Scott Morrison, the GST and the will of the people

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Don't waste your time telling Scott Morrison his tax plans are unpopular, he couldn't care less what you think, writes David Tyler.

DON'T WASTE YOUR BREATH telling Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison his tax plans are unpopular. Being unpopular will only serve to flatter his colossal ego. Don't ask how he can ignore the will of the people. Or delay the hundreds of submissions to his green paper on tax reform options. ScoMo knows what's good for us. He's about to launch a 15 per cent GST hike upon us. 

Ready, or not-so-ready, Scott Morrison is already lumbering down the runway. His rent seekers' pre-election special, the deceptively misnamed "tax reform package" is set for a barnstorming national tour. Pity none of it adds up.

Morrison proposes to tax all of us more despite telling us there's no revenue problem. We are meant to swallow whole his Government's line that this will "grow" the nation's economy. As a sweetener, expect tax cuts for those earning over $80,000 per annum, which will net you $100,000 a year if you are a millionaire, or about seven dollars a week if you are not. 

The ScoMo tax will hit hardest those who can least afford to pay — the poor and the elderly. It will also discriminate against women who already pay higher prices for identical products in a so called "pink tax" and do nothing for those it pretends to help — women with children in part-time work who would increase their hours but for the extra income tax. Compensation is spoken of, true. But what this will amount to is anyone's guess. Best keep your hopes low.

And who are we to quibble? What would we know? Never does respecting the people's will enter into ScoMo's vocabulary. Nowhere does he deign to explain how a regressive tax will do anything at all to promote economic growth. Or do anything but increase social division. Doing unpopular means not doing explaining or being too fussed over fairness. Morrison will just mow you down if you say it can't fly. Experts scatter for their safety.

Bizarrely, even for ScoMo – and riskily – he resorts to mythologising his past. He harangues his talkback mate Ray, I-can't-find-the-Bible, on Hadley's 2GB radio show about how in 2013 he knew best. He parades his track record of trashing the people's will as a badge of honour, even if it means he has to re-write some well-known history.

Modestly, he tells Ray and Ray's listeners:

"I remember before the 2013 election turn-backs actually had lower levels of support in the Australian community. It’s important that when you believe that something’s right for the country, that you remain focused on that." 

"Turn back the boats" an unpopular slogan? Seriously? In xenophobic Australia? He must be kidding.

Morrison will do or say anything. His national conversation on tax is also a complete con. His government never had any intention of truly consulting anyone. What it sought were smoke and mirrors; a subterfuge, where, after all options having been "on the table" for months, suddenly all we are all shoe-horned into one — a GST rise.

Cue "Mr Colgate", Mike Baird, to take some of the heat with his so-called "compromise plan", which equally bizarrely gives the money raised by the new GST rise, a state tax, largely back to the Commonwealth. A pittance only of $7 billion would go towards health and education, both of which are bleeding after the Abbott Government's cuts of $70 billion. If this is a compromise, it highlights how far off the tracks the "national tax conversation" has been derailed. Or hijacked.

Not only are ScoMo's 'unpopular' turn-backs a false analogy, however, his words are a disturbing abrogation of his responsibility to the people. Morrison  is happy to override popular opinion in order to give us not what we want but what he thinks we need. Or what he's been told to tell us we need. Tax cuts for the top end of town.

His package won't fly. Can't fly. He's even getting ahead of the PM, as Michelle Grattan observes — his equivocal, but needier, fellow social isolate 'Captain Flash' Turnbull. A rough patch looms ahead, surely. Turnbull may flake off just when Morrison discovers he, himself, is irrevocably welded to a GST that we all hate. It wouldn't be the worst outcome. Not for Turnbull, anyway.

Morrison's got few of us on board. His past lies don't help. His "national conversation about tax" performance piece failed to be a conversation. It solicited hundreds of submissions from all of us. Now it is totally ignoring them.

The promised green paper reflecting our views on tax reform has been postponed, the treasurer says until "before the election". Besides, who needs consultation when you have "Malcolm and I"?

Says ScoMo:

"Malcolm and I ... have advanced the debate a lot more effectively over the past four or five months than a green paper ever would."

One modest Government, two colossal egos.

February's version of ScoMo is running the old "tough but necessary" operating system. We've seen it before, right down to the presumptuous arrogance. Ad nauseam. It saves admitting that his sales pitch is a failure. Or that his reform package is no such thing, but just a ruse to get us all to subsidise his government's tax cuts for the rich.

You can tell Morrison senses defeat by his uncompromising demeanour. Soft and cuddly ScoMo locks up and has to reset himself to Rottweiler mode. It's disturbing transformation, as Gillian Triggs discovered when she dared venture that the indefinite detention of children was a human rights abuse if not a crime against humanity. Morrison pounced on her definition of detention as if a bit of categorical nit-picking ever did anything for imprisoned children.

Perhaps looking for the word "resolute", SBS helpfully misreports that the treasurer is resilient. No. After pretending to be tractable, democratic, even, he is back to his old "I know what's good for you, damn you!" contempt for any views but his own. He has no shortage of other stellar performers, either, to cheer him on.

Kate Carnell, tireless advocate for the abolition of penalty rates and the promotion of lower wages, who plays the role of Liberal blue heeler, nipping at dissenters' heels. Kate has strategically morphed into a small business ombudsman, presumably to supply a bit more puff on behalf of wealthy business interests, who feel out in the cold in Canberra.

Ms Carnell will supplement the more than one thousand business lobbyists already hard at work in the nation's capital, to say nothing of her own ACCI (Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) and an alphabet soup of similar groups who daily badger and harry our political elite. When it comes to advocates for business, too much is barely enough.

The public will pay a bargain $6 million dollars for Kate and a small team to support her to act as a cheerleader for increasing the GST.

Yet ordinary folk are not allowed the luxury of having any new advocates or even our disability or sex discrimination commissioners reinstated.

Kate helpfully waves aside popular opinion. Earlier this year, fearing an unpopular GST increase would be discarded too quickly, she got up nine different business groups to join in lobbying against "short-termism" in political decision-making. Her view is that no-one likes to pay extra tax. Or even their fair share.

A reporter raises recent Newspoll results suggesting that a GST increase is not what we want. A rise appeals to, at best, well under half of voters. The people are wrong again, however, it seems. Mal and Scott will sort them out. Tell them what's good for them. Good for Mal and Scott, that is.

A democratic government respects the will of the people. It does not trash popular opinion to follow its own agenda of protecting privilege by offering tax cuts to its mates. It  cannot merely be the servant of entrenched division and inequality. It cannot seek tax reform submissions and just sit on them. It cannot offer slogans instead of explanation of its aims. If it seeks more tax revenue it must make its case for increased prosperity for the common good.  

So far, the Abbott/Turnbull regime has flouted every requirement of a decent, democratic government in its campaign to increase taxes without consultation. It is time for all Australians to speak out. Either that, or it is time for us to kick them out.

You can follow David Tyler on Twitter @urbanwronski.

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