Turnbull's feigned class warfare outrage

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(Image via @unionsaustralia)

If Malcolm Turnbull's outrage at the suggestion that he will benefit from his own tax cuts is justified, he can just release his tax returns so we can judge, writes former assistant tax commissioner, John Passant.

THAT NAUGHTY Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. The hide of the man for running advertisements suggesting that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with his estimated $200 million in wealth in offshore managed investment funds, will benefit from the proposed company tax cut for companies with turnover greater than $50 million.

"Class warfare!", bellowed the Coalition — the very same people who, while in power, are waging class war against workers. There has been a one-sided class war going on in Australia since 1983 – the government against the people – and they have been winning.

Successfully shifting wealth and income from labour to capital has been the consistent policy of and outcome for all governments since 1983. Class war "ballyhoo" and nonsense appeals to aspiration, try to disguise this reality.

Malcolm himself feigned outrage about the advertisement, and said he and his wife Lucy had worked hard, invested, had a go, made money and paid tax — plenty of tax!  Well, then Mal-Cayman, perhaps you’d like to release your tax returns to show that you have, in fact, paid plenty of tax in Australia.

I worked hard for my $200 million is a classic capitalist response. Were any workers exploited (in the Marxist sense) to be able to accrue this money and capital?

Turnbull has said his investments are now held through offshore managed investment funds, "to avoid a conflict of interest in them being held in Australian shares". In fact, these funds do own Australian shares.

And as a former Assistant Commissioner of Taxation who was in charge of international tax reform, offshore arrangements always interest me. What are the Australian tax consequences of investing in offshore managed funds, Mr Turnbull? Don’t waffle on about how you pay the lawful amount of tax. Release your tax returns and those of Lucy so we can judge.

Turnbull has also just introduced personal income tax cuts — cuts that overwhelmingly favour the rich. This is another example of wealth shifting from labour to capital. Ultimately, the burden will be felt by workers in the concomitant cuts to public services, jobs losses due to mechanisation and the increasing bills that the pittance of $10-a-week tax cuts for workers will not address.

Australia is a low tax country. We could easily squeeze the rich until their pips squeak.

Making the tax system less and less progressive, which is what most tax "reforms" do, benefits capital and the rich. These people are dining at the table of Turnbull’s tax cuts, while we get a few scraps. Those table droppings are just a return of bracket creep.

Those earning more than $200,000 a year (and that includes all Federal MPs) will get

‘ ... a tax cut of $7,225 a year … from 2024-25 while someone on $30,000 would get a tax cut of $200 a year.’  

On top of that, all Federal MPs got a 2% pay increase from 1 July. A backbencher will be better off from 1 July by over $4,000 a year or $80 a week. Turnbull will get an extra $203 a week. Turnbull donates his salary of $538,000 to his own charitable foundation, so in effect, with that as a deduction, he pays no tax on his salary. 

IA managing editor David Donovan has raised important questions about Malcolm's charitable donation arrangement. As I said before, the time has come for Malcolm Turnbull to be honest about his tax arrangements and release his tax returns for the last 30 years.

One of the main issues for working people is stagnating wages. Other important issues include part-time and precarious work. Nothing Malcolm Turnbull does will address these issues. Indeed, he is in charge of a system that is delivering those very low wage and precarious work outcomes. His policies are making those outcomes worse.

From 1 July, penalty rates will be cut for hundreds of thousands of workers. The 10-15% cut means a loss of pay of between $16 and $32 for the day. Turnbull is doing nothing to stop this Fair Work Commission decision.

Turnbull correctly points out that Shorten in his role as an Australian Workers’ Union leader traded off penalty rates. True, because Shorten’s ‘making capitalism work’ strategy is the contradiction at the heart of Labourism and its capitalist worker expression in Australia, the ALP. Unlike Turnbull, Shorten opposes the FWC penalty rate cut decision and will overturn it if Labor wins the election.

While there was a $16 to $32 penalty rate cut for hundreds of thousands of workers, politicians get at least $80 a week extra pay. That just about sums up our society today. With falling real wages, increasing inequality, reductions in public services, changes in the workforce, workers are in the first circle of capitalist hell. Only eight to go.

It is true that on 1 July the minimum wage went up 3.5%. The minimum wage is now $719.20 a week.

According to the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, for the December quarter of 2017: 

‘Inclusive of housing costs, the poverty line is $973.26 per week for a family comprising two adults, one of whom is working, and two dependent children.’

This differential between the minimum wage and the poverty line might help explain the anger that many workers feel that, as yet, has no industrial, economic or political focus or outlet. A recent YouGov Galaxy poll of Australian millennials showed that 59% of them think capitalism is failing and 58% supported socialism. If that unformed sympathy were to find a genuine political outlet – in a mass movement for example – then the 1% might have something to worry about.

If we look around the globe, the class collaboration labour and capital model is under challenge politically from the likes, to name a few, of Jeremy Corbyn, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and, to a lesser degree, Bernie Sanders.

The victory of democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over ten-term Congressman Joe Crowley, in the Democratic Party primary for Crowley’s seat in Congress, is a further indicator of the swing to the left globally. Ocasio-Cortez ran on a classic social democratic program of health care for all, free education for all, higher wages, the abolition of ICE (the American equivalent of Border Force) and so on.

Bill Shorten is not blind to these global developments and the support these politicians have won from disaffected working-class people. That is why he has become a 5% rhetorical Corbynista, to give the impression of progressive economic and political change for workers. Shorten wants to veer slightly to the left to win back some of Labor's working-class base.

It is time for a real "Left" in Australia today to fight politically, economically and industrially for workers and the poor. It is time for workers to build a fighting Left that forces a Shorten Labor government, if it is elected, to implement progressive policies for workers and those left behind.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed(Ginninderra Press 2016), are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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