Crispin Hull / The Teals and Big Policy

The Liberal Party is spiralling into irrelevance. Labor and the Greens are not connecting the dots. The Nationals are looking after their own as they always do. So maybe the Teals can connect the big policy dots that stand before us: health, education, childcare, tax, immigration, and rorts.

And underlying those six Big Ticket Items are two more Big Ticket Items: gender fairness and intergenerational fairness.

These things seem to have come to a head in the past few weeks with the exposure of teacher and GP shortages as stressed teachers and GPs abandon their vocation and fewer are minded to replace them. At the same time the Government refuses to abandon the Stage 3 tax cuts and adds to the misery by yet again kow-towing to business by signalling a large increase in immigration.

Who is going to ensure there are enough teachers and doctors for the immigrants and their children? Can’t be done.

And right now, with a change of government and helter-skelter economic upheaval, Australia must move beyond the business-driven, Murdoch-supported model. That model was: cut taxes; impose austerity on the weakest; import cheap labour that can be exploited; and be damned to the environment.

Connect the dots. ATO figures this month revealed that 60 people (all men, demographics would suggest) had gross incomes of more than $1 million (average $3.5 million) yet paid no tax.

No doubt the 60 no-tax millionaires have the highest private health cover and send their kids to private schools so they are not troubled by this.

The dot-connecting insight is that these manipulators paid no Medicare levy and probably have Commonwealth health cards. The link between stressed public health and public education, on one hand, and low tax for the wealthy and high immigration is obvious.

If Labor is bent on retaining the Coalition’s high immigration; low-tax for the wealthy; pro-big business policies as if the 21 May vote did not happen, some pressure must come from elsewhere. And who better than the Teals?

Treasure Jim Chalmers and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese go into uncharacteristic illogical circumlocution when asked whether the Stage Three cuts will go ahead. Their only argument seems to be that they have already been legislated.

Well, surely, they can be unlegislated. After all, they do not come in for at least 10 months, so no-one can argue they have relied on them, unlike the poor sods who relied on Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe’s prediction that interest rates would not rise until 2024.

The Teals should take up the tax cause for several reasons. First, the cuts massively favour males, who will on average get twice as much as females. Second, they massively favour the wealthy. The bottom 20 per cent get nothing and the top 20 per cent get 72 per cent of the cut. Those in the middle will not get enough to keep pace with inflation. The sweet spot is for those struggling on $200,000 a year, who will get a $9,200 tax cut.

Third, over the next decade they will cost $184 billion. It would be the fiscally responsible thing for the Teals to introduce the repealing legislation, to expose Labor’s true colours. It would also meet their electoral commitments to a better deal for women. The $184 billion will come out of public health and education and childcare – issue which tend to affect women more than men.

Fourth, the change in economic circumstances – shortages and inflation – justify a change in tax policy. These tax cuts may have been legislated, but they were legislated before covid struck.

Covid has changed nearly everything. It certainly should change our view on immigration. As Covid struck, the economic experts predicted that unemployment would hit up to 15 per cent. But with the borders closed and no immigration, unemployment sank to a 30-year low.

That lesson should sink in and it is one over which the Teals should exert their legislative influence. At present the immigration level is set by the Minister for Immigration and the Parliament gets no say. The Minister may consult colleagues and business but clearly has not taken any heed of the mass opinion of voters who are fed up with congestion; infrastructure stress; hospital queues and environmental stress.

Perhaps the Teals could introduce legislation that requires parliamentary approval of the Minister’s decision. Or at least make the decision disallowable by either House, as with a lot of minister-made regulation.

Coincidentally in the past week, rampant rorts have been uncovered in the National Disability Insurance Scheme and in the program to help flood victims.

Surely, we should recognise that every government program is susceptible to rorting and that effective self-regulation is an oxymoron.

And there has been no bigger systemic rorting of a government program in the past 20 years than the immigration program.

All the benefits of cheap labour went to business while the cost has been shouldered by the environment and ordinary people (including recent migrants) who pay through stressed schools, hospitals, roads and housing.

The so-called dire skills shortage would be better addressed by free childcare to tap into the female talent pool and boosting training in Australia.

And a skills shortage has an upside. In the past year we have seen signs everywhere asking for workers in retail and hospitality. It means work is available for people who want it, especially in areas where people can be fairly quickly and cheaply trained. There is no need to bring these people in from elsewhere.

As to the case for more highly skilled migrants, it must be weighed against the morality of stealing skills from countries where they are more desperately needed than in Australia.

Most other developed countries do not have massive immigration schemes. Australia has one because it once needed one and we have always had one ever since and business gets short-term benefits from it at a much greater long-term broader cost.

But it has passed its use-by date, as have tax cuts for the wealthy; squeezing public health and education; denying women free universal child care; and self-regulation.

This article was first published in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 16 August 2022.

Crispin Hull BA, LLB (Hons) | Property Convenor  |  ANU School of Legal Practice Lawyer of the Supreme Court of the ACT, on the Register of Practitioners kept by the High Court of Australia


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