First and foremost, I would like to welcome Rao’s contribution to the political discourse and his love for Orwell. Sadly it has become commonplace in Australia (and around the world) for citizens to be disillusioned, disinterested and disenchanted with the state of modern politics. Nonetheless, while his two cents is welcomed, they are not free from criticism.
Rao, in his article “The Age of Euphemisms”, seeks to critique Australia’s Coalition government and its political narrative by invoking the language of class warfare. In an effort to keep this response ‘short and sweet’ this criticism has been restricted to this issue.
Seasoned warriors of both the left and the right within Australian politics are all too aware of this divisive language, its history and its links to the Australian Labor Party (eg Mark Latham). I agree with Rao’s sentiment of challenging hypocrisy if and when it exists. However, where we differ on is the suggestion, that Australia’s political left can rightfully claim the moral high ground on its language.
It has become very easy and fashionable for some pockets within society to request the rich to “pay their fair share”. Who can forget the world’s best Treasurer, Wayne Swan’s attacks on mining billionaires such as Clive Palmer, Twiggy Forrest and Gina Rinehart? The latter, as Rao’s interest in her suggests, is the left’s poster child for greater taxation. Which begs the question: are Australia’s rich paying their fair share? Rather than rely on the fashionable dogma of the day I will instead turn to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to respond to this question.
At the end of the 2012 financial year, only the top 20 per cent of households – as ranked by income – pay anything net of all the government services they receive. In fact, the average household receives a return of $2.03 for every dollar of tax paid. For the bottom two quintiles it is more than $166 and $17 respectively.
Separate data from Australian Taxation Office (ATO) confirms Australia’s progressive taxation system. In the financial year of 2010-11, just under the top 20 per cent of income earners (i.e., individuals’ net tax payable more than $80,000) paid $81.7bn or 61.6% of collected income tax. Compared with the bottom third of taxable income earners that represent 4% of total income tax.
In this debate about efficiency versus equity, it appears no data or reasoned observation (about the relationship between growth and taxation) can compete with the Goliath like political arguments that the rich can afford to pay. We are led to believe by this euphemistic language that we should make the rich pay their fair share. But who is rich? And what is fair? Understandably most people would probably agree with the statement “the rich should pay their fair share”. However, different people would likely answer these respective questions differently. Therein lies the problem, ie broad language tends to enjoy more support because it has a tendency to mean different things to different people. Such is the strength and indeed weakness of euphemistic language within political discourse.
I, unlike Rao, believe both sides of Australian politics fall foul of playing language games. Perhaps this is an unfair evaluation of Rao’s article. Supposedly a more sympathetic reader may have overlook the lack of balanced examples as well as his use of divisive class war rhetoric and concluded in harmony with the author. If the aim of the article was to provide a critique on political discourse then it requires a redraft. However, if its intention was to describe Liberals as something close to a “bunch of lying bastards” perhaps the article is fine and only the title needs amending.
Australia’s best days are ahead of us. With hard work and persistence Australia will become a stronger, prouder and more prosperous place to call home. But, this will not happen if we sit on our laurels. According to the IMF, over the next six years Australia has the third highest expected growth in government expenditure. Coupled with sluggish growth forecasts and an aging demographic a “she’ll be right” attitude will not cut it. Without a serious rethink about Australia’s political discourse and fiscal reform the current living standards that we enjoy will be at the expense of debt and future taxpayers.
Ryan Murphy-Moore is completing a double Bachelor of Economics & Arts (Philosophy) at La Trobe University.