There is a sense of relief in hearing Malcolm Turnbull talk about the need for flexibility to be able to respond to, and provide for, the needs of the nation and the future of its citizens.
This relief quickly evaporates however when listening to our new Treasurer whose every utterance oozes the same intransigence he displayed as Immigration Minister, something he prides himself on.
Scott says he must cut spending and we must work, save and invest. No suggestions outside that mantra will be entertained. His unwavering focus will be on growing GDP by assisting business and hoping that translates to more jobs.
Rather than increasing revenue, it seems we will be lowering the top marginal tax rate and the corporate tax rate because, if we don’t, businesses will find other countries to operate in, and individuals will either do less work or find clever ways to avoid paying the top rate.
But if we had someone with a little more imagination and a lot less rigid tenacity, they would realise that we should not be sacrificing happiness for the sake of some numbers on a fiscal document. Increasing GDP does not necessarily equate to a higher standard of living for the majority.
The benefits of a new policy should be measured in terms of the impact of the change upon the happiness of the population. This applies whether the policy is a regulation, a tax change, a new expenditure, or a mix of all three.
The World Happiness Report finds that three-quarters of the differences among countries, and also among regions, is accounted for by differences in six key variables: GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support, trust, perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity. Differences in social support, incomes, and healthy life expectancy are the three most important factors.
Moves to decrease income like abolishing penalty rates and minimum wages, or cuts to health and welfare spending, will inevitably have a negative effect on happiness.
When it comes to personal income tax, Australia’s top marginal rate of 49 per cent is over 7 percentage points above the OECD average of 41.58 per cent. But rather than just looking at percentages, one must take into account the services provided.
Sweden (57 per cent) and Denmark (55.56 per cent) both provide excellent public services and rank higher than us on the 2015 Happiness report – Denmark 3, Sweden 8, Australia 10.
While Australia’s top marginal rate starts at $180,000, these two Scandinavian nations start a lot lower – Denmark at $86,000 a year, and Sweden at $93,000.
If taxes are paying for health, education, social support, and infrastructure, people are happy to pay them.
Four of the world’s ten “most liveable cities” are in Australia, with Melbourne number one for the fifth year in a row.
The ranking considers 30 factors related to things like safety, healthcare, educational resources, infrastructure and environment in 140 cities. These are the things that make a desirable place to live – the services that governments provide.
The things that could endanger our cities’ high rankings, which are a very marketable asset, are a lack of affordable housing and public transport along with growing road traffic into cities. Another issue mentioned was the fuss made about the Sydney siege and the heightened security alert – a consequence I am sure Abbott et al didn’t consider in their zeal to show us all that there was an “existential threat” to Australia.
The most liveable places, notes the EIU, tend to be “mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density”. We could have quite a few more of those if we would build high speed rail which would also take the pressure off our major cities and create employment in regional areas.
Australia performs very well in many measures of well-being relative to most other countries in the OECD Better Life Index. Australia ranks at the top in civic engagement and above the average in environmental quality, health status, housing, personal security, jobs and earnings, education and skills, subjective well-being, social connections, but below average in work-life balance.
But Scott wants us to work more and for longer. Wealth creation is part of his religion and he wants us all to worship at the same altar.
As someone whistfully commented the other day…whatever happened to work, rest and play?
There seems very little about the quality of life in Liberal Party speak and none at all in the language of our new Treasurer who seems eager to take an axe to the things that make this such a wonderful place to live, the things that give us a sense of opportunity and security.
We want to emulate the American way in so many things but they don’t rate a mention on the happiness and liveability lists. Making businesses wealthy does not translate to well-being for citizens. It is the things a government provides for its people that make the difference