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Budget 2018 targets illegal tobacco hawkers, making this a pirate-fightin’ affair


Turnbull is looking towards camera smiling, while his colleagues either side of him are not looking towards camera. Photo: It’s the contestable political centre which is of most interest, and were the biggest winners from this budget. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

If you hadn’t spent the last few weeks having it patiently explained to you by all and sundry that this is indeed an election budget, you’d know it as soon as you picked the thing up.

How? Well, unlike many budgets, which are a strategic mix of tough-love measures, leavened with a dash of “here you go” and a grind or two of “take it on the chin,” this one is fairly clear cut.

It hands back money — about $26 billion — to the middle-income earners with whom it is now in this country considered un-Australian not to empathise. Mums. Dads. Nana too, by way of some federal assistance to keep her at home where she’d like to enjoy life’s sunset.

OK, fine: half of that “tax cut” is composed of an increase to the Medicare levy that the Government was going to impose, and now isn’t. So gratitude, in this case, would be the gratitude one feels to the burglar who has at the last minute abandoned plans to break into one’s house.

In this document, pain is meted out largely to individuals or groups that the average voter (the Government is betting) would cheerfully cross the road to punch in the face.

More than $3.5bn taken off tobacco hawkers

You know when your primary revenue target is illegal tobacco hawkers that this is going to be a pirate-fightin’ affair.

The Government will recoup more than $3.5 billion by compelling tobacco importers to pay excise on point of importation, busting illicit tobacco growers, and creating something called the Illicit Tobacco Task Force, whose membership is not specified in the budget papers but is understood to consist mainly — as has now become traditional — of Peter Dutton.

Do not confuse the Illegal Tobacco Task Force with the Black Economy Taskforce, which are expected to wear totally different styles of cape.

The Black Economy Task Force will prowl the land in search of sundry tax-diddlers, phoenix company operators and children with undisclosed paper rounds.

A Black Economy Hotline will be established, to afford honest taxpayers the Government-subsidised thrill of squealing anonymously on their neighbours. All this will shake out an extra $2 billion or so.

The Government will save an extraordinary $2 billion over four years by “cracking down to ensure that R&D tax incentives are used for their proper purpose”.

Which is excellent of course, but does raise the tiny niggling question as to how long we’ve been putting up with them being used for improper purpose.

Foreign GPs in the crosshairs

Who’s going to lose out from this measure? Big companies, and how popular have they been lately?

Exactly. $7 billion in, and still nary a twitch on the LostVotes-O-Meter.

Who’s next? Well, the Government will save $400 million by reducing the number of foreign GPs allowed to practise in metropolitan areas.

Doctors are expensive, and if we have fewer overseas ones in the city areas the Government deems to be “overserviced”, it’s a nifty save that doesn’t annoy current voting taxpayers.

Welfare debt recovery coughs up $300 million.

Imports by sea will carry a new levy worth $360 billion.

The Newspeak Award For Programmes Whose Real Purpose Only Becomes Horribly Clear On The Second Reading was won this year by the savings measure Encouraging Self Sufficiency For Newly Arrived Migrants, which is predicted to recoup $200 million over four years.

A close second was achieved by the Streamlining Services to Refugees measure, which is worth $68 million.

Cheaper to have Dutton in charge

On the upside, the budget also reports that it’s worked out cheaper to have Peter Dutton in charge of everything.

“Establishment of the Home Affairs Portfolio – Efficiencies” is credited as saving $256 million over the forward estimates; presumably this accounts for reduced letterhead design and expenditure on telephone calls that would otherwise have been made by Peter Dutton to people who weren’t Peter Dutton.

I know what you’re thinking, though. What about Peter Costello’s Forgotten People?

On budget eve, Mr Costello plumped himself into the chair opposite Leigh Sales to explain what a shocking bunch of bunglers the current Government is.

He used to do this quite routinely during the Rudd and Gillard years of course, but the whole affair took on an added piquancy given that the current bunch of bunglers are his own comrades.

Key to his complaint was that the Government has done nothing for people earning $200,000 and more.

“They’re paying higher than the corporate rate and they haven’t had any tax relief for 10 years,” Mr Costello said.

“I think these forgotten people, these people who don’t have organised lobbyists to speak for them, they also ought to be in the calculations of the Government at the moment.”

Mr Costello also advocated spending control, griping that he would be dead before the national books were restored to the pristine condition in which he left them.

Top tax bracket will need to wait

Why this television ambush of the Turnbull Government and its hardworking Treasurer?

Well, some might think it was payback for the time back in 2005 when newly-arrived backbencher Malcolm Turnbull popped up with a self-funded paper proposing 200 ideas for tax reform.

Others might find Mr Costello’s tirade on budgetary prudence remarkable, given that he was last sighted in 2007 attempting to stuff $36 billion in personal tax cuts into the pants pockets of fleeing Coalition voters.

But what became of the Forgotten People in the budget? Tragically, they remain forgotten.

According to Mr Morrison’s projections, they will be remembered in 2024 but only in the most cursory of fashions, with a $20,000 extension to the top tax bracket.

(It’s not very cheering for the FP, especially given that by 2024 we’ll probably have had another five prime ministers and be absorbing the second budget of the minority Katter/Joyce government.)

The Forgotten People were not available for immediate comment last night. This is possibly due to their lack of organised lobbyists. Or maybe they were at the theatre.

But the Treasurer and the Prime Minister may well have decided, as is the hardheaded custom of chaps who have a looming engagement with the democratic process, that the upper end of the salary scale — much like the lower end — isn’t the main target here.

The former will vote Liberal mainly, and the latter Labor. It’s the contestable centre which is of most interest, and were the biggest winners from this budget.



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