Flat White

Not so useful idiots?

6 January 2021

7:25 PM

6 January 2021

7:25 PM

In the battle of ideas, idiots are seldom useful. Look to Vladimir Lenin, who is reported to have coined the term to describe peoplepropagandizing for a cause without fully comprehending the cause’s goals”. 

Australia’s own not so useful idiots take residence in many institutions and organisations. One particular organisation seems to provide permanent residence for not so useful idiots, the Australian Taxpayers Alliance (ATA). Working from a small, but representative sample of utterances, the ATA seems to regularly demonstrate their abject lack of intellectual and philosophical ballast.  While the ATA try to write in support of conservative and libertarian goals, their simplistic and sophomoric analysis undermine the cause.  Given that a key plank of the ATA’s mission is to “fight to oppose over-regulation, wasteful spending and burdensome taxes” it was fascinating to read in these pages an ATA policy researcher advocate for increased taxes.  Who would have thunk it? 

Writing in support of the NSW government’s plan to switch stamp duty for land tax, Julia Kokic penned: 

Land tax is also a far more consistent and reliable form of revenue for the state government. Stamp duty is highly volatile due to fluctuating property prices. Conversely, a predictable land tax enables the government to budget more effectively. It is a change endorsed by the head of the RBA Philip Lowe as well as the Thodey Review. 

Gee. A review commissioned by government to argue in support of government policy. Now there’s a surprise. And to gain the support of Australia’s money printer in chief, a key tax collector by other means, should not knock anyone over. But to argue that a tax change is good because it makes government revenues reliable and stable is just laughable. The last consideration in tax design should be about making the life of government ministers and bureaucrats easier. 

As with any policy changes, there are positives and negatives. Unfortunately, Kokic does not seem to give any consideration of the trade-offs which are highly dependent upon the rate and design of the tax. Kokic even quotes the NSW Government’s position: 

The move to land tax will see Sydneysiders paying an average of $2391 per year. 

Well, Ms Kokic, this number depends on many things including the government’s ability to accurately calculate the unimproved value of every piece of land in NSW; something that those familiar with the means and methods of the NSW Valuer General know is not possible. Oh and that little thing of the rate of tax and it not increasing and the timing of the switch from stamp duty to land tax. Yet these things seem inconsequential for Kokic in offering her glowing support. 

More philosophically, a change from stamp duty to land tax is a fundamental shift in the compact between government and citizens. If implemented, short of being homeless, there will be nowhere to hide from the taxman in the state of NSW. 

Currently, a person can structure their affairs to live without paying tax.  They can live “off the grid”, growing their own food or not purchasing prepared food (no GST).  They can avoid purchasing government-provided electricity or water.  Such a person need not have any interaction with government.   

Come the imposition of land tax, the government will be able to reach in the wallet and livelihood of every NSW citizen.  No ifs, no buts, no clueless nuts.  Perhaps something worth considering from a representative of an organisation that purports its mission to be “to transform our nation and build a better, freer Australia”. 

Not satisfied with advocating for increased taxes, the ATA has also recently delved into industrial relations.  Again in these pages, Xin Yuan Quek writes that the government’s proposed amendments to industrial relations laws are an ”attempt at micromanaging employer-employee relations”. 

Really? Does Xin mean that government doesn’t already micromanage employer-employee relations? 

But more impressive is that Xin goes from complaining about government micromanagement of employer-employee relations to advocating for it.  Commenting about proposed reforms to the framework around greenfield agreements, Xin laments that the “proposal fails to take into account the unpredictability of work environments, unexpected employee personal issues and downturns in the economy”.  There are many things to complain about with Australia’s stultifying industrial relations regime, but you need to compare with reality and not utopia.   

The sophomoric analysis and the thimble-sized intellectual breadth and depth of the ATA does not surprise.  This is the same organisation whose former director of policy, Satya Marar,  wrote in these pages that “public servants ultimately exist to serve us – the people”.  No, Mr Marar, they don’t.  Public servants exist to serve the elected government to implement their agendas. Public servants don’t have special sovereignty to act however they believe is in the public interest. 

This is the also the same organisation whose current Director of Policy ,Emilie Dye, on a CIS webinar on superannuation, demonstrated complete lack of investment sophistication but provided the essential qualification of “I [Emilie] am not a financial advisor”. 

Public policy is like matches. Used properly, they can improve the welfare of the people. They can light fires to keep people warm.  They light ovens to cook food. They burn to generate light.  But they can also start fires that injure and property. This is why, responsible adults don’t let toddlers play with matches.   

Perhaps it is time that the matches be taken out of the hands of the ATA. 

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