Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Building a more compassionate society

By Gavin Mooney - posted Monday, 30 May 2005

In the debate following the budget almost all commentary has been about who should have their taxes cut and by how much. The Coalition’s proposals to give massive handouts to the undeserving rich are obscene: the Labor party at least recognises this as an obscenity.

The fact the ALP opposes the inequity of the distribution of Government tax cuts on grounds of principle is lost on the Coalition’s thinking. They can only see a gain in terms of putting money in people’s pockets and, in this instance, for reasons that are at best obscure, want to put much, much more money in the pockets of the rich than those of the poor.

Both Government and Opposition however start from the neo-liberal premise that individuals want to have as much money as possible to spend on personal consumption and that low taxes and small government are a good thing. All that separates them - and yes it is important even if secondary - is how the low taxes are to be levied across the population.


Peter Costello implied on the ABC’s 7.30 Report that the current proportion of GNP on tax is somehow about right, maybe even too high. Yet there is nothing magical in economic terms about the size of the Australian public sector. It is very low in comparison to most OECD countries. It is much smaller than in countries such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden, which many of us recognise as not only having well managed economies, but also as being affluent, caring and decent societies. Indeed it can be argued that the more willing a society is to pay tax, the more socially decent and caring it is likely to be.

In the post budget debate the benefits derived from taxation hardly get a mention. It is as if our taxes disappeared into some black hole, lost for ever and for all useful purposes. Yet as Oliver Wendall Holmes, the US Chief Justice stated in the late 19th century: “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society”.

There are those benefits of taxation that are fairly obvious: our public hospitals; our pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS) that helps all of us when sick but especially the poor to afford otherwise unaffordable drugs; our state schools; our defence forces; our ability as a nation to contribute to the poor of the world through the overseas aid budget; and many other social and political activities that too often get mentioned only in negative terms.

So while it is true that the costs of the PBS are blowing out, so too are the benefits. Welfare benefits are going to an increasingly larger proportion of the population. Why is it assumed that that is bad? Why can’t we have universal benefits but also more progressive taxation thereby doing away with means testing of benefits and fostering solidarity in the community?

The list of social policies supported by taxation is substantial. It is a list which importantly is also descriptive of our ability as a nation to look after not just the disadvantaged but also the social fabric of Australia.

The budget fares badly in terms of social decency. The Government’s attitude to disabled people takes the “Thatcherite” philosophy of ”stand on your own two feet” one step further by demanding that they “stand”, whether they have two good feet or not. The single mindedness of the Government in pursuing their neo-liberal dreams now extends to chasing single parents into the work force. The 2005 version of Animal Farm reads “two parents good; one parent bad”.


Stigmatising the disadvantaged is taken yet further in the neglect of the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people as mutual obligation deals and Shared Responsibility Agreements are used as still other means of oppressing the oppressed. Were there any mutual obligations placed on the rich to get their massive tax cuts last week? Has the government any Shared Responsibility Agreements signed with them? The budget itself provides but a few crumbs to aid Aboriginal people. The Community Development and Employment Program (CDEP) is being converted by the Government into a solely market employment scheme and the CD becomes history.

The policy of stigmatisation and meanness of spirit knows no bounds when Senator Vanstone and DIMIA (two very separate entities it now seems, at least to the Minister) can continue to make the lives of asylum seekers and detainees miserable as they try to prove their nationality and credentials. As Kate Gauthier of A Just Australia stated in The Weekend Australian (May 14-15, 2005) in the wake of the Rau and Solon cases: “If immigration could not tell that these women were Australian, how can they tell if someone is a Pakistani or an Afghan?”

There is evidence that the attitude of lower taxes at all costs is driven by an uncaring mentality that extends beyond tax policy and across the whole of government policy. From the Government and society the deserving poor get their “deserts” i.e. neglect and an imposed sense of unworthiness because of their disadvantage. Meanwhile the undeserving rich turn their backs on the poor and blame them for their poverty. The need to listen to the voices of the poor is nowhere put better than in the words of Mark Peel in his book The Lowest Rung on the plight of the poor in Australia:

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Article edited by Rachel Ryan.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

13 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Gavin Mooney is a health economist and Honorary Professor at the Universities of Sydney and Cape Town. He is also the Co-convenor of the WA Social Justice Network . See

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Gavin Mooney

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Gavin Mooney
Article Tools
Comment 13 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy