MUNGO MacCALLUM: Tax – in the eye of the beholder.

May 27, 2016

The dementors of Newscorps couldn’t believe their luck.

When the hapless Duncan Storrer rose to ask why rich people were to receive tax cuts while the poor, like himself, did not, the man ticked all the boxes.

He was obviously a victim, and presumably a whinger. And he was not only an invited guest of the one-eyed leftist ABC, but of its most unholy program of all – Q and A. And unsurprisingly, its gullible audience proclaimed him a hero. The man was born to be destroyed.

So the armies of the night gathered to scrabble back into decades from his past to find reasons for his persecution. And of course they found some: the man was, like so many of the underprivileged, occasionally involved in drugs and violence; enough said. He could now be despatched to the ranks of the doomed and damned.

But in a sense this was overkill, because before the gutter-trawling even took place, the man was condemned as a worthless human being: he paid no net tax.

This did not mean that he paid no tax at all; in fact Storrer worked, when he could, on whatever jobs his disability would allow and he received the minimum wage for doing so. Thus he exceeded his tax-free threshold.

But, and this was the point, he collected more benefits than he paid tax, hence he was not a lifter but a leaner, a bludger. He was thus to be despised and rejected.

But this assessment only revealed the curious unreality of the world of Newscorps. For many years – almost since their existence – their troops have been inveighing against paying tax in any form at all. Tax minimization was the corporation’s core policy; minimization was not only a right but a civic duty.

Their real hero was the late Kerry Packer, who declared to a senate committee: “Of course I’m minimizing my tax. If anyone in this country doesn’t minimize their tax they want their head read. As a government I can tell you that you’re not spending it that well that we should be paying extra.” Packer had a far more worthwhile use for public money: blowing a few millions on casinos, for instance.

And he had plenty of incentive to do so, because the government assists tax avoidance for the rich in so many ways. Off shore havens, family trusts, income splitting, dividend imputation, superannuation concessions, negative gearing, capital gains tax deductions, charitable donations – not forgetting party political ones – and all the lurks and perks lawyers and accountants can muster to claim business expenses – including of course the fees of their providers.

The Newscorps brigade accepts and applauds this system when it is for the rich, invariably described as “hard-working Australians” — even great ones, like Kerry Packer. But for the strugglers like Duncan Storrer, the dementors have nothing but contempt .

A double standard? Perhaps not. After all, Rupert Murdoch is even richer than Packer was, and he probably pays even less tax. And when he whinges about it, (which he does – constantly) he goes straight to the prime minister.

And Newcorps, of course, declares him a hero. Tax, it seems, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder – or at least of the employee.

Mungo MacCallam is a political commentator and former senior correspondent in the Canberra Press Gallery.

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