Sure, I’d like to see the miners pay more tax as they make money out of our reserves of minerals. Like the evil capitalists in early cartoons in socialist magazines, the mining companies’ bosses make very good villains. They earn ridiculous amounts of money and often come with strange accents and dubious corporate antecedents. Who wouldn’t like to see some extra funds in the public kitty to spend on some really socially useful ends? As a related example, Norway used its share of North Sea oil revenue to make it a much more civil society.
The spin doctors picked a good target for the Rudd Government’s one clear effort at establishing itself as being at least a teeny weeny bit on the left. It makes a nice left wing fairy tale: the Cabinet could be seen as white knights riding into battle with the evil dwarfs and giants that emerge from some cloud-shrouded dark mountain. All that is missing are some trolls and maybe a big bad wolf, but there are many Coalition politicians who will oblige in the smaller parts of the pantomime
Why so cynical? Surely this new tax is a good thing? It is being sold as providing the resources to do good things for some voters by increasing super and cutting company tax. So it is not surprising that there was some enthusiasm expressed by those who would be potential recipients. And they are an odd lot! There was John Brogden, ex NSW Liberal leader, delighted at the proposed expenditure priorities. Along with the rest of the finance and superannuation industries and union movement heavies, he recognised that much of the new tax would go to funding the Government costs of boosting the compulsory super contributions to 12%. All those lovely fees and commissions would be very welcome to the providers of superannuation services, both commercial and not for profits!
Adding to superannuation will be the main destination of the extra funding, once it is fully implemented. Brian Toohey in his Australian Financial Review analysis of the proposal suggest that the total costs of the extra 3%, when fully implemented, will cost general revenue about $8B in income tax foregone on contributions and earnings and contribute minimally to savings. Even the government admits to paying out $3.6B for its early years.
But surely there are arguments that the extra super will be good for the ‘working families‘ Labor claims would benefit? Unfortunately the current design of super is grossly unfair, and, despite some major changes recommended by Henry, has only been tinkered with. There will be a refund of the unfair contribution taxes paid by those who otherwise pay little or no tax, but this still leaves far too much of the public contributions to super from general revenue going to those on higher incomes.
The Review’s suggestion was that contributions be taxed as income, i.e. at the recipients’ current marginal tax rate. This would have created both better equity and netted additional Government tax income as higher income recipients would have paid their fair share rather than using super as a form of tax avoidance. Henry also recommended against the rise to 12% of super, as it was not needed by those on higher incomes and would penalise low income earners by removing income they needed to live on. Neither suggestion was adopted by the Government.
The criticisms are well founded for example in an item on PM on May 12th, just after the budget announcement. To quote:
ASHLEY HALL: The Resources Super Profits Tax is dividing the political parties and polarizing public debate. But what’s been dubbed a super tax rort is receiving much less attention. Long standing big tax concessions on superannuation have bi-partisan political support. But a leading expert say they’re costing $25 to $30 billion a year in foregone revenue, creating a tax dodge for high income earners, and undermining the Government’s ability to deliver needed social and economic programs. Dr Mike Rafferty of the University of Sydney says the Government won’t wind back the concessions, because they benefit the financial services industry, which has become a key Labor constituency.
The skew in the use of concessions was shown last year in Australia Institute Research Paper No. 61. What is the incidence of the concessions?
Astonishingly, the top five percent of individuals account for 37 per cent of concessional contributions. The current concessions provide almost no benefit to low- income earners, including women working part-time, but an executive earning $300,000 per annum with a million dollar retirement account can receive $37,000 of concessions , 2.5 times the value of the age pension, for every year of their working life.
So public benefits will be limited and social equity will not benefit by the super increases, despite public beliefs that they will. The desire for a lump sum seems to be so strong that few question whether the system is equitable. The rich, mainly male, prominent policy makers and supporters of the current system also benefit from it personally, so are more unlikely to criticise!
And the other big ticket item from the RSPT is the cuts to company tax, initially for small and medium businesses, then all. This bribe is offered to the business constituency in the hope of making them support the tax, presumably also to embarrass the Opposition,. The cut can also be connected to the increase in superannuation, as it could reduce the net employer costs. However, a reduction in the company tax take is another reduction in general revenue which means that there is less money for spending on the many social needs that affect people long before retirement.
Maybe those on the left who are so enthusiastic about a new tax that is supposedly screwing capitalism should take a close look at where the money is going. Its goal is not even social, let alone socialist, as claimed by the miners! More left field expenditure, such as more money for tertiary education, asked for today, could make the tax more socially valuable and ethical, or is that not a term related to policy and politics?