Wrong people, wrong purpose


Wrong people, wrong purpose

Just about everyone is supporting John Howard's new "Timor tax" to fund the Australian Defence Force commitment there. Labor leader Kim Beazley immediately supported it, as did the Democrats' Meg Lees. The Australian Council for Overseas Aid and the Australian Council of Social Service issued a joint statement endorsing it. The government's pet journalists have been uniformly complimentary.

Green Left Weekly disagrees. We oppose the "Timor tax": it's a levy on the wrong people, for the wrong purpose.

Howard has been clever in his design of the tax. It's a supposedly temporary addition to the Medicare levy, it doesn't involve any cuts to existing government services, and it's directed solely at the "wealthy": those earning over $100,000 will be levied 1% of their income for a year, those earning over $50,000 at 0.5%. Obviously clever enough to sucker many.

But there are more than a few problems.

First, there's a simple matter of priorities. Neither Howard nor even treasurer Peter Costello seem that worried at spending $1 billion on the military commitment in East Timor. And they were certainly happy enough to spend all those millions on joint military exercises and training for Indonesian commandos.

They've shown no such eagerness, however, to spend money on aid to rebuild East Timor. They've budgeted only $60 million for that: barely enough to feed, let alone shelter, heal or clothe, the population.

They'll spend twice that amount on "intelligence" services such as the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation over the next 12 months, so they can spy on the citizenry. And they will spend six times that amount on parliamentary expenses, keeping pollies in paperclips, travel rorts and pool chlorine.

Second, the tax isn't only to cover the estimated cost of the ADF presence in East Timor over the next year. A month ago, the government raised the idea of increased military spending, and got no public support for it. So Howard has decided to hide a military build-up under the label "helping East Timor".

The new tax will fund an expansion in the size of both the army and the air force. The army will gain 3000 extra troops, including two new combat-ready battalions, taking its numbers to 26,000, and the air force will gain 555 extra personnel to take it to 13,555.

Its half-hearted operations against the militia in East Timor aside, the ADF has no purpose we should support. There are certainly no real "foreign threats" it defends us from (the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's own policy documents confirm this).

The ADF has no purpose other than to act as a publicly funded security firm for whatever business operation is under threat at the time (remember its dirty war to protect Rio Tinto's Panguna mine in Bougainville?). That, and training killers from other countries' armies for the same purpose — the very Kopassus troops who wrecked havoc in East Timor being the most famous example. The ADF deserve less money and fewer numbers, not more.

As for "helping East Timor", increased troop numbers will do no such thing. For a start, the two new battalions won't be combat-ready until at least the middle of next year — by which time, the bulk of the troops will have been withdrawn from East Timor.

Third, the "equity" of the new tax is a sham. Far from hitting the rich, this tax will largely hit better paid workers. Miners, waterside workers, academics, construction workers, middle-level public service managers, IT workers often earn $50,000 or more, especially if they work much overtime.

The real rich won't get taxed: because corporations and company dividends won't be touched by this new levy. This is not a tax which will touch the high-priced taxation lawyers of Woodside Petroleum, which bought a piece of East Timor's stolen oil reserves, or Mayne Nickless, which has bought up Indonesian companies on the cheap, or Berlei, which has set up a factory there to take advantage of the country's cheap labour, or Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which for 25 years has propagandised in favour of Australian government complicity in the oppression of East Timor.

These are the real culprits for what happened in East Timor — the ones who profited from the military's domination there and in Indonesia — and they're the ones who should be paying for rebuilding the country. But they won't pay a cent under this levy.

Fourth, why do they need a levy to pay for this at all? The "Timor tax" is one more "special" levy, just as the gun buy-back levy was, just as the Medicare levy itself is. If the government thinks it can get public support for a scheme, it introduces a "special" levy to do it — so it won't pay for it out of consolidated revenue and endanger its precious budget surplus.

In future, look forward to the "so you want a decent education system" levy and the "need to call the fire brigade?" levy — and watch as our income tax and GST funds go to offsetting cuts to taxes on capital gains and corporate profits.

The "Timor tax" is bad news and a bad precedent; it should be opposed.