Labor has made a serious blunder in linking Malcolm Turnbull’s wealth with the issue of tax transparency.

There is no evidence that the Prime Minister has done anything underhanded in the management of his tax affairs; if anything, his ambitions for public office have constrained him from engaging in legal but complex forms of tax avoidance that many other wealthy Australians have taken advantage of.

Labor, while acknowledging the legality of Turnbull’s tax affairs, have suggested he is “out of touch” with Australians because of his wealth. Given the average salary of backbench MPs is over $190,000 a year, that argument looks more than a little cute. Moreover, a recent Essential poll shows 46% of voters rate Turnbull as out of touch — exactly the same proportion as rate Bill Shorten out of touch. Indeed, it’s hard to see how Turnbull’s wealth makes him more “out of touch” than Peter Garrett, another wealthy, successful figure who entered public life, or even Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat whose wife has had great business success.

The focus on Turnbull’s wealth undermines Labor’s much stronger point that the government — in a manner reminiscent of the crony capitalism that marked the Abbott era — has legislated to protect large private companies from the public disclosure of their tax payments, on the wholly spurious grounds that this will somehow disadvantage them (the absurd “kidnapping” fiction having been abandoned as a justification).

In playing the man, rather than the policy, Labor has created a distraction from a key public issue that Turnbull should be pressured on. After two years of attacks on transparency across a number of areas of government, it is time for more scrutiny, not less. And that apples to how much tax our wealthiest companies are paying.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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