Turnbull might be talking about tax, but his real agenda is about stirring up fear in the middle class to save his electoral skin. Professor Carl Rhodes says that's a shame.
It looks like we are in for tax-talk in Parliament this week. But, as politicians exchange blows about how best to manage the budget, the tax debate is revealing something much more deep seated about Liberal politics.
In Parliament last week, Malcolm Turnbull was acting like a true CEO politician, trying to curb his party’s weakening polls. Liberal Party rhetoric demanded that he spoke to voters’ individual financial self-interest. But his real game was trying to win votes thought intimidation.
Like a seasoned rabble-rouser he was hell-bent on instilling fear and loathing amongst the aspirant and middle classes. What is there to be afraid of?
Turnbull speaks in simple words:
"Vote Labor and see your house price go down. That's what Labor is offering. Lower house prices, poorer Australians."
Forget the national interest, social policy, or the fate of the economy, what we should really be scared of is the Labor party’s tax policies.
These are policies that will, according to Turnbull, mean that
"... the 70 per cent of Australians who own houses will see the value of their single most important asset smashed."
The words might be about tax, but the real agenda is about using fear to get votes. Until recently, we had "stop the boats". Now, Turnbull trumps up with better stop the evil lefties from sending you to the poor house.
Turnbull doesn’t really know where he or his party stands on the issue of Capital Gains Tax with all of his back-flipping and front-flipping over the issue. But, when he is out to rescue the polls by trying to discredit the opposition, he is downright decisive about the dangers of voting for anyone but him.
Repeating an established refrain, he is accusing the Labour party of the "politics of envy". For Turnbull, the long standing democratic ideals of equality and social justice can be cheapened to the view that working people are just covetous of the wealth of the well-heeled.
By this way of thinking, changes that might see the tax system used to redistribute income aren’t about justice; they simply reflect jealousy and resentment on the part of those who can’t afford to own multiple houses!
Despite his accusations against Shorten, it is Turnbull the landlord populist who is trying to fight a class war — from the side of well-to-do.
Forget Malcolm Turnbull's scare campaign, here some more facts on negative gearing pic.twitter.com/Bk26m5WBwR— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) February 24, 2016
With his talk about tax, Turnbull is issuing a more erudite version of Joe Hockey’s cruder distinction between "leaners and lifters". It’s also similar to Donald Trump’s castigation of the poor as "losers".
Progressive tax as a feature of democracy? No way! Despite growing income inequality that places Australia as more inequitable country that the OECD average, for Turnbull those who risk being left behind by the neoliberal ideology he espouses are unjustly envious of the rich. Maybe he thinks we all want to be just like him?
What about the new generation of working Australians who feel consigned to an inevitable future of precarious employment? Are they locked into a system of inequality created by a long rampant neoliberalism? Or are they just unfairly envious on account of being priced out of an unaffordable housing market?
Perhaps the only chance to avoid being a renter is to live in one of your parents’ investment homes? Turnbull himself, for example, owns seven properties.
With the talk of taxes, Turnbull is reducing Australian political debate to a populist fear-mongering designed to tug at both the heart-strings, as much as the purse-strings, of middle-class Australia.
Speaking last September, when he took over the nation’s political reins, Turnbull announced that his would be a government
“... committed to freedom, the individual and the market."
He has been true to his word — freedom at the expense of equality, the individual at the expense of the community and the market at the expense of democracy.
Turnbull’s vision of Australia – and, indeed, of Australians – is not based on the traditions of egalitarianism, equality, social justice and a fair-go for all. It draws instead on a model of competitive individualism where some people are winners and the losers envy their spoils.
As a demagogue of financial self-interest, Turnbull is waging a class war based on middle class fear. It is arguably the case the focus on negative gearing is a subterfuge to avoid debates over more significant economic issues, or worse that both the Government and Opposition are lacking any serious ideas for economic reform.
But even in a policy vacuum, something needs to be said to win over the voters after Turnbull’s honeymoon with Australia seems to be over. Issues of corporate tax avoidance, Medicare and education might matter more to the citizens of Australia, as might the off-the-Government’s agenda issues of same-sex marriage, climate change policy and the Australian republic.
These are central matters that need to be debated so as to instigate changes that would render Australia a fairer nation where both income and opportunity are more equally distributed. But rabble-rousing has long been a way to steer clear of the real issues, by appealing to people’s selfish and generally unfounded fears.
“Backbenchers concerned about Govt’s persistent smoke signals on negative gearing” https://t.co/7eq3UOk7u3 Property Council on war path— Perorationer (@Perorationer) February 28, 2016
Of course, nothing strikes fear into the Australian middle class heart as much as housing prices. Abbott may have tried it with immigration, Islamaphobia and union bashing, but Turnbull has brought the fear-politics much closer to home.
This is a politics that divides rather than unites, that obfuscates important issues rather than clarifies them, that stifles rather than enables democratic debate and that reduces the Australian citizen to a fearful economic functionary.
If Turnbull’s rabble-rousing succeeds, then taxes might just push Australian democracy one step closer to its death. That, however, is not inevitable.
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