Ingeborg van Teeseling

In Australia, we have our taxes backwards

Again, our taxes are part of the national discussion, however, I’m wondering if we should reward incompetence so heartily with our hard-earned dollars.



With the kerfuffle around Brexit and our own underperforming politicians, I have been thinking a lot about taxes lately. Because this is the compact citizens have with the powers-that-be, right? You make us give up part of our earnings, and in return, you spend that money wisely and run the country in a prudent, fair manner. Not difficult, one would think, and it doesn’t even require Ardern-like vision. Just proper husbandry, to use a nice, old-fashioned word. And yet, Westminster has been talking only about Brexit now for months. Apparently, nothing else is going on in the country. Or if it is, it manages to organise itself, without the input of politicians. That is good to know, you would think, and also a little dangerous for those politicians themselves. Once the whole country realises that it has been doing fine without them, it might choose to keep doing that in future as well. Maybe it is right, after all, what my good father (and Yes Minister, of course) used to say: the people in charge are always the bureaucrats. If you want something done, don’t talk to the minister, talk to his secretary.

Anyway: given that there isn’t a lot of governing going on, either in Britain or here, that leaves us with a question: if they don’t keep their end of the bargain, why should we? Why are we giving them our money if they only spend it on holidays in the Philippines? Or pretending they are in an episode of Don’t Tell the Bride? So, let me give you my proposal in the form of a parable. I’m in a biblical frame of mind today, but this is also because flat-out enticing you to tax-evasion would be a crime. Of course, this happened in a country far, far away, in the distant, distant past, and I had nothing to do with it. But let’s say there was a person who didn’t like the military very much. In fact, she (or he, obviously) wore a war resisters pin as a matter of cause. Although she was a woman, she had already written to her government to say that she wasn’t going to go into the army if ever that would become a rule (like I say, this was a long time ago, in the time when there were Russian Bears on the street). The government had first laughed at her, then given her official dispensation. This, the woman thought, is going well. So she sent the same minister another letter: “I know,” the letter said, “that 5% of my taxes is spent on the military. I think weapons lead to war and to an us-and-them mentality. So from now on, I am going to withhold that 5% from my taxes.”

She didn’t hear from the minister for a while, but then, some months after she had paid her taxes, minus the 5%, there was a request to pay. Then another, and another, and another. Every time the tone became harsher, and her replies shorter. In the end, the communication reached peak-effective: “Pay!” “No!”. Then, one morning, a man came to the door, with a clipboard and a posse of broad-shouldered pea-brains. He looked around in the woman’s sparsely furnished living room, nodded at her and told the grunters to carry the sofa to their waiting van. Then they took the television and the radio (I told you: long, long time ago), made her sign a form and left. The next year, this whole pantomime repeated itself. Same man, same clipboard, different blockheads. Another second-hand couch, a dining table and four chairs, twenty much-loved records. The year after that: same thing. Then came year four. Same man, but with a tired look on his face. “You again?!”, he sighed when he came in. “Are you going to do this every time?” “Yep,” the woman said. “Okay,” nodded the man. He pulled a fresh piece of paper out of his bag, clipped it on his board and wrote: “Repeated tax refusal on the basis of principled mental health issues.” “Please sign,” he said, and the woman did. From then on, she still deducted 5% from her taxes, but never had to surrender her furniture again. I’m just saying: it can be done.


Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland ten years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website, and runs, telling people's life stories.

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