Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Blessed are the taxpayers in Abbott's Australia

  • 16 March 2015

Our Prime Minister Tony, Abbott has become famous for his various verbal faux pas, most recently his comments in relation to remote Aboriginal communities.

Speaking on ABC Radio in WA he stated: 'It is not the job of the taxpayer to subsidise particular lifestyle choices.' Predictably this resulted in a storm of protest from various Aboriginal spokespersons and other commentators.

Notably the premise behind the comment fails to recognise any inherent cultural and spiritual connection between Aboriginal people and their land.

They should just pack up and leave, moving to areas where there are proper resources and services which would not be as expensive for the government to provide. Everything would be so much simpler if only they were more like us, if they assimilated to our western conceptions of the good life. And then they could become 'economically productive.'

And of course, to remove Aboriginal people from their traditional lands would weaken their claims to traditional land rights. Undoubtedly there are many mining companies who would find life much easier if they did not have to negotiate over royalties and sacred sites with the traditional owners of the land.

All this is fair comment in relation to Abbott’s words, but there is another feature that has become so commonplace as to go unnoticed and uncommented. And it raises fundamental questions about how we understand our Australian nation.

Ask yourself the question, in light of Abbott’s statement, on whose behalf does the government govern? To whom is the Australian government responsible? The logical response from Abbott’s statement is 'the taxpayer'.

I’m not sure when this slippage began. I certainly noticed it in the Howard-Costello years when our then treasurer regularly referred to the Australian people as taxpayers. It may go back to Paul Keating, but I cannot be sure. What I can be sure is that it represents a fundamental distortion of the role of governments in a democracy.

Governments are not responsible to their taxpayers, but to their citizens. I was a citizen before I was a taxpayer and it is likely I will still be a citizen when I cease to be a taxpayer, or at least become a minimal taxpayer through the (regressive) GST. As a citizen I vote for my government to do the best it can for Australian citizens.

On the other hand, there are any number of taxpayers who are not Australian citizens: overseas residents, to whom the government owes the rule of