Tag Archives: Climate Change

Australia’s Dangerous Myth of ‘Taxpayer Money’

  • This is a remix of the article by Raul Carrillo & Jesse Myerson for an Australian audience. The links are different (most, but not all). The original can be seen here.
There is no such thing as public money, only taxpayer money.” — Margaret Thatcher, 1983

“It’s all taxpayer money, it’s all debt, and it’s got to be paid back,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking about the end of JobSeeker and JobKeeper COVID support scheme.

Australians would agree that taxpayers’ money can’t be used endlessly to run the Australian economy,” the Prime Minister told reporters in central Queensland on Thursday.

The Prime Minister by using the “taxpayer money” frame, they were spreading, however unwittingly (perhaps dog-whistling), a racist, sexist, classist myth.

Although most of us pay taxes of some kind, every time we say “taxpayer money” we prolong the illusion that society depends on certain kinds of people so we can have nice things.

Delton Clark: Transgender Aboriginal Sistagal
Delton Clark: Transgender Aboriginal Sistagal

One quick exercise shows why. Picture a “taxpayer.” What does one look like? A homeless Aboriginal trans teen? A Sudanese immigrant day labourer waiting to get on at the local abattoir?? A young mother trying to cobble together enough income to feed her family, while languishing on the Centrelink disability backlog? Unlikely. Let’s be honest: We know what sort of people “taxpayers” are supposed to be, and they’re not the ones we should be casting as the aggrieved parties.

Calling public money “taxpayer money” implicitly affirms that taxation is theft: If the money is taxpayers’ by right, what business does the government have using it for healthcare, jobs, or clean water? If we’re looking out for “taxpayers” and not the public as a whole, we are favouring wealthier groups over poorer ones—white people over Black people, men over women, Australian-born people over immigrants, and so forth. We’re hiding how the economic order relies not merely on the sacrifices of “taxpayers,” but the contributions of debtors, tenants, workers, and countless other actors. We’re perpetuating the politics behind the 1970s and 1980s demonization of “dole bludgers,” and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation movement—faux-populism that suggests the great majority rely on the wealthy, rather than vice-versa.

Not only is the “taxpayer money” frame damaging, but it doesn’t reflect how public spending actually works. A household or a business may have to stash or borrow money before it can spend any, but we are users of the currency. The Australian government, which is the issuer of the currency, works differently: Parliament votes to spend “new money” on something, then the Treasury and the Reserve Bank credit the relevant bank accounts, and…that’s it.

The government has spent new money into existence. Later, Parliament may tax “old money” back out of existence, but it isn’t collecting money in order to spend it. It’s “offsetting” earlier spending.  It may also “offset” spending in various other ways. Although Parliament taxes everyday people too heavily, calling public money “taxpayer money” makes as much sense as calling it “student debtor money” or “suspicious driver money.”

Look at a dollar bill, and you will see the signatures of its creators: not taxpayers, but the public officials who let the taxpayers hold it in the first place. Money doesn’t grow on rich people. We should heavily tax the billionaire class so we stop living in an oligarchy, but we don’t need private capital for public spending. The federal government doesn’t confiscate dollars and redistribute them. It uses its legal power to create and destroy them. 

Margaret Thatcher’s mantra was backwards: There is no such thing as “taxpayer money,” only public money. Modern money is a creature of the public, and we should use it for public power. We are all the public, and we each deserve a clear, equal say in how our economy and society work, no matter how much we each pay in taxes. It’s time to claim our democratic rights.

There is more than enough housing for the homeless, food for the hungry, and medicine for the sick. There is enough low carbon-emission technology to transform our energy system, quit exacerbating the climate crisis, and hire unemployed people all in one fell swoop. And there is more than enough public money to manage it all. 

Exposing hypocrisy may feel good, but it does little actual good. The people who primarily identify as “taxpayers” are Morrison, McCormack and the coalition’s base. Constantly repeating that their “taxpayer money” is being wasted only pressures them to violently defend their property, as the system encourages us to do under stress.

For over 40 years, Australian Laborhave chided the Liberal-National coalition for fiscal hypocrisy. What do they have to show for it? For over 40 years, the Coalition has controlled the conventional wisdom around budgets, successfully using the “taxpayer money” myth to force Labor to “starve the beast,” i.e., cut social spending to actually starve children, veterans, and many others. 

When we reinforce the right wing’s racist, sexist, classist frames in an attempt to expose hypocrisy, we lose. If instead, we root our politics in what is good and bad, just and unjust, moral and immoral, we can win.

16 Goals of Australian Real Progressives: UPDATED

Any politician or party that moves towards one or more of our goals will receive our support.

AUSTRALIAN REAL PROGRESSIVES 16

1. A Federal Job Guarantee to act as a safety net – an end to underemployment and insecure employment. The FJG also serves as a superior stabilisation and counter-inflationary mechanism, if it is designed appropriately;

2. An explicit target to reduce inequality by providing Housing Security, Energy Security, Food Security, Social & Retirement Security, Health Security, Childcare Security and Job Security and Communication Security (telecommunications: phone, mobile, Internet);

3. Major public housing investments and re-orientating the housing market to prioritize owner-occupiers over speculative property investments;

4. Increasing and extending the state pension;

5. Zero fee training and higher education;

6. Cancellation of student debt;

7. A Commonwealth Employment Service (CES), charged with anticipating and planning for changes in regional economies, providing input into an industrial policy aimed at maintaining similar jobs;

8. A re-regulated banking system;

9. A rethinking of fiscal and monetary policy an explicit reliance on fiscal policy for stabilisation, supported by the FJG.

10. Massive public investment in renewables;

11. Phasing out of coal, but with a just transition for workers (see FJG);

12. Construction of fast rail between all eastern capital cities;

13. Major investment in public transport;

14. A rapid transition to electric vehicles; and

15. A regulation-based, and public-ownership based, approach to a much more rapid reduction in carbon emissions

16. Enshrining First Nations Voices according to the Uluru Statement from the Heart recognising their Sovereignty, a Makarrata (Treaty) commission and Truth-telling process and empower Aboriginal people to manage their own affairs through constitutional or legislative reform

All these together help Australians improve their Well-being, Inclusion and Social and Emotional engagement with other Australians.  It balances, enhances and restores the Australian principle of mateship and the fair go.  It is a WISE idea.

Democracy demands Climate Change Action

In late October 2019, a petition with almost half a million signatures on it requested that parliament declare a climate change emergency.

Less than a month later, we have experienced firefighters holding press conferences and speaking out:

Climate change is the key reason why fire seasons are lengthening, fires are harder to control, and access to international firefighting resources like large aircraft is becoming more difficult.

“The government must respond to this urgent threat with an urgent response.

Not long before that 11000 – that’s eleven thousand – eleven thousand scientists across a multitude of nations, including Australia, declared a climate emergency.

Scientists, men and women on the ground and the broader general public agree that now is the time to act on climate change.

The people have spoken.

Climate Action Needed Now say Scientists and former Fire Chiefs

Michelle Grattan from The Conversation puts it best.

When five former fire chiefs held a news conference on Thursday to urge the federal government to take more action on climate change, it was a challenging moment for Scott Morrison.

Those who fronted the cameras represented a group of 21 men and two women, who make up the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action. These people have led fire and emergency services all around the nation.

They’re powerful voices, because they are advocates with compelling experience and expertise. The group’s messages are that we’re in “a new age of unprecedented bushfire danger”, climate change is the key reason why things are getting worse, and the government needs to respond with more resources and a better policy to reduce emissions and move to clean energy.

There is much more to read on this at The Conversation.

At the end of the day, we have the scientists and the men and women on the ground in agreement that we need climate action now. And we have almost half a million Australians in agreement.

This needs reinforcing.

We must marshall our full forces of democratic power now to save our lives and our jobs.  We do this through activism, protest, lobbying, education, structural reform in political parties, we push and persist until something happens.  We all have our own unique strengths and we pursue it in our own way and our cumulative efforts will make a difference.