Keith Mitchelson: The perfect rort…gas-guzzling SUVs and utility trucks and more

Apr 11, 2022
Toyota Hilux.
A 90% increase in imported gas-guzzling SUV and utility truck sales nationwide. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Morrison Government is nothing if not inventive. If you need to rort votes there is always a danger that people will notice. How to devise the perfect rort that is the question? Free vehicles for anyone!

The Coalition has been pressing home the same message for decades – if you vote for us, something large may come your way. If you don’t vote for us, who are you?

For many decades the Nationals element of the Coalition have used natural disaster relief as a method to re-engage with selected traumatised electorates with support after the disaster event – often long after, to coincide with upcoming elections. This was in sharp focus after recent floods in northern NSW saw initial ‘special federal relief’ coming to Coalition held local government areas, but not to others equally devastated, dependent on the politics of the sitting member. For a country which prides itself on ‘a fair go’ these machinations are becoming electoral poison, where even the lucky recipients object to such rorted distributions.

We can wonder why intelligent politicians are so cack-handed as to let us see such campaigns. But are these ‘glances’ more Orwellian? Are we being trained to accept corruption directed to supporters as a normality of politics, by letting the tiddlers be slightly seen? Here the well-known sports club rorts brought forth an excuse by former NSW Liberal State Premier Gladys Berejiklian that “everybody does it”, which while jarring, weakens our sense of self-worth. Increasingly Australians do not want to know, or believe, that our ethics are so poor as to be susceptible to this type of inducement. We are shocked to also understand that this is the sum ‘plan’ under which critical national and local infrastructure is decided upon, allocated and built.

Yet as we approach the federal election this May the rorting of national infrastructure grants continues apace. The Coalition passed multibillion dollar approvals for new dams in Queensland and NSW, in electorates teetering on the loss of their sitting Nationals MPs. In lock-step, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce abolished the National Water Grid Advisory Body before it had a chance to assess the basic viability of these already announced projects.

Professor Andrew Macintosh, the former chair of the federal Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee recently claimed the Coalition’s carbon abatement schemes deliver little carbon emissions reduction, just as the Coalition hastens to open new gas fields for fracking and extraction in regional electorates before the election. To satisfy gas mining company demands for ACCU abatement credits, yet more dodgy schemes will have to be financed with taxpayer money. This is rocket-fuelled escalation of direct government subsidy – billions of dollars to fossil fuel miners and major landowners of low-productivity land. These subsidies to the Coalition’s big corporate friends do little to create new jobs, or to secure the support of ordinary electors. The Clean Energy Regulator argues the abatement schemes and the ACCUs they generate are not based on supply considerations. But then why stimulate more and more gas production if there will be insufficient numbers of ACCUs to satisfy their carbon offset needs? Expect to see floods of public money pouring into these abatement scheme mega-rorts.

With the above schemes being seen as dodgy, the government has been busily devising opaque schemes that direct tax monies directly to individuals and small businesses, as being more on the re-election money. These hidden rorts are of necessity even bigger, and with more enduring effects on our society and its values. Although Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has cancelled car-park projects as the stink of another ‘car-park rort’ wafted across to his electorate, he is still interested in votes from a cohort of new car-owners, but the problem is how to secure their votes without anyone else noticing?

There has been little publicity, yet surely everyone has noticed the vastly growing numbers of new cars, clogging our cities, highways and parked along streets as private garages overflow. In 2021 alone, $18.1 billion was provided in temporary full expensing for business capital expenditure, which remarkably seems to correlate with a 90% increase in imported gas-guzzling SUV and utility truck sales nationwide, all despite a national pandemic of lockdowns. Yet remember government talk in 2020-21 of economic recovery being fuelled by the building industry working, tradies constructing suburban houses, while retail and services industries were told to work from home, if possible. Their specific interest in that sector was because they needed to ensure tradies would be driving to work in their new free cars.

Small business owners, independent contractors and tradies have taken up this annual free-car rort with gusto. It’s free because after 12 months accelerated depreciation the car is yours. It can be sold on the buoyant used car market with the initial value recovered. Then do it all again the following year for another free car. What a brilliant idea to put a huge cash bonus in the pockets of potential new supporters, far better than indirectly by local amenity schemes that might be seen to be rorts. With the pandemic providing plausible cover, by laundering monies as temporary personal business tax relief through the ATO who would recognize it as a free-car rort? The scheme now continues until 2024, and since uptake is not fixed as much as $60 billion might eventually be handed out in a secret rort that other tax-payers barely notice they are funding.

Special pandemic support does not stop with ‘temporary full expensing’ schemes though. Another program, ‘CashFlow boost’, was for any small business (or charity) with a turnover less than $50 million. Up to $100,000 could be claimed regardless of businesses hardship. As Crikey’s Jason Murphy noted, “Yes, 2020 was a busy year with a lot to think about, but how can the government give out $35 billion to its core demographic — small business — and not get a few more headlines?” University of NSW economist Cameron Murray observed – “Thirty-five billion dollars went to 800,000 small-company-owning households, but missed many small businesses that operate under different structures — for example, sole traders.” Not to worry there Cameron, Josh has them covered with his free-car-rort.

Now, with two or three free new cars per household in the hands of potential Coalition supporters all across the nation, the recent fuel price rises could put their loyalty at risk. Again, no worries there, although support cannot be so precisely targeted, Josh’s 2022 budget temporary fuel excise relief is a broad wink towards them, designed to keep that prior investment on track to paying electoral dividends.

Keith Mitchelson has 40-years experience in academic and commercial biotechnology sectors in the UK, China, and Australia.

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