So it’s agreed. Tax reform is A Good Thing.
But not too much. Not when it gets in the way of pork barrelling.

Tax has
been on the agenda all week, but the PM doesn’t want to go too far. Every time
he’s opened his mouth recently he’s been singing the praises on the family tax
benefit. Like on PM on Wednesday.
Or at the ten-year
love-in that night. Or with Red Kez on the 7:30 Report last night:

KERRY O’BRIEN: But there is strong pressure
for reform, isn’t there?

JOHN HOWARD: But I don’t think it’s a big
issue. People would like further tax relief. There’s always a debate as to
whether people really want tax reform versus paying less tax. I think it’s
mostly the latter. It’s quite hard to
bring about a further radical change to the taxation system without interfering
with the existing Family Tax Benefit system and I can tell you Kerry, we’re not
going to interfere with that, because it’s very much at the core of the
help we provide to Australian families in the middle. That’s important to me
from a policy point of view. It’s also something that the public supports.

Why? Howard let the cat out of the bag on
PM:

One of the great
myths of all of this is that somehow or other we’ve made the poor poorer.

The rich have got richer, there’s no doubt about that, but commensurately the
poor have improved their position as well.

And most of the analysis, particularly of our Family Tax Benefit system, shows
that the greatest beneficiaries have been the low and middle-income families,
including in particular single parent families.

It mightn’t be economically efficient, it mightn’t
be just, but it’s so good when you’re a PM raking in a record tax take to use
it to pork the punters who prefer you at the polls – particularly when
it fits your own social prejudices.

No wonder Stephen Matchett opens his column
in The Australian today: “John Howard is a master of political disguise. For ten years he has
masqueraded as a conservative Prime Minister while building a welfare state
that has made Australia the Sweden of the south. Even more remarkable, nobody has noticed him doing
it…”

Peter Fray

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