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November 13th 2011 print

Peter Smith

Willing to pay more tax, not

In one of those tepid “all things to all men” editorials in The Australian - how it manages to get tagged as being conservative is beyond me - it described Mr Abbott as being especially audacious in scouring the budget for savings while rejecting revenue from “massively successful export industries...willing to pay a larger share”. There goes that word again.


I was curious and looked up the meaning of the word “willing” in my Concise Oxford.


It said it means: ready, eager; or prepared to do something / given or done readily. The meaning is clear enough but to put it in sharp relief, I looked up “blackmail”. This means: the use of threats or unfair manipulation in an attempt to influence someone’s actions. Clearly being blackmailed into doing something is the opposite of doing it willingly. Why labour the obvious you might say. One reason is to protect the integrity of the English language and prevent the word willing from losing its precision and going the way, say, of replica and oxymoron. Another is to expose the cant of those apparently willing to pay more tax.

Michael Moore was interviewed the other day in the middle of one of those increasingly unruly occupy protests in America. Don’t know which one. Does it matter which rabble without a cause was graced with his presence? Challenged for being a “one-percenter”, I heard him respond (crossly as it happens) by saying he was willing to pay more tax. Apparently the IRS provides for this unlikely event on its tax returns. People can volunteer (willingly) to pay more tax. How curiously and patriotically American is that? Mr Moore’s expressed willingness to pay more tax is therefore self-delusory, for it is apparent from his answer that even though he has the opportunity to do so, he doesn’t pay more tax. He is simply not willing to. At the very least, he should qualify his position by saying; I would be willing to if…

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are also apparently willing to pay more tax; even though they probably employ tax accountants. If asked, no doubt all of those Hollywood stars sickened by capitalism, which has made them so rich, would say they were willing to pay more tax. This contortion of the word willing is a boon for rich people with guilt complexes. They can unctuously ingratiate themselves into the good books of the (mainly left-wing) media, the Democrats, and the dispossessed, without it costing them one cent.

Kerry Packer was a straight shooter. He was not willing to pay more tax. He made this famously clear: “Of course I am minimizing my tax. And if anybody in this country doesn’t minimise their tax, they want their heads read, because as a government, I can tell you you’re not spending it that well that we should be donating extra.” The word unctuous doesn’t come to mind when you think of Mr Packer.

Personally, I never willingly paid tax. Under certain circumstances I can imagine willingness on my part to put into the community pot; but the overreach of government, and progressive taxation for which I could find no biblical support, left me disenchanted. I paid to avoid going to jail. This comes more under the heading of being blackmailed than being willing.

In one of those tepid “all things to all men” editorials in The Australian (8 November) – how it manages to get tagged as being conservative is beyond me – it described Mr Abbott as being especially audacious in scouring the budget for savings while rejecting revenue from “massively successful export industries…willing to pay a larger share”. There goes that word again.

Leave aside the fact that the MRRT was negotiated with just three large mining companies not whole industries, to what extent were the three companies willing to pay more tax? Let me say as a part owner of one of those companies (if only a dot on its shareholder landscape) I expressed no willingness to pay more tax. I have no recollection of the company putting this matter to a general meeting. If it had, I would have voted in the negative on any proposition that the company should willingly pay more tax.

Of course, the companies involved did not willingly agree to pay more tax; they were blackmailed, albeit in a sanitized way. The companies were going to be faced with an additional tax whatever they did and their objectives were to minimise its reach and impact on them; and part of the deal (whether articulated or not) was to give the government the appearance of willingness on their part. And so it has seemingly become folklore. What a government! Companies are willing to pay it additional tax. In the way of folklore, we might read years into the future that companies in Australia lined up clamouring to pay more tax, in such esteem was the Gillard government held.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics