Kate Carnell, the CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), the bosses' main lobby group, was blunt in explaining what she wanted to do with the four out of five people on the age pension who own their own homes. The pension they receive should be treated like a loan, she said, which would then be repaid to the government out of the proceeds of the sale of their homes when they die.
“The government should consider transforming pension payments to owner-occupiers into a loan that is recoverable against their property when it is sold, potentially with a residual value that would allow pensioners to access equity for other purposes, such as aged care,” Carnell said.
This was just one self-serving proposal in the ACCI's pre-budget submission, which argues that the federal government needs to continue slashing “runaway” social spending to deliver more tax cuts to corporations.
The ACCI proposal inspired a meme with Carnell's photo and the words “Hand it over, Grandma!”. The meme, posted on the Australian Unions Facebook page, went viral.
Pensioners and workers alike are furious. The idea of grabbing the homes of retired workers who have slogged all their lives to pay off their mortgage, is outraging millions.
“I have already funded my pension with my taxes,” was a common response to the meme.
Another response to the meme, out of thousands posted said: “People work their whole lives to pay for their home and guess what? Unlike you and your mates in business, we pay tax on our incomes while struggling to pay for these homes. Businesses should have all deductions removed and pay the same tax rate as PAYE [wage] income earners then we will have plenty of money but until business pays its way we will always struggle.”
And another: “Carnell has been the driving force in what has been a series of budget disasters and now she is trying another one to rob pensioners to pay for business tax cuts. We would be better served if the government ensured that business pays its fair share of tax. Tax avoidance needs to be criminalised.”
In January this year, an Oxfam report revealed that the richest 10% of Australians own more wealth than the other 90%. This statistic understates the divide between rich and poor because it counts the market value of ordinary people's homes and ignores that the richest people use debt leverage to extend the power of the capital they own.
If the ACCI's proposal to grab pensioners' homes is implemented, then wealth distribution in Australia will become even more unequal.
For most working class families, hanging on to their homes represents a fading sliver of hope that their children might have something to put towards a home deposit at a time of decreasing home affordability.
Sydney and Melbourne are now among the world's least affordable cities in which to buy a home. Households have to spend up to 12 times their annual incomes to buy a home.
Federal and state governments have helped make housing more unaffordable by subsidising landlords and developers. The Australia Institute estimates that concessions on negative gearing, superannuation and the capital gains tax discount are worth more than $37 billion a year.
And to rub salt on to an open wound, the same ACCI budget submission wants the money saved by turning pensions into loans, cutting Family Tax Benefit Part B and the Child Care Rebate, and raising the GST to 15% to go towards paying for more tax cuts for the corporate rich.
The shamelessness with which the corporate rich make one greedy demand after another is nothing short of astounding.
Carnell and the billionaires she serves must be so out of touch with the rest of us if they cannot see how furious most people already are about the rich getting ever richer, with hundreds of big corporations paying either no tax or avoiding most of it through international transfers and the use of tax havens.
Hopefully, this latest greedy grab by the corporate rich will become a political poison pill, as the proposal to hike the GST seems to have become.
However, until the majority in society breaks the power of the big corporations and runs society for the common good, the big business agenda of greed will keep coming back.
[Peter Boyle is the Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Sydney in the upcoming federal election. Contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to help out.]