Don’t adjust your glasses: It’s a tax forum
“The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” was a 1980s American Top 20 hit for a husband-and-wife-led band called Timbuk3. They went on to release six albums but - sadly for them - they were one-hit wonders.
The Gillard Government is about to put 180 economic and social policy wonks into Federal Parliament’s Great Hall for two days, feed them rubber chicken and red cordial and ask them to sing for their supper by chorusing about tax reform.
The Tax Forum has modest aims - so let’s hope it doesn’t go the way of Timbuk3.
At the moment, however, participants are being asked not to wear shades, but blinkers. Our instructions are that no outcomes will have anything to do with those notorious three letters G, S and T.
The GST is one of our biggest taxation revenue raisers, accounting for about $50 billion a year, but its treatment is going to parallel that episode of Fawlty Towers where no-one’s supposed to mention the Second World War. Of course at some stage someone will utter the abbreviation GST.
Like Basil’s appalling customer service, however, it’s clear that no-one in Government or Opposition is going to do anything about it. The Government’s big goal for the Forum is to set up a Parliamentary debate about tax reform.
Most Australians don’t “get” Parliamentary debates. The closest they’ll ever get to Question Time is seeing a 10-second grab on the nightly news or stumbling across the one-hour “highlights” program on digital TV in the early hours, looking for the home shopping show or while beset by insomnia.
It seems strange then that the Forum is costing taxpayers around a million dollars when our pollies could bring on a debate in the House of Representatives for free, any time they like.
The Tax Institute has urged the Government to establish an independent body of experts to draw up the detailed blueprints for tax reform options and take the politics out of the process.
We want the Government to commit to tax reform for the benefit of all Australians. That means a structure, a timeline and a process. Not a communiqué and a warm, fuzzy glow.
The Henry review of our tax system was forward-thinking and visionary, looking 40 years down the track.
It foresees a new world economic order based on ever-deepening international integration, the transformation of business, commerce and personal lives by technological advances and the need to cope with an ageing population, reduction of some tax bases and higher costs of health, aged care and dependency.
Australia probably won’t be immune to the fall-out from the current global economic turmoil, but that should not be an excuse for shunning policy work to make our tax system simpler, fairer and more efficient.
To meet the challenges of the next 40 years, we must do the heavy-lifting and be ready to push the right buttons as the nation’s balance sheet improves.
No-one needs to wear shades or even rose-coloured glasses.
Robert Jeremenko is Senior Tax Counsel for The Tax Institute, Australia’s leading professional body on taxation.
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