You may have seen recently that Dick Smith was somewhat flummoxed when he noticed that the Australian Taxation legislation is configured in such a way that he received $0.5 million in franking credits in a financial year
. While it would be easy to suggest to Smith and (probably) others with similar levels of ‘windfall gains’ what they should do with the money, the better option is to talk about what Smith could be attempting to do— initiate a discussion on fairness.
The Hawke Government in 1987 made a determination that allowing franking credits to taxpayers made sense as the alternative, taxing companies on their profits then taxing company shareholders on the profits returned as dividends after payment of taxes, was taxing an income stream twice. On the face of it, the policy makes sense and is a logical outcome from government (both sides of politics have determined the practice has benefit as they both have supported it when in power). Even though the ALP discussed removing some franking credit concessions introduced by Howard at the last federal election, there was no discussion on ceasing the practice completely.
However, Australian Governments of various political persuasions have made policy that is far less compassionate to parts of our community. Keeping refugees and asylum seekers in detention camps off shore, politicising climate change, retaining a number of social security benefits at a level that is not commensurate with the funding required to live in current society, chasing social security recipients for small debts
while treating the crimes of business who underpay millions in wages to staff with significantly greater leniency
— and the list goes on.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was recently in Melbourne to meet with Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. While Ardern was here, she gave an address at Melbourne Town Hall on why good government matters. According to The Guardian
, the theme of Ardern's speech was
politicians should not be stoking a climate of fear and hate.
“We have choices as politicians in a political environment, you can either choose to capitalise on that fear, stoke it and politically benefit from it,” she said. “Or you can run a counter-narrative, you can talk about hope.”
During the address she reflected on the importance of building consensus in politics.
“To be truly transformational in government you have to build consensus. People have to actually decide what you’ve done should stick, otherwise it’s gone,” Ardern said, adding she hopes her government can build a lasting legacy on reducing child poverty and action on climate change
Earlier this year, Ardern received a lot of notice worldwide due to her seemingly implicit compassion and concern to those affected by the Christchurch terrorist attack, including an article on The Political Sword
comparing her actions favourably to Morrison’s (and others). The Guardian
reported Ardern was asked about the reaction to her behaviour while delivering her recent Melbourne speech
She brushed off the international attention her behaviour garnered, telling the audience, it was a very Kiwi response and she was mirroring exactly what was happening all over the country.
“I was saddened by it, it shouldn’t have been noteworthy,” she said.
And that's the point. Compassion and concern should not be noteworthy behaviour by a leader in the community — it should be a natural reaction.
You could argue that Ardern's response wasn't ‘Kiwi’ specific, Australians are also very generous in pledging time, effort and financial support when responding to natural disasters such as the ongoing drought, floods, bushfires and so on when they occur across our nation. Morrison's recent appearance at Hillsong Church's annual conference
where he prayed for resolution of a number of issues facing Australia shows that he does attempt to demonstrate (in his own way) compassion and concern for issues facing all of us. It seems that generally Australians, like those over the ditch in New Zealand, do give a damn about the community they live in during times of crisis and ill fortune.
Why is it that political compassion and concern evaporates soon after the event? Partly it is due to membership and marketing to their supporters. If a 'rusted-on' group of supporters is the pool from where office holders and candidates for elected office is available, it stands to reason that the outcomes delivered will reflect the views and lived experiences of the supporters in the first place. The rest of us then look at politicians ‘looking after their mates’ and disengage, allowing the ‘rusted-on’ to expect greater benefits be delivered with no effective alternatives being discussed. Obviously it stands to reason that Morrison understands the tenets of Pentecostal churches and the Liberal Party to a far greater extent than he understands atheists or the Australian Greens. However all of these groups (and many others as well) have the ability to bring rational suggestions and beliefs to the table.
We can fix this. It touches on all of us having a voice and using it like Smith does. While Australians don't have a legislated 'freedom of speech' or 'freedom of religion', there is an implied acceptance that both freedoms are enjoyed. Also implied in the concept of freedom is the ability for others to completely disagree with the stated point of view. We need to listen and respect the views of others. That is consensus as demonstrated by the practices of the Ardern Government in New Zealand and Hawke’s Government in the 1980s. While Ardern, like Hawke & Keating in the 1980s, manages to get people from all points of view into a room and gain consensus, current Australian political leadership seems to be deficient in comparison. Even conservative political leaders past and present acknowledged the ground-breaking work of Hawke when discussing his legacy recently. There should be a big difference between a disagreement over a point of view and a total repudiation of all the person or group who holds a differing view stands for (with the likelihood of a free character assassination thrown in). Sadly and frequently, there isn’t.
Which is where those flying kites looking for ‘freedom’ legislation have a problem. If you have the legislated freedom to express your love of heavy metal music, a brand of appliance, a political viewpoint or a religion, others have the right under the same legislation to disagree with your viewpoint. No, you shouldn’t be persecuted for loving heavy metal, but others shouldn’t be persecuted because they prefer classical music. It’s the same with politics, the brand of kitchen appliance you choose or your religion (or for that matter, your right to not believe in the teachings of a religion). Those bashing the ’freedom’ drum frequently forget this inconvenient fact, expecting us to immediately see the fundamental error of our ways and adopt their particular point of view.
Consensus is a shared understanding that we don’t all have to agree on everything, that different opinions are valued and worthy, such as Smith’s observations on franking credits. Compassion is assessing the alternate viewpoints with the belief there is something in there that will make the policy more robust and relevant to more Australians. While you can and should argue the case for your opinion, it doesn’t mean that others must be forced to agree with you. The sooner we remember that, the better off we’ll all be.
What do you think?