The “debate” about the debate on the mining super tax is troubling. We are bombarded by the big miners about the evils of the tax. To some extent their ire is understandable. The job of these companies is to make profits for their shareholders and this tax will reduce these profits. So they complain and seek to influence public policy.
But it is terribly one-sided. This is in part because the big miners have lots of money, so to spend just a small proportion of it (but big money to the rest of us) in opposing the tax is, from their perspective, money well spent. It is their job to protect their shareholders.
And they have support from large sections of the mainstream “corporate” media who are sympathetic to the mining industry.
But it is also one-sided because there is no clear winner from the tax. Despite industry claims to the contrary and appeals to “self interest”, Australians in general will be better off. Pensioners will benefit. Public hospital users will benefit, as will various other groups who rely on public spending. The trouble is that groups who support the tax are diverse and poor and have little voice and influence. They are not well placed to get a coherent message together and they certainly do not have the where with all to sell the message.
Along now comes the government (who are elected democratically - unlike the big miners) and they say: “we want to put our point of view” - and all hell breaks loose! Naughty government breaking their own rules on advertising using tax payers’ money. And the hypocrisy of the Opposition is breathtaking. When they were in government they spent over $500 million on advertising about the GST and WorkChoices alone. And much of that was gifted to advertising companies with strong connections to the Liberal Party.
There are also questions about the role of the Liberal National Party in prosecuting the miners’ case. How much money are they receiving from the mining industry and how much money is flowing into the party’s coffers from the industry?
The most concerning aspect of all of this is not the breaking of some pledge by the government, or the tax itself or the future of the mining industry. The real worry is the future of our democracy. If we accept that “the big miners have a right to defend their rights” and spend whatever they want on advertising in a campaign to stop paying more tax, where does that leave other citizens less well heeled who might also not want to pay more taxes? There are no rules to limit the spending of rich and powerful individuals and corporations - and in all of this discussion no one seems to think there should be.
Why have limits on government spending on selling public policy and not on corporations spending on opposing public policy?
Surely any curb on political advertising first and foremost should apply to corporations? And should there not be limits on corporate funding of political parties?
One of the fundamentals of a democracy is the idea of one person, one vote. But the Twiggy Forrests, Clive Palmers and the mining corporations who are not democratically elected seek to use their power and their money to thwart the democratic process. In essence they seek to wield more power than the next bloke. So we risk moving to a corporate-run democracy and the corporatisation of government. That not only weakens democracy; it also breeds cynicism in the ordinary punter who sees the decay in her power and thinks “why bother?”
So there are truly major issues at stake here, not just the question of whether we need a resources super profits tax.
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