With the political landscape being reset, Tony Farley wants both parties to act in collaboration for needed taxation reform.


It’s difficult to go a day without hearing the word “collaboration” bandied about. Every organisation big or small knows that collaboration is essential to success.

Scarcity of resources, contracting markets and globalisation have all contributed to precarious operating environments where collective wisdom, understanding and interaction are essential.

Collaboration is not a new concept. The progress of humanity has relied upon small and large groups cooperating to run a tribe, village, region and even empires. While historians often focus on conquest and domination, beneath the commanding heights of any society or endeavour, complex webs of connections, alliances and dependencies have always thrived.

We live in a time where competitors can become collaborators – you only need to look at times of national crisis such as catastrophic bushfires to see our political leaders lay down their arms and genuinely work together in the national interest.

That’s why it’s so disconcerting to watch our leaders so readily return to the business of adversarial politics, where they fight each other over trivial matters for no tangible gain. As our new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull understands this environment when he talks about agility, optimism, flexibility and innovation. His message of hope and renewal appeals to our natural instincts to cooperate, collaborate and work as communities.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten similarly understood this when he ran with the idea of a National Disability Insurance Scheme by consulting widely, building coalitions of interest and delivering a scheme for which he and our nation should be justly proud.

And yet our political culture persists in presenting a pantomime approach to public policy where heroes and villains vie for the attention of the electorate and where we are led to believe that black and white thinking will help us navigate our way through the challenges of a 21st century world.

There can be no better example of the damage this dysfunctional approach to politics inflicts upon our society than the area of taxation. Both sides of politics concede that reform is desperately needed, yet neither is capable of settling on a comprehensive program of reform.

They know that any reform package will become the target of partisan attacks, landing them in the muck and maw of public debate, along with endless justification and political conflict. The paralysis afflicting tax reform over the last eight years suggests that this approach will continue to take us nowhere and leave the mess of this cynical inertia for future generations to clean up.

Both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten know that tax reform is the foundation upon which our future will be based. They know that the consequences of a country spending more than it earns year in and year out will lead to economic stagnation.

They also know that social programs, infrastructure building, and health and education provision all rely upon a taxation system that is simple, direct, effective and just. Fighting each other about the specifics of such a system will be never ending, and inevitably lead to sub-optimal outcomes.

Turnbull and Shorten have a vested interest in neutralising tax as an issue by making it a bipartisan priority. In that way they can bypass the sectional interests of the minor parties and get on with the business of making hard decisions about other reforms in areas such as education and health.

There are plenty of other ideological battles to fight, if that’s what they believe to be in the public interest. But taxation is one area where partisan politics always creates losers and, in this case, it is the future generations who will pay the price.

No doubt the hard headed advisors on both sides of the political divide will counsel against an armistice on taxation that would extend up to and beyond actual legislative reform. That’s because they are invested in a risk-averse political culture that feeds off a 24-hour media spin cycle thriving on conflict.

The economic future of our country is too important to be left stranded on a political and media treadmill. So let’s respond to the challenges of the digital age and global economy by innovating in the way we conduct our politics on taxation.

While Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten are two smart leaders who genuinely want what’s best for our country, the critical question is this: are they are capable joining forces in the national interest on taxation and distinguishing themselves as the visionary leaders we know they can be?


Tony Farley is the Executive Director of the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER).


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