Menu lock

Federal

Oct 6, 2011

Tax forum gave us naked policy debate and no horseshit

If you want to improve the debate in Australia, if you want real public debate in this country rather than the dismal sloganeering of the unhinged -- this tax forum is a marvelous template.

It’s like some Dallas inspired meta-event. Tuning in to the drama called National Affairs, only to find that the last season of federal politics with its poor ratings, asinine plot arcs, infantile dialogue and characters so vacuous you wonder how they escaped from their bumper sticker — well, it was all just a bad dream.

We simply awake to find that we have a tax forum, filled with experts — experts that aren’t derided because of their expertise — constructively discussing  the problems we face with our current tax system, and doing so with a manner of civility and gravitas that we’ve all recently become unaccustomed to.

Yet even more unusual compared to the recent past of our nightmares — it was a debate by experts and not pretenders.

We now have an expert committee that over the short term will explore mechanisms to constructively treat business losses in a volatile economy struggling to adapt to the dislocative effects of a resource boom. And over the medium term it deals with broader business tax problems and explores whether a program of targeted measures rather than an homogenous corporate tax cut might produce superior results.

Treasury, the ATO and the Council for Small Business will bang heads together and create a blueprint to reduce tax complexity for small business. NSW and Qld start the long national process of reforming the menagerie of inefficient and often deleterious state taxes. The Not-For-Profit Reform Council has been told to analyse reform options for the state support of the massively important  non-profit sector. An independent Tax Studies Institute will be created to look into the wider architecture of the tax system itself, and to undertake serious empirical research into ways it can be simplified, using the best intellectual resources from our universities and elsewhere. The government will start to investigate annuities and deferred annuities being brought into the retirement system to provide more income certainty to the provision of private pensions. They’ll appoint an independent chair of the advisory board overseeing the ATO, anchoring the tax office into a bit more commercial reality. And finally, the government will lift the tax-free threshold to $21,000 when the fiscal position allows, enabling the removal of the Low Income Tax Offset.

While some of these initiatives were in the works earlier, others were not, and this provided the opportunity to collate related issues and programs together into a single thought orbit. Yet a forum such as this — bringing national debate back into the hands of people that actually know what they’re talking about — also produced some benefits many of us might not realise.

Many of the participants at the tax forum aren’t actually used to debating in challenging environments, spending most of their time either speaking to friendly audiences and preaching to the converted, or waging “debate” through media releases, media releases pretending to be newspaper columns or through short five minute interviews on current affairs programs that no one watches and fewer still care about.

Over the last two days, these folks had to confront some of their vested interests being dismantled before their eyes. There was no slick advertising to fall back on, no market tested slogans to fill capability gaps — it was naked policy debate where people had to own what they were selling. When their products started to stink, they had to own that too, in front of everyone.

A more healthier thing for public policy you will never see.

The government shouldn’t stop here — every four to six months they should convene a similar forum on a different topic (ageing population would be a good suggestion since sectors don’t talk to each other and are independently all trying to reinvent the wheel). Again, filling it with experts and not pretenders, filling it with people highly knowledgeable in their field and letting public policy ideas flow, letting solutions to problems be suggested and letting problems be exposed that the government might not even be aware exist.

Importantly, don’t invite politicians — not everything about government is about electoral politics. Let the Coalition or the Greens send a friendly think tank on their behalf. The absence of juvenile politics was one of the key reasons why the tax forum worked so well in the first place.

The other was that it was debate by experts, not pretenders. Debate by professionals, not professional noise makers in politics, the media or various flavours of rent-a-hack  — which goes a long way toward explaining  just why so many of the pretenders over the last few days are acting so aggrieved.

If you want to improve the debate in Australia, if you want real public debate in this country rather than the dismal sloganeering of the unhinged, this is a marvelous template. Debate informed by professional knowledge, professional experience and professional conduct.

On the other hand, if you want more Ray Hadley, Alan Jones, The Australian and the rest of the low-rent zoo peddling horseshit as a substitute then you know exactly what to do — absolutely nothing.

We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola

150 comments

Leave a comment

150 thoughts on “Tax forum gave us naked policy debate and no horseshit

  1. GocomSys

    Thank you! This type of clear and unambiguous information is exactly what the broader public desperately needs to hear! Well done!

  2. Bill Hilliger

    Thank you for the well balanced information. I now await to hear as Joe Hockey-nomics was saying? A waste of time hmmm! Maybe the megaphone batteries have gone flat.

  3. dippa

    That last paragraph just warms my heart.

    I just wish it wasn’t true for the vast majority of debate -_-

  4. Michael

    “If you want to improve the debate in Australia, if you want real public debate in this country rather than the dismal sloganeering of the unhinged, this is a marvelous template. Debate informed by professional knowledge, professional experience and professional conduct.”

    Terrific!
    Then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like:

    “On the other hand, if you want more Ray Hadley, Alan Jones, The Australian and the rest of the low-rent zoo peddling horseshit as a substitute then you know exactly what to do — absolutely nothing.”

    Progressives! Just can’t help themselves.

  5. snoozer289

    It is finally nice to here some positive feedback with regards to the tax forum.

    The majority od commentators, media and opposition had written it off as nothing but a talk fest.

    Maybe it is time these people started to give credit and acknowledge that the current government despite being a minority is being a lot more pro active and effective

  6. Peter Bayley

    It worked because Tony (“Big New Tax”) Abbott thought it was just a TalkFest and didn’t participate – because he doesn’t “DO” talking

  7. Stiofan

    In The Third Man the narrator says that, while Americans were courteous and gentlemanly to beautiful women, he had yet to meet one who would kiss the sores of a leper.

    It’s a piece of p_ss for Governments to hold tax forums. I’ve yet to see one which held a public forum on cutting its own spending.

  8. cpobke

    Forums, summits and conferences like this are held every week. The only difference is that this one was a bit bigger than most and the media showed up.

  9. Space Kidette

    Hear! Hear!

  10. Scott

    Well, lets have a look at the effectiveness of the tax summitt based on the stakeholder dialogue engagement dimension model (Esben Rahbek PEDERSEN’s work for those interested)

    1. Inclusion – MEDIUM/HIGH. Pretty much everyone invited (except for the Liberal party)
    2. Openness – LOW. The government already ruled a lot of tax options out before the dialogue.
    3. Tolerance – LOW/MEDIUM. Government and business voices seemed to overpower community
    4. Empowerment – LOW. Government has the final decision as to what to implement.
    5. Transparency – HIGH. Summit had a fair bit of info from treasury. General public had access via on-line streaming.

    So as only two dimensions (Inclusion and transparency) recorded high engagement, the dialogue was only really useful as a discovery/knowledge sharing exercise. Add the lack of a good facilitator and no SMART goals produced at the end and you have an interesting, but ultimately futile exercise.

Leave a comment