On Luke Foley and gay marriage

Alastair Lawrie writes: Re. “NSW Labor launches its campaign with more whimper than bang” (yesterday). Alex Mitchell spends more than one fifth of his piece discussing Luke Foley’s opposition to marriage equality, and even speculates that he might reverse that position in a drop to the Daily Telegraph. The problem being Luke Foley indeed did reverse his position, via the Sydney Morning Herald 11 days ago. I would have expected someone who is described as being NSW political correspondent to be paying attention during the state election campaign, or at least to do some basic research before writing about this topic at any length.

Alex Mitchell replies: Luke Foley had a wonderful opportunity at the NSW Labor launch last Sunday to lift party morale by making a declaration of his support for gay marriage. He didn’t do that. I am familiar with his “exclusive” interview with the SMH on February 19 cited by Alastair Lawrie, in which he said:

“I’m now at a point where I’m willing to give my support to a change to the law, to the [federal] Marriage Act, so as to provide for same-sex marriage.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t regard off-the-cuff remarks made in a one-on-one newspaper interview as a party policy declaration. Does anyone? Secondly, the remarks made to the SMH don’t amount to support for gay marriage. They only give CONDITIONAL support to gay marriage. And most people in the gay and lesbian movement have seen through Foley’s verbal gymnastics. He has ducked the issue by linking any support he might offer to what happens with federal marriage legislation in the House of Representatives and the Senate in Canberra. It’s a cop out. It throws the onus onto Canberra where,  as Foley well knows, the gay marriage issue, like so many other vital social reforms, is logjammed. What voters expect from Foley is a pre-election commitment to bring forward gay marriage legislation if he becomes the next premier. And if he remains Opposition Leader, to support gay marriage legislation put forward from whatever party in the next four-year term of the NSW parliament. Will he or won’t he? It is a simple Yes or No proposition.

A public declaration by ALP headquarters, a press release from the shadow cabinet or caucus, a statement by Foley during a televised debate or an signed official letter to Crikey would clear up his stance at a stroke. Over to you, Luke.

On the national debt

John Richardson writes: Re. “A simple solution to halve the national debt (who likes birthday presents anyway?)” (yesterday). Tom Westland’s piece got me thinking about the fanciful but popular subject of intergenerational theft. Some 36 years ago, in 1979, the federal government abolished estate duty. In its final year, the federal estate duty regime was applied to the estates of 110,000 deceased Australians however, only 9%, or 9828 estates, actually incurred an estate duty liability, with the average liability amounting to just under $7800. The federal estate duty regime exempted the first $100,000 in estate value from duty, where the estate was to pass to non-family beneficiaries whilst, in the case of family beneficiaries, the exemption was $200,000. And while the top rate of estate duty was 27.8%, the actual average amount of duty collected on the total taxable estate value was less than 8%.

When we talk about intergenerational theft, surely the free transfer of wealth from one generation to the next is one of the least equitable arrangements that we follow in Australia, in particular when so much of it is derived through the exploitation of one-time natural resources & more often than not goes to those who have done little, if anything, to earn it. Whilst doubtless many beneficiaries would accuse me of envy & argue loud & hard against the reintroduction of estate duties, given the wealthy are so reluctant to give-up any of their “entitlements”, be it tax subsidies through superannuation or negative gearing, family trusts or offshore tax-avoidance arrangements, then perhaps a modest federal death duty to recoup some of these taxpayer funded benefits at the most painless moment for the deceased might just be worth a thought?

If the federal government was to contemplate the reintroduction of an estate duty regime, using the same parameters applied back in 1979, after allowing for an annual compounded inflation rate of 5%, it would collect around $600 million in revenue from around 13,000 deceased estates on an annual basis, remembering that the exempt asset threshold for family beneficiaries will have jumped to nearly $1.2 million (six times the exempt level back then) and the actual duty collected would still only amount to 8% of the dutiable estate value.

But if the federal government was to recognise that the average per capita wealth of Australians today is 18 times what it was in 1979, then potentially its income from estate duty collections would be closer to $1.8 billion (without changing the parameters at all) or more than half the legendary annual budget deficit we hear so much about. Surely only a blind ideologue or dumb politician would choose to upset more than half the population ahead of the privileged families of 13,000 people who are past caring?