SO, AFTER tomorrow we will see who is right: Aesop or Goebbels. Aesop wrote The Boy who Cried Wolf – the fable whose moral was that liars are not rewarded. If you try to trick people by crying wolf when there is not one, they will not believe you when you cry wolf and there really is one.
Goebbels was Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda. He is quoted as saying: “The bigger the lie and the more often it is repeated, the more people will believe it.”
In truth he was referring to the British and they were not his exact words. Nonetheless, the words certainly express his modus operandi.
Tomorrow the two great big new taxes come into force: the carbon tax and the mining tax.
The mining tax, according to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will turn Whyalla into a ghost town. Wolf! Wolf!
I was told a couple of months ago of a hairdresser in a country town telling a client that the carbon tax had destroyed jobs in her town and the impost was so high the business she was working for was about to close. She could not be persuaded that the carbon tax had not even been introduced so her business’s travails had nothing to do with the carbon tax. Lie. Lie. Lie, and you are believed.
We have an odd position here. Usually the Government is held to its promises. But after tomorrow, the Opposition will be held account, or at least should be held to account, for its predictions: economic activity in Australia should grind to a snail pace from tomorrow. Mining investment will dry up. Households will suffer unbearably under the yoke of the carbon tax. And people will start moving out of Whyalla.
I’ll back the quote misattributed to Goebbels over Aesop. If, as is very likely, the carbon tax does not have much affect, don’t expect any admissions from Abbott. Rather just expect more of the same. He will misattribute things to the carbon tax: unrelated price rises; any changes in markets or business conditions; any currency changes and the like.
He will blame any change in the fortunes of the mining industry will be blamed on the mining tax, even though the tax does little more than replace existing royalties.
The Gillard Government is in similar circumstances to the Howard Government. “No carbon tax under a Government I lead.” Never, ever GST”.
Both taxes were good policy. Both gave the Opposition a free kick. Howard almost lost Government after having one of the largest majorities in history the election before, but Kim Beasley – the Waffling Windbag from the West as one Fairfax columnist called him – was no Tony Abbott on propaganda. Gillard now faces a large defeat.
Labor is in such dire straits now because Kevin Rudd played his cards badly. He should have gone to a double dissolution after his first version of the carbon tax was defeated – when the public was onside. The public, of course, was onside for the wrong reasons. Australia had just had one of its longest droughts and was then hit with floods. That short-term events cannot be blamed on climate change did not matter. One cannot expect the electorate to be well-informed or rational.
On the mining tax, Rudd naively thought good policy would be well-received. Electoral history tells us differently. Clever publicity and good propaganda are needed for any policy – good or bad – to be well-received.
Rudd did not lay the groundwork in persuading people that the mining industry was not giving enough back to taxpayers for the right to extract the minerals that belonged to the people of Australia. And that a very large slice of the profits was going to foreign shareholders.
Having laid that groundwork he could have got the states to his dirty work. Under Commonwealth Grants Commission guidelines each state is expected to do its part in raising revenue. States cannot forgo revenue and expect the Commonwealth to pick up the tab.
The Commonwealth could have said that the big mining states, Western Australia and Queensland, were not pulling their weight on revenue-raising. They, and indeed all the states, should substantially raise mining royalties. To the extent they failed to do so, the Commonwealth would withhold grant money.
But that was not Rudd’s way. His way was the grand plan and control from the centre. In some respects he provided some key words for Abbott’s later propaganda – “great”, “big” and “new” and provided a single target for the mining industry.
Yes, the Commonwealth’s tax was based on sounder economic principles, but getting the states to increase mining taxes would have been better politically.
So two years after Rudd’s departure because of three policy running sores – the mining tax, the carbon tax and the boats, here we are 16 or 17 months out from an election and all three policy sores continue to run, though two might start healing from tomorrow.
But Abbott will continue to win the propaganda war by the endless repetition of simple messages. After tomorrow, as the fear and loathing about the tax dissipates, do not expect voters to say Abbott was crying wolf, so don’t believe him a second time.
Rather, expect more repetition of more simple messages and for them to be believed.
DOT DOT DOT
Speaking of tax, the Australian Tax Office has again this year failed to provide E-tax for Apple and other non-Windows users.
It really is pitiful that the ATO gives a big free kick to Microsoft. Anyone swapping to Apple has to waste $140 to buy the Windows operating system and quite a bit of time loading it on their Apple just to do E-tax. Also most have Windows on their Apple only for E-tax. When they load it up once a year it takes several hours for all year’s patches, fixes and upgrades to load
Worse, the $140 is tax deducible, so the ATO is, in effect, handing a bucket load of taxpayers’ money to Bill Gates.
The ATO has given out its usual blather about an Apple version being ready next year and that they “are working” on a web-based version. We have heard almost every year for at least five years.
Can someone on a parliamentary committee grill the ATO on this and embarrass them into action? Can the Productivity Commission do some prodding?
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times on 30 June 2012.