Oh to be a tax expert, but I have the wrong chromosomes!

Who is trying really hard to influence the Australia’s Future Tax System Review Panel? They are ‘hosting’ a two-day conference in late June 2009, ostensibly on the tax transfer system as a whole, however the social is absent from the agenda. The Melbourne Institute is organising two days for the Review Panel “to debate leading edge tax and transfer policy issues and contribute to the work of the review in an informal setting”. The by invitation only conference for 150 people offers “a world class selection of keynote speakers” in nine sessions, but all are male, with one female discussant out of 14. Social objectives are not on the agenda, only the self interested calculus of that equation spinner, Economically Rational Man.

I am still somewhat optimistic about this Review’s call for submissions, which started with the following question:

Q 1.1 In considering the community’s aspirations for the type of society that Australia should become over the next two decades and beyond, which key features should inform or drive the future design of the Australian tax-transfer system?

The Women’s Electoral Lobby’s submission stated that “sustaining better societies requires tax policies that encourage judicious mixes of individual initiatives with collective inputs and sharing. How much is collected and what our representatives and servants do with it determine when the public sphere shares risk collectively and what levels of social equity are deemed necessary.”

We pointed out that shortfalls in funds for public health, education and community services led to competing for services and funds undermines collaboration and creates two tier services. Choices were for those in private sectors and residual, presumably lower quality, public services for the rest. Citizens have been redefined as customers.

We met with three Review panel members last week and I was impressed with their interest in the issues we raised and optimistic about a good report. We recognised that we were the only group to scold them for using the term tax ‘burden’ and maybe to suggest that maybe the overall tax take was to low to reduce damaging inequalities. We also suggested that there was more to discuss than women’s role as paid labour supply, an issue well covered by The National Foundation of Australian women: two submissions versus so many with more status quo views.

When I opened the conference notice email, it reminded me of how well resourced are those who want to cut taxes at the top, increase inequalities and push self interest under the heading of encouraging growth. They fail to recognise that difficult times need space for questioning older certainties. I know the gender distribution of expert speakers is only one indicator of limited viewpoints but all male speakers on this issues a good one to stimulate questions of who has the influence and resources to push their views and who is less likely to be heard.