How Joe Hockey is dividing Australia

Joe Hockey is constructing a new Australia, one in which taxpayers are being encouraged to resent those receiving public money.

Joe Hockey.

It is more than two decades since Kerry Packer famously told a parliamentary inquiry that anyone who doesn’t minimise their tax “wants their head read”, establishing himself as the Patron Saint for the Bolshie Taxpayer.

He cut a defiant figure, the larrikin businessman telling all those namby pamby politicians that they weren’t spending his money wisely and he was damned if he would give them a cent more than was legally required.

Kerry Packer.

Kerry Packer.

So he continued to manipulate his business affairs to ensure he contributed as little as possible to the public purse. The Bolshie Taxpayers cheered him on and, when he died, they chipped in $73,000 in public money to send him off with a state funeral. The man was a national hero.

It would be fair to say that Packer and his disciples well and truly won that argument. Taxes, it is broadly acknowledged, are a Bad Thing.

The “I’m proud to pay my taxes” movement has never really taken off in Australia. It’s a sentiment you rarely hear even from progressive politicians, and admitting to it in public is the social equivalent of passing wind in a lift.

Now, Joe Hockey has taken the anti-tax sentiment to a whole new level.

His speech to the Sydney Institute last week recalibrated the debate. Not only is tax a bad thing, something to grumble about, but it is an unfair thing.

This is what he said: “The average working Australian, be they a cleaner, a plumber or a teacher, is working over one month full time each year just to pay for the welfare of another Australian.

“Is this fair? Whilst income tax is by far our largest form of revenue, just ten per cent of the population pays nearly two thirds of all income tax.

“In fact, just two per cent of taxpayers pay more than a quarter of all income tax. Maybe these taxpayers would argue that the tax system is already unfair.”

These must be among the most divisive words uttered by a senior Australian politician in a generation.

Hockey has managed to radically redefine the nation’s notion of unfair. Unfair is no longer the person with a disability, the chronically unemployed or the single mother who struggles to pay the gas bill.

Unfair is the person on an average wage doing the heavy lifting and paying his or her taxes. Really unfair is the person on an extremely high wage – the top two per cent – who is doing the really heavy lifting.

Hockey has gone beyond expressing the principle that the government should do everything it can to keep taxes as low as possible, ensure taxpayers’ money is spent wisely and police welfare fraud. All non-controversial stuff.

newdaily_160614_beachHe is inviting average Australians to take the mental leap into his newly constructed Australia, one made up of, to use his words, Lifters and Leaners. He is encouraging Australians to resent those who, for whatever reason, are recipients of public money.

Hockey’s formula – in effect telling average taxpayers that they are wasting a month of every year working for the benefit of slackers – is a powerful one: “Crikey, I could spend a month in Bali every year if it wasn’t for the bloody Leaners.”

But is it also highly flawed.

We could all nominate areas where we believe our tax money should not be spent. Alternatively, many of us could nominate areas where we believe more tax could be collected.

Scratch the surface and it is pretty clear that, while the age of entitlement might be over for some, it is not for others. But that is another story.

Interestingly, the Gillard government took the dramatic step to increase the Medicare levy from 1.5 per cent to two per cent (that’s happening from July 1) to help pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme only because it was in a fiscal pickle and could find no other way.

This was one of the most significant reforms of that turbulent administration. Yet the silence was deafening. Australians obviously felt it was a project worth paying more tax for.

The fact is that, contrary to what the Iron Lady said, there is such a thing as “society”.

In short, that means that we are all in it together and, like it or not, that means paying taxes.

  • missymush

    As a pollie Joe, you are most definitely a leaner and not a lifter….What hypocrisy!

  • Tom

    Why do you think you never hear them talking about abolishing negative gearing etc . These are the path ways to there wealth . We have a nation of Kerry Packers. I think one day god forbid but there will be social unrest in this country in a big way.

  • Bert

    I’m with Joe on this one, as a resident of the state with the greatest proportion of leaners Tasmania, I see more educated people on six month visas doing work that residents will not travel 40km to do. While there may not be jobs for all there are many who have made a career out of avoiding work and I begrudge paying taxes to allow them to sit on the sofa all day whining of how unfair it is that they are not paid more to do nothing.

    • David Maywald

      Here here!!

    • Serena

      Used a road lately Bert? Perhaps you or a relative gets Family Tax Benefit? Ever been to hospital? School of any kind? Stashed some cash in super? Got a pre tax car lease? Investment property? NBN?
      We pay lots of tax in this household. And get $0 Family Tax benefit, or education rebates , or carbon tax rebates. Nil.
      But instead of looking at ‘them’ down the road and what ‘they’re’ getting (talk about class warfare), Im thinking of all the things i DO got. Which is a lot. Especially if I compare myself to ‘them’.

  • southener

    OMG I for one like that there is a safety net but for the wealthy not to pay taxes that is disgusting. Joe Hockey has made it quite clear that the age of entitlement for the low socio economic group is over but not for the privileged who generate their wealth from the poor. do we want to live in gated communities like they do in south africa where the bedrooms are locked up separately from the other living areas of the house. what about america trillions of dollars in debt but was that money spent on their own people? well no it wasn’t. there is no hope if you are poor in america the system is designed to keep you poor while the rich get richer.

  • RGG

    The only lifters that I know are the pensioners, the disabled, the carers and families.

    Definitely, it doesn’t include those with over a million dollars in their Super funds attracting the most generous tax concessions in the world.

  • jasper

    Well I would rather be a lifter or a leaner than a wanker or winker !

  • taxpayer

    Is it Joe Hockey that is dividing Australia, or those who continually try to foment “class warfare” for purely political ends?

    • WarrenC

      Correct; Joe has declared war on all classes lower than his! That’s class warfare!

  • Eric

    Hockey needs to remember we are The Commonwealth of Australia – “commonwealth” means sharing our wealth not trying to make the gap between the have and the have nots wider. This current government wants to wipe its hands of all responsibilities and pass all responsibilities to the states and private enterprise. It seems to think that defence is its only responsibility. Public health and PUBLIC education and welfare don’t seem to matter at all. What a sad state when our country stoops so low. It is simply not Australian!

  • harry

    The main job for a government is collecting tax revenue and help the population the best way they can, if a government becomes a profit making business,then there is NO need for a government.
    I think everyone knows lots of people that used to complain about people receiving money, and then found themselves in the dole office or welfare.

  • Gordon

    Shame on the Man and his cohorts! Where are the decent Liberals in all of this?

    • Kathy

      extinct it seems!

  • Serena

    We ALL receive public benefits! Used a road lately? An emergency department? What about a tax free car lease? Low taxed super contributions?
    Diamond Joe is happy for us all to look sideways- just don’t look at the perks that me, him and a whole bunch of others are rolling in!

  • RogerVellaBonavita

    A good article a very good article indeed. Isn’t it high time our lawmakers legislated to prevent excessive tax minimisation. If everyone who earned good incomes paid their way the tax rate would in fact decline. Is it not time too for corporate Australia and those earning fat profits here to pay their way too?

  • David Maywald

    It’s very unfair that so many people rely on the small number who earn a high income (and who pay most of the tax)… Government spending is much less efficient than household & individual spending. In the year to June-2012 (the most recent ATO stats) the people with incomes over $80,000 paid over $92 billion in income taxes, so 9% of the Australian population did pay 64% of tax… and that burden will increase with the Medicare Levy plus the Deficit Levy!! It’s unfair that so much of the heavy lifting is done by less than one in ten people, and that more than half of households pay no net tax (in many cases getting back more in govt benefits than they pay in income tax). Everyone should contribute to social spending, that spending should be much better targeted, and that spending should be much more efficient that it currently is…

  • Taxpayers Australia
  • Greg

    If we want to stop the leaners (as Joe suggests) stop of benefits to ex pollies and don’t let them access their super until the normal retirement age.

  • Travellersjoy

    I think the LNP and their IPA brains are all graduates of the Joseph Goebels School of Public Communications.

    What astonishing points of view for Australians to have. Unelect them now.

  • Bronte ALLAN

    Hockey & his bloody conservative/right wing/tea party mates want to make the workers & the persons on welfare to be treated as do all the low paid & welfare persons in the United States! BASTARDS! It is

    painfully obvious that “they’ have no regard for the low paid & welfare recipients here in Australia, all “they” are caring about are their millionaire mates, miners & big business! It does not matter how they try to wriggle out of any of this bloody budget crap, they could not care less about any of the low paid, welfare persons etc, just their own pockets & that of their mates! I shudder to think where we will be in 5 years time if all his bloody budget proposals become law! Bad luck for all the rest of us! And as for all the bloody perks & obscene wages etc they get, even Obama does not “enjoy” (sic) as much in the way of perks, benefits & salary as our own dear delightful (YUK!) bloody Prime Minister Rabbit gets!

  • Dennis

    My single greatest fear today is that these divisive words
    of the Treasurer will soon become a part of the Liberal rhetoric, just as
    illegals, economic refugees and queue jumpers did. Politicians seem to love
    these catchy words and phrases, as does the media – who repeat them again and again
    until they become part of our daily thought-processes. Shame, Mr Hockey. Have
    you any idea what the real world is like?

  • Dennis

    Since 1788 there have been some that have been recipients of some form of Government benefit

  • Gavin K Quietly

    Hockey the allegedly proud son of an immigrant, sadly & surprisingly forgets Australians live in a society not an economy

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