The ABC’s censorship of Emma Alberici in response to pressure from Malcolm Turnbull comes at a time when the national broadcaster’s mainstream media competitors are also increasingly failing to properly inform Australians.
Far from being, as alleged by the ABC, too opinionated, Alberici’s piece (available here) is a collation of straightforward facts — levels of profit versus wages growth in recent years, the fact that few companies pay 30% tax, the high level of investment despite our “uncompetitive” tax rate, the minimal role tax plays in business investment decisions, the comparative performance of investment and wages in Australia, and Canada, where company tax rates were reduced significantly, the decline of real wages in the UK where company taxes were also cut, the Congressional Budget Office analysis showing Australia’s tax rate is relatively low compared internationally; the relatively negligible economic benefits identified in the government’s own modelling, the fact that we’re projected to remain in deficit for several years yet.
Sure, there was a gratuitous targeting of the salary of Alan Joyce, but otherwise none of these facts are disputed. Indeed, they’re well-known. Crikey wrote about the Canadian and British experiences, and the CBO report, eleven months ago, and no one said boo. I’ve repeatedly asked the Business Council of Australia to explain why wages growth in the UK and Canada so significantly underperformed wages growth in Australia despite their cuts to company tax, and the BCA has refused to respond. Likewise, it’s noteworthy about the hysterical response to the article that no one disputed the facts. The Financial Review, which has led the attack on the ABC, today ran a piece it headlined “Our ABC perpetrates a tax fraud” that it claimed “debunked” Alberici’s work. It was a strange “debunking” — the piece skated over nearly all of the facts in Alberici’s piece and dismissed them as “anecdotes” and “red herrings” that the authors are “not buying” because they’re at odds with economic modelling.
This is “fake news” territory, to insist that real-world evidence from other economies that have implemented the policy you’re defending is merely “anecdote”, while economic modelling — based on ridiculous assumptions like our lack of debt, and full employment — is a better guide to reality. Then again, the AFR was already deep into denial when it comes to tax cuts. There appears to be an editorial prohibition on any mention of the extraordinary level of share buybacks going on in the US fueled by Trump’s tax cuts — now running at more than twice the level they were a year ago. You’d think that the AFR, in seeking to make the investors who read it as well informed as possible, would regard the dramatic increase in share buybacks by some of the biggest companies in the world as newsworthy, but clearly not.
The only “tax fraud” being perpetuated here is the one by the government, business and media cheerleaders like the AFR — the broad daylight transfer of over $60 billion from taxpayers to the world’s largest corporations under the verifiably false pretences that the money will be used to increase investment and wages. It’s a quite brilliant fraud, too: corporations don’t even have to hire an array of expensive tax lawyers like the Deloittes partner who wrote the AFR piece — they just have to chip in some money to Liberal and National Party coffers and get the politicians to do the heavy lifting of reducing their tax burden.
Fairfax, the owner of the AFR, of course can print whatever denialism it likes about the company tax cuts it will benefit from, should it ever achieve regular profitability again. As corporations, media companies can say what they like, and long may they do so, even if as a result Australians have less trust in our country’s media than virtually any other people. The ABC is different. It is funded by taxpayers and is rightly held to much higher editorial standard than private media companies. That’s why it is by far Australia’s most trusted media outlet. But the decision to cave in to government pressure and censor one of its most senior journalists, coming just days after the extraordinary decision to hand back to the government a trove of cabinet documents without sharing them with its audience, will undermine that trust. The ABC is looking increasingly like a state, not a national, broadcaster.
Bernard Keane is the Political Editor of Crikey.
This article first appeared in Crickey on 19 February 2018