame. What if paying tax is akin to paying rent to live in a civilisation? So just like in the property market, where the more you pay for a property, the better the location, the bigger the rooms, the better the view, the more ‘mod-cons’ available to you, the ‘status’ you receive for living there, and for companies, the more profit you make from the prime real estate you’ve secured, I think tax paying should also be viewed in the same way. The more rent (tax) you pay, the more benefit you receive from living in our civilisation, which is funded by the tax you pay. So what if we start calling those who minimise and avoid paying their fair share of tax ‘freeloaders’? What if we openly refer to them as cheapskates and slackers? What if we start a campaign to name and shame these tightwads? What if we start telling them they are squatting in our civilisation and they either need to pay their rent or we’ll evict them? What if we reinforced this frame in everything we ever say about tax? I don’t know about all of you, but I’m going to give this plan a try. Starting now. Never again will I call a tax avoider a tax avoider. From now on, I will call them tax freeloaders. This is how we will solve the world’s problems one word at a time.

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  1. Lee

    Certainly the concept of paying tax needs to be reframed. However, the concept of paying rent is also viewed as bad in Australia. People who rent their homes in this country are viewed as second class citizens. Most of us aspire to home ownership.

  2. Kaye Lee

    While at uni, I did factory production line work during my holidays to build up a nest egg on which to survive. The majority of other floor workers were migrants many of whom were working below their skill level due to language difficulties. They were often taken advantage of because they did not know their rights and did not know how to complain and lived in fear of getting the sack.

    Australians had the cushier jobs and many did everything they could to avoid work which meant that, either the rest of us worked harder, or production slowed down. Avoiding responsibilities isn’t a good thing. It is what weak, selfish, cowardly, bludgers do.

  3. Möbius Ecko

    I heard a discussion on a recent survey that indicated most Australians believed they paid the right amount of tax and wouldn’t mind paying a little more if they knew they would go into efficient services.

    So I think the premise of this article is incorrect. Australian’s don’t see taxes as bad. Big business, the wealthy and definitely the IPA do, but they only see it bad for an elite and would have no problems with others paying more tax.

    What I think Australians see bad in taxes is them being poorly managed, misdirected and wasted, and we sure see a lot of that. I think that is what needs to be addressed.

  4. Kaye Lee

    I am rather worried for this ‘journalist’ from the Australian, that bastion of accurate reporting and insightful prognostication. In an article in January titled “Nation better off under an economically astute Abbott”, Ross Fitzgerald said

    “So here is my prediction for the rest of this year. Especially if he can repeal the carbon tax, as far as national competitiveness, economic growth and overall wellbeing are concerned, Abbott and his Coalition government will be found to be well and truly up to the job and Australia left better off overall.

    Ross Fitzgerald’s memoir My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey is now available as an e-Book.”

    Of course, Ross has different ideas about what makes a good society to me:

    “Contrary to the many naysayers, as Prime Minister, and in close partnership with Joe Hockey, Abbott has a clear economic commitment and a very definite plan of action. This includes reducing the tax burden, deregulating the labour market, reducing Australian government debt, promoting free trade, increasing competition via the Productivity Commission review, privatising Medibank and boosting national production by cutting back a vast number of unnecessary regulations.”

  5. John921Fraser


    "Some estimates place the global total that multinationals have stashed away in tax havens at around US$20 trillion."

    How does one go about naming and shaming a Multi National Corporation ?

    Take News Corpse for example ….. should we write a Letter to the Editor ….. it will end up in the round file quicker than Rupert can Twitter "throw this mob out".

    Read the full story about how Corporations are ripping off every country … here at the now defunct "Global Mail" :

    By Mike Seccombe.

  6. easterntrisha

    Australians are wary of discussing tax issues because we always come out worse off. We have lost our belief in democracy and the idea that the government represents the people and will reflect the will of the people. We all know that any discussion on tax will result in more tax for the middle and low income earners and less tax for corporates, big business and the rich. And we’ll have to listen to a whole lot of lies and misrepresentation of facts in the murdoch media justifying why this must be so. In short, the outcome is pre-determined. Any discussion on tax means more tax for average Australians. What we need is no FBT concession on leased cars for private use, close tax haven loopholes, increase (not decrease) the company tax rate, eliminate any tax benefit from trusts, retain the super profits mining tax and tax rich superannuants. Redistribution from the rich to the rest – not the other way around. But that never happens.

  7. John921Fraser


    I, personally, would rather Kerry Packers words came back into vogue …

    "I am not evading tax in any way, shape or form. Now of course I am minimizing my tax and if anybody in this country doesn't minimize their tax they want their heads read because as a government I can tell you you're not spending it that well that we should be donating extra."

  8. Kaye Lee

    One very simple way we could profit from these bastards moving their money around would be to introduce a financial transaction tax.

    In 2011 there were 40 countries that made use of FTT, together raising $38 billion. According to Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and a supporter of a G20 FTT, even a small tax of 10 basis points on equities and 2 basis points on bonds could generate about $48 billion from G20 member states or $9 billion if only adopted by larger European countries.

    If implemented on a global basis, its projected revenue could be as much as US$400 billion a year, depending on the size of the levy imposed, the size of the reduction in trading (if any), and the number of implementing countries/jurisdictions. In the US alone it has been estimated that annually, between US$177 and $353 billion could be raised.

  9. DanDark

    Add small business to the list of tax frauds/freeloaders/avoidance
    Call it what you want, but I have known,know people in small business
    They look at as a badge of honour, and rant I clever, I got my accountant to screw the country
    People that are paying tax through their boss, does not get that same chance/choice
    I don’t even see it, it’s gone before I get my pay, my ex husband even wanted me to declare
    I had worked at the business, I refused, because I hadn’t,but it was all about tax avoidance
    that was about 18 years ago, and he is rich off fraud, and screwing the country
    And I am struggling as I have had responsibility of kids, and am a law abiding citizen, who detest frauds an criminal activity

  10. Victoria Rollison

    If Australians don’t mind the concept of ‘tax’, why was Abbott’s anti-Carbon Tax and anti-Mining Tax narrative so successful? Why did Labor’s polls go down when Abbott started his mantra? The Carbon Tax revenue was being used to fund renewable energy innovation and Mining Tax was being used to increase super savings and to lower tax for low income earners. So both great beneficiaries of government spending.

  11. Victoria Rollison

    And sorry to tell you but tax-minimization is exactly the same as tax avoidance. When rich businessmen say they don’t want to pay their fair share of tax because the govt can’t be trusted to spend it, what they’re really saying is ‘I don’t want to take responsibility for funding the civilisation that I got rich in and that I benefit from every second of the day’. It’s exactly these sorts of tax-minimisation statements which are the subject of this post.

  12. CMMMC

    Something to be wary of, the LNP and their commentariat mates are continually making a distinction between ‘taxpayers’ and ‘welfare bludgers’.

    You need to remind them that, due to the GST, everybody is a taxpayer.

    I was trying to explain this fact to an Abbott supporter, recently.

    I showed her some shopping dockets, which are not really shopping dockets anymore, they are clearly labeled ‘Tax Invoice’.

    They somehow think there are two different conveyor belts delivering taxed monies into the Treasury. One with neatly folded banknotes from PAYE taxpayers, and the other with crumpled old fivers and rusty coins trickling in from GST transactions.

  13. John921Fraser


    @Victoria Rollinson

    The idiots screaming "drop the tax" still haven't worked out that they are going to have to make up the shortfall.

    Perhaps pay more GST.

    Subsidising Corporations appears to be something they haven't thought of.

    Nor what its going to mean for their take home packet.

  14. John921Fraser


    @Victoria Rollinson

    I know but doesn't this part ring true … "as a government I can tell you you're not spending it that well that we should be donating extra".

    I would much prefer part of my taxes go to assisting someone /family who are struggling.

  15. Victoria Rollison

    Also want to point out that it’s not up to Kerry Packer, or Rupert Murdoch or Gina Rinehart to decide who the government organises itself around tax policy and government spending. I know this might sound like a radical idea, but in fact the way our government distributes govt revenue and spending is up to the civilisation that elected the government in a democracy. In other words, I don’t really care what Kerry Packer thinks of government spending. He has one vote and so do I.

  16. Möbius Ecko

    Victoria. Because those two taxes were sold by massively funded large anti campaigns as being destructive to the country and people. Remember that people were being compensated for the Carbon Tax, some more than they were being affected by it, so they weren’t personally losing anything from it. So it can’t have been the fact they were being indirectly taxed that was the problem in their minds.

    The MRT was also sold to the people as being massively destructive to the country, costing untold thousands of jobs and whole towns closing down overnight.

    Both campaigns were long and false but they did what they intended to, put doubt and fear into peoples’ minds.

    If the heavily funded and MSM led anti campaigns had not been run against them and even if the government had not tried to sell them in anyway the people in the long run would have had no trouble wearing the indirect costs, as the survey indicates.

  17. John921Fraser


    I'm on your side Victoria.

    And Kerry Packer no longer has a vote.

    Dead and buried … I just dug up one of his quotes to a Senate select committee.

  18. Keitha Granville

    I’m with you. Why can’t those who avoid tax be named ? why can’t they be prosecuted ? I can be if I don’t pay my tax – I get fined, I just got a bill cos I failed to decalre some interest from a bank account 3 years ago ffs. why does a big business get away with trillions when we at the bottom of the pile have every last cent dragged from the bottom of our piggy banks. It’s time to start chopping thse freeloaders off at the knees. but of course that means our illustrious leaders would have to start witht themselves – so it’s never going to to happen.

  19. Kaye Lee

    I agree with ME in that it is all how the information is portrayed to the public. People willingly agreed to an increase in the Medicare levy to help fund the NDIS.

  20. Kerri

    A few years ago went to Chile. We were told by our friendly guide that Chileans don’t pay taxes. Every year every Chilean makes a loan to their Government. The government uses the loan to finance public works, programs and businesses many of which make a profit!! At the end of the year the citizens get a dividend earned from their loan and every year every citizens reloans to the Government. When we asked if anyone refused to pay the loan, which incidentally is completely voluntary, the response was No! Why would you be so stupid?? It costs nothing and you get a dividend!!
    That’s progressive taxation!!!

  21. Joe Banks

    The “Twiggy’ Forests of this world despise paying a fair share of taxes and are outraged when a piddly tax is proposed on their ‘windfalls’ from digging up our resources during a China-boom. Yet, they want to advertise themselves as heroes for setting-up or donating to charities of ‘their own choice’.

    As Victoria points out, it’s funny how the likes of Packers, Forests and Murdochs gain financially from the obvious benefits of our society (which have been guided by the voice of the people) but they arrogantly sneer at it and claim they could do better. Australia would always have more to spend on welfare and overseas aid if the likes of them paid direct tax on ‘un-doctored’ income.

  22. krumthetoolman

    Tax-Slackers works for me

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