The
Australian
‘s always a rollicking read on tax. Yes, there was that bout of
hiccoughs 20 years ago when Des Keegan and Katy West thought a corrupt agrarian
socialist from Queensland would lead us to a flat tax Mecca, but most of the time it’s sound.

Last
Friday’s editorial was particularly entertaining:

Ten years of John Howard’s supposedly
conservative leadership has turned Australia into something of a socialist
utopia. While that may sound extreme, consider: There are now 700,000
Australians on the Disability Support Pension, an increase of 20% in
the past five years – a time when workplaces have become ever safer. Overall
health spending has more than doubled in the past decade, to $45 billion, while
under Mr Howard’s watch, spending on state-subsidised medicine has increased on
average by 12% per year. And a couple can have two kids, earn $53,000 a
year, and pay no net tax thanks to a generous – and expensive – money-churning
apparatus developed in the past decade. At the same time, top PAYE income
earners (as opposed to the truly rich, who order their affairs to pay only the
much lower corporate or concessional capital gains rates) get slugged with a
48.5% tax hit, including the Medicare levy, on every dollar they earn
over $125,000 from this July. No wonder the prime minister is so popular: with
the vast income redistribution schemes his government has put in place to take
people’s money and then hand it back to them, cynics might well say that there
is more vote-buying going on in Australia circa 2006 than in Chicago during the
1890s…

Janet Albrechtsen had something similar to say yesterday:

You have to hand it to John Howard.
He learns from his political opponents. He steals their tricks. And he improves
on them. The standard tactic of popular left-of-centre leaders has always been
to dole out welfare, dish out more and more public service jobs and make people
part of the government project. Get people by their wallets and they will keep
voting you back into power.

Yet Albrechtsen had a different message in December when she wrapped
up 2005:

It has been a momentous year for the
conservative cause. Howard has become for Australia what Ronald Reagan
was to the US and Margaret Thatcher to Britain. Plenty of politicians
spend a
lifetime gaining power and, when it comes, are so busy holding on to it
that
they shy away from controversial but much needed reform…

Howard, on the other hand, is changing Australia to reflect the way we work, the way
we raise our children, the way we’re educated, the sorts of things we expect
governments to do and, more to the point, the things we want to do for
ourselves.

Of course, Howard is far from the perfect
conservative. He has thrown tax dollars at failed businesses (Ansett, United
Medical Protection), set up slush funds to massage the passage of reforms
(voluntary student unionism, Telstra), and continues to prop up and pander to
powerful lobbies (pharmacists). Not to mention his obscene election spending
sprees. But, then, reform comes at a price. And Howard is on the reform path…

Really? The
tagline on yesterday’s column read “Howard and Costello
have failed us – it’s up to the next generations to lead the tax revolt.”

Albrechtsen has borrowed too much from the American culture wars. She’s
used to using the word “liberal” as a term of abuse – but she and her paper are
complaining about John Howard’s lack of liberalism. Economic liberalism.

She’s said it herself. Howard is a conservative. Conservatives resist
change. Particularly changes of government, when they run the show. Bit of a problem
there, Janet.

Peter Fray

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