I had the great pleasure of attending a 60th birthday and a wedding in the past week, at which numerous young adults made speeches. They celebrated family, love and loyalty, and, yes, exuded success.
They were superb. Australia, your future is in good hands. These young adults will continue our great good fortune, despite the worst efforts of cringe-worthy government decisions.
And cringe-worthy government decisions are all around. Tony Abbott’s cringe was to impose a temporary levy on the top marginal income tax rate. This measure, to address the deficit, gave licence to those who think that government — that is, other people — have a right to your money. Abbott gave licence to class envy.
This error, on the part of a Liberal leader, was so inexcusable as to be politically fatal. To this point, Malcolm Turnbull has made no such error. Mind you, his bank tax came close because, among other things, it gave licence to the execrable South Australian Labor government to do the same.
As to the alternative government, Shorten Labor is moving unerringly left. More cringe-worthy government decisions await.
Bill Shorten is running on inequality. For this, read class envy. The only way to satiate class envy is to tax those who have and give it to those who have not.
The consequences, however, are that talent is punished and bad decisions and behaviour are rewarded. And remember, the talented can leave Australia, others cannot. Shorten runs the risk of telling talented young Australians that it is not worth getting ahead in Australia.
Egalitarianism in Australia must be the “have a go” version, not the “screw the rich and talented” version.
My old colleague Graham Richardson supports the Shorten agenda on inequality and contrasts the circumstances of the wealthy man and the single mother living out of a car as proof of inequality. To which we are entitled to inquire: what is the relationship between the two? So far as we know, absolutely none.
Unless the rich man was in a relationship with the poor single mother, he is no more responsible for the mother than any other citizen. He will, however, by dint of our highly progressive taxation system, have already contributed to her parenting payment, should she be in receipt of one, helped pay to chase support from the absent male partner, if he has failed to do so, and helped pay for numerous other forms of government assistance.
So, why do we throw in these illustrations inferring that the rich cause poverty? They do not.
While family is the first call for help, in Australia the rich pay the bulk of taxes, the poor receive the bulk of taxes, and charity picks up the rest: it has been so for decades.
This scenario was the subject of a thoughtful speech last week by Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, in which he remarked that “the formula that worked in the past of continual increases in welfare and further services will not provide the step-change improvement needed to address modern impoverishment”.
Modern impoverishment, as he calls it, is attributed to “family breakdown, worklessness, drug and alcohol addictions, education failure, and indebtedness and lack of financial capability”.
If the rich man did not cause the single mother’s plight, who did? Best not go there … it gets very personal and very judgmental. Better to think about what to do to prevent her plight.
Poverty is intergenerational. It runs in families, and relatively few at that. Indeed, the minister has to tell the full story about the families who collectively cost the taxpayer dearly. They require serious and prolonged intervention.
We can intervene to help, we should intervene to help, but at the right time and in the right way. And for goodness’ sake, let’s not be squeamish. The taxpayer is not responsible for bad choices and bad behaviour. The taxpayer is entitled to say so.
To intervene or not to intervene is not the great schism between left and right any more — both sides are at it. The purpose and effectiveness of the intervention is what counts. Labor’s inequality gambit blames the rich: it makes no pretence of understanding the cause of poverty. And Liberals have lost their ability to inspire the aspiring classes.
The young and gifted become the rich of tomorrow. Praise them, don’t tax them more, and don’t blame them for others’ misfortune. I want to witness more great speeches.
This article was first published by The Australian.