Financial heavyweights Bernie Fraser and John Edwards are united in calling on the Government to increase taxes if it wants to balance the budget.
Both believe there are flaws in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s assumptions of a surplus by 2021 and say some radical changes are needed to address future spending.
Taxing the rich more and hitting all Australians with the Medicare levy is the only reliable way the Federal Government will reach its surplus goal, according to Dr Edwards, former Reserve Bank board member and leading economist.
He also welcomed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s plan to take the tax rate for those earning more than $180,000 to 49.5 per cent permanently, an idea slammed by Dr Edwards’ former boss Paul Keating, who labelled it a punitive tax gouge.
“I don’t think a change of 2 cents in the dollar on very high incomes is going to make quite that much difference,” Dr Edwards told The Business.
The bank levy does not trouble him and he praised the Government’s “courage to recognise we need tax increases”.
It is on the bank levy that the two men part.
“It looks like a populist policy based essentially on the unpopularity of the banks and it’s an easy target for the Government to raise revenue,” Mr Fraser, a former RBA governor, said.
“It won’t hurt the economy in any obvious way but it won’t lead to a sustainable society that politicians talk about wanting, a more prosperous and fair society.”
When put to him that the Government believed it was fair the banks should pay a levy particularly given the taxpayer support they receive, Mr Fraser suggested the tax should be across the board.
“If Scott Morrison believes it is OK to chase big profits, then it should also look to pharmaceutical, mining, technology companies to name a few,” he said.
“If there is this kind of capacity there that the Treasurer thinks that there is in the banks [to pay more tax] then it is elsewhere, and a fair tax would not be discriminatory on the unpopularity of the banks but would actually pursue [them all].”
Levy won’t up playing field for smaller banks
He suggests a progressive company tax, similar to the income tax system, where the more a business earned the more it paid.
“It’s at least worth thinking about, we already have two rates of tax for business based on turnover,” he said.
He backed former Treasury boss and now NAB chairman Ken Henry’s calls for an inquiry into the bank levy, if the reports that the Government did not consult with industry or regulators were true.
“If there hasn’t been appropriate consultation, that’s a no no if the Government wants to make significant changes to taxation, if they don’t consult adequately with all the stakeholders before they determine what they are going to do … that is a serious mistake and governments run a real risk in getting things wrong,” he said.
Mr Fraser dismissed the argument the levy would even up the playing field for smaller banks, saying that would only happen if the big banks increased their lending rates dramatically as a result, which he did not believe would happen.
The temptation for future governments to raise the bank levy to plug budget holes would be too great to resist, Mr Fraser said, because there was nothing to stop them.
“There is no clear coherent framework for determining budgets, for determining government spending and revenue measures, and that’s the problem — everything is ad hoc, in large part driven by ideologies and lobbyists,” he said.
Watch the full report on Tuesday, May 16 at 11:02pm on ABC TV.