Greens seek tax floor for rich

The Greens have called for a tax crackdown on the wealthiest Australians which could raise $7 billion over four years.


Greens leader Richard Di Natale outlined the plan for the introduction of the so-called Buffett rule in a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

The rule is based on a proposal by billionaire Warren Buffett who thought it was immoral that he should be paying less tax than his secretary.

“A simple floor on the amount of tax that people should pay would generate a collective tax return of $7 billion over the forward estimates, coming from the top one per cent of the Australian community who pay very little tax,” Senator Di Natale said.

The most recent tax data showed 56 millionaires who earned a collective $129 million paid no tax.

The Greens leader said that was unjust, given the government was urging people to tighten their belts and accept a $80 billion reduction in spending on health and education.

Senator Di Natale also gave a brief outline of his party’s economic principles, ahead of next week’s budget.

They included shifting money from unproductive areas of the economy, focusing on the “clean” economy, lifting government revenue and eliminating tax avoidance.

In the wake of the government’s $50 billion deal with France to build 12 new submarines, Senator Di Natale said the Greens did not believe defence spending was a “sacred cow”.

He took aim at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to put house prices and industrial relations at the heart of the coalition’s election agenda.

“If there is one thing that brings those conservative reactionaries together, it’s the promise of a bit of good old-fashioned union bashing and a dishonest scare campaign about property prices,” he said.

“People deserve more and we are going to lay out our vision for a more prosperous, more sustainable and more caring society and we owe that to the Australian community after so many years of empty politics.”

What might be in the federal budget

The May 3 federal budget:

What we know:

– There won’t be a fistful of dollars as the government lives up to its promise of living within its means.


– Prudence, fairness and responsibility will be the catchwords.

– Measures will be included to boost jobs and growth as the economy transitions from the mining investment boom.

– The much-touted tax reform package will be included.

Whate won’t be there

– Changes to tax breaks for property investors, aka negative gearing.

– Changes to the capital gains tax discount.

– A rise in the rate of GST, or broadening its base.

What will be there

– A reduction in the overall tax burden.

– Signs of modest improvement in the budget bottom line.

– Confirmation the budget repair levy on high-income earners will end on July 1, 2017.

– $5 billion over four years for a subsidised public dental scheme.

– $2.9 billion extra for public hospitals, stemming from COAG agreement.

– $230 million cyber security strategy.

– $100 million domestic violence campaign.

– $21 million in health care for chronic conditions.

– Brought-forward upgrade of Adelaide-Tarcoola rail line.

– New drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

– Extra aged-care places.

Hinted at:

– Modest personal income tax cuts to address wage inflation pushing middle-income earners into the second-highest tax bracket.

– Timetable for phased-in cut to the company tax rate of 30 per cent.

– Paring back superannuation tax concessions for high-income earners by lowering the 30 per cent tax on concessional contributions to $180,000 from $300,000, while helping those on low incomes.

– Further crackdown on welfare rorters.

– Incentives for state governments to get private sector involved in road, rail and port projects, and unlock land for housing.

– $1 billion for military role in Afghanistan, Iraq and Middle East, plus $1.4 billion in new defence spending.

What the economy is doing:

– Growing at its fastest pace in two years.

– Benign inflation outlook; unemployment rate remaining close to six per cent; wages growth at its slowest in almost two decades.

– Iron ore prices have soared to $US70 ($A90) per tonne compared to $US39 assumed in the mid-year budget review, a positive for national income.

North up for AFL fight against Bulldogs

Forget about North Melbourne’s tall timber exposing an understrength Western Bulldogs defence, Friday night’s AFL blockbuster will be all about winning the footy.


The first-placed and unbeaten Kangaroos meet the second-placed Bulldogs with the winner guaranteed to sit on top of the ladder at the end of the night.

It’s a genuine doozy between two sides who are strangers to the ladder’s rarefied air in recent years.

The Kangaroos are this season’s benchmark for scoring, boasting a three-pronged attack of Drew Petrie, Jarrad Waite and Ben Brown that would stretch any side.

With running defenders Bob Murphy, Matthew Suckling and Jason Johannisen all absentees, it’s tempting to believe North will overpower the Dogs irrespective of what happens on the rest of the field.

North Melbourne coach Brad Scott isn’t buying it.

“If you dig a little bit deeper into the Bulldogs, they’re an exceptional defensive unit,” he said.

“Even though there’s going to be a lot of talk about their injuries, they tend to replace like-for-like very well.”

Instead, Scott believes the match will be won in the centre, with the hunt for the contested ball paramount to winning the match.

Scott clearly remembers their round-22 contest last season, when North Melbourne won the aerial contest and the Bulldogs disabled them on the ground.

“We took an enormous amount of contested marks … but we didn’t win it,” he said.

“(In 2016) while the Bulldogs are a clear number one in contested possession, we’re a clear number two.

“The contest is where it’s key and that was obvious last time.”

Mason Wood is a likely inclusion for the Kangaroos, pulled from the 22 for Kayne Turner at the 11th hour last week with Scott seeking a better forward-line balance against Gold Coast.

Scott bristled at the idea he would be stepping onto enemy territory considering the Bulldogs’ formidable record at Etihad Stadium.

Luke Beveridge’s side have lost once in 14 matches there – a three-point heartstopper against Hawthorn – while the Kangaroos have five losses in that same streak.

On Friday night, Scott has called on Kangaroos fans to snap up the seats that might otherwise be filled with Bulldogs to ensure full home-ground advantage.

“We’ve got to prove we belong on the Friday night stage. North supporters have craved that for a long period of time,” he said.

“We’ve got five Friday night games this year. If we’re going to be fixtured on Friday night, we’ve got to draw the crowd.”

A cheat sheet for reading the federal budget

Phil Lewis, University of Canberra and Anne Garnett, Murdoch University

The federal budget rolls around, usually on the second week of May, every year.


Last year there was over 600 pages of budget papers, pored over by politicians, journalists and lobbyists alike.

There are usually four separate budget papers, not to mention related materials such as the budget speech, overviews, ministerial statements, appropriation bills and much more.

A budget is a financial statement of the federal government’s revenues and expenditures for the next financial year and also a statement of fiscal policy proposals. However it also contains a host of proposals which may not be directly related to fiscal policy but have fiscal effects (for example increased taxes on cigarettes or cask wine may be justified on the basis of health policy but they also can be used to raise considerable revenue).

So, given we are all so time poor and would rather not wade through the hundreds of pages, what should we be looking for? Here are some ways to find things that we might want to know, or wish we didn’t know.

Is there a budget deficit, how much is it and how long until we balance the books?

The place to look is Budget Paper No. 1: Budget Strategy and Outlook, “Statement 1: Budget Overview, Table 1 – Budget Aggregates”.

The Conversation, CC BY

The estimated budget deficit (the excess of expenditure over revenue) for the next financial year is measured by the “Underlying Cash Balance” in A$billions. The government makes projections for a further three years – the first year is the estimate for the year of the budget, in this case for 2015/16, which is followed by budget forecasts for three more years.

If you want to show budget deficits and surpluses over time, either in A$billion, or as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), you can find the data for this in the last column of “Table 1: Australian Government general government sector receipts, payments, net Future Fund earnings and underlying cash balance” in Budget Paper No. 1, “Statement 10: Historical Australian Government Data”.

What about government debt?

The Conversation, CC BY

What might be of more concern than a deficit or surplus is the level of federal government debt. How fast it might be growing or shrinking and the economy’s capacity to manage it. There is no consensus about what level of debt is a problem and there are clearly differences of opinion particularly between the right and left of politics.

The Net Debt is the appropriate figure to look for. It is the sum of all government liabilities (gross debt) less government financial assets such as currency and deposits; debt securities and loans.

It’s easiest to find this by looking at the historical data in “Statement 10, Table 5”, in Budget Paper No. 1.

From here you can see the current estimated debt level in A$billions and as a percentage of GDP for the current budget, along with all past budgets and any projections (this gives a more accurate comparison of relative debt levels over time).

Where does the government get its funds from?

It gets its money from taxes – which means from us.

Specific details of which types of tax raise the most money can be found in Budget Paper No. 1, “Statement 4: Revenue, Table 7 Australian Government general government (cash) receipts”.

If you look at this in pie chart form, income tax receipts are by far the largest source of income.

Where is the money spent?

When the government spends money, where does most of it go?

The details can be found in Budget Paper No. 1, “Statement 5: Expenses and Net Capital Investment, Table 3: Estimates of expenses by function”.

For more information on the major areas where government is spending you need to look at the various tables of “Summaries of expenditure”.

For instance, in the social security and welfare category for the 2015/16 budget we can see that aged care expenditure is by far the largest category, and with an ageing population, this will grow. “Assistance to people with disabilities” is forecast to grow at the fastest rate, as the National Disability Insurance Scheme rolls out.

In a few years it will approach total spending on aged care This can be seen from the ‘Projections’ column in “Table 9: Summary of expenses — social security and welfare”.

Australian Government, Federal Budget 2015/16

In the health summary, found in “Table 8: Summary of expenses – health”, we can see things such as how expensive Medicare is. The “medical services and benefits” category mainly consists of Medicare and Private Health Insurance Rebate expenses. Last year’s Budget also stated that Medicare expenses are the major reason for expected increases in expenditure in this category.

Australian Government, Federal Budget 2015/16

The education summary table has interesting information such as how much goes to public schools and how much to private schools. You can also see a forecast of higher education spending.

Where can we find the ‘hidden risks’ in the budget?

Since 1998 the government has been required by law under the Charter of Budget Honesty Act to have “Statement 8: Statement of Risks”. Section 8 takes some reading, but it outlines risks to the estimates in the budget.

For a more obscure example, according to the Space Activities Act (1998), the government is liable to pay for damage up to A$3 billion caused to Australians if a space object that an Australian company has launched falls out of the sky and damages something or someone (that is if damage exceeds the space object’s company’s own private insurance against such things). Now that would put a hole in budget estimates!

What if we dig a little deeper?

The Other Budget Papers – 2, 3 and 4

In case you were wondering about the other budget papers, they contain some of the nitty gritty details of the broad categories of revenue and expenditure outlined in Budget Paper No.1.

Budget Paper No. 2: Budget Measures contains the fine details of revenue and spending by government departments and government programs.

For example, it is here that in the 2015/16 budget we find that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade intends to substantially increase revenue from passport fees, from $1.7 million in 2015-16 to $5.4 million by 2018-19.

Related reading

In this part of the 2015/16 budget papers you could also find the almost tripling of expenditure in the government’s Youth Employment Strategy Program, from $22 million in 2015-16 to $60.8 million in 2016-17.

Budget Paper No. 3: Federal Financial Relations outlines the federal relations and any payments from the commonwealth government to the state and territory governments.

You can find details of federal government payments by department (e.g. health, education), and by state and territory.

Budget Paper No. 4: Agency Resourcing may be of less interest to most people, as it provides technical details of budget resource management, including financial resources and staff resources.

But if you look closely, you can find items such as estimates of average staffing levels in federal government departments. For example, the 2015/16 budget detailed staff numbers for the the National Film and Sound Archive (237) federal government staff members, the Australian Electoral Commission (788), and the Australian Tax Office (18,482).

The budget speech

If all of this is too much, for a summary of the main policy changes, you can listen to the Treasurer’s budget speech on budget night, or read the speech transcript on the budget website.

It is often quite brief and will provide the size of the budget deficit/surplus, any tax changes, new expenditure policies and new programs. But it will have political spin, so if you need to look further, hopefully this guide will help to navigate the budget papers without too much trauma.

Phil Lewis does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. He also has no relevant affiliations. During his career he has received funding from many private and public sector organisations including most recently the ARC, NCVER, DEEWR, the AFPC, ABLA and CPA Australia.

Anne Garnett has received funding from the Australian Research Council and the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.

Payne denies any role in subs meeting

In a bid to secure some work on new submarines for his state, NSW trade minister Stuart Ayres sought to meet French shipbuilder DCNS just before it was announced as winner of the $50 billion subs deal.


Only problem is that he’s the partner of Defence Minister Marise Payne, who certainly knew last week that DCNS was favourite.

Mr Ayres denied he had any inside knowledge and in any case the meeting, to have been held when he was in France last week, never went ahead.

Senator Payne insists she played no part in organising the meeting.

It was one of a series of meetings any trade minister from Australia would endeavour to have with participants in the process, she said.

“The meeting didn’t proceed … due to times not merging with the appropriate program that he had,” Senator Payne said.

With as much as $50 billion to be spent on new submarines and perhaps triple that over their life, states have been jockeying vigorously to score some of that work. That will only escalate as the project proceeds.

The new submarines will be assembled in South Australia. Victoria and Western Australia have sought to position themselves to perform some construction work at established facilities.

NSW is seeking to gain its share, possibly at the former Forgacs shipyard at Newcastle, now owned by WA firm Civmec.

Mr Ayres confirmed he sought to arrange a meeting with DCNS.

“I sought a meeting with DCNS whilst on a trade mission to Germany, UK and France last week. Unfortunately because schedules did not align a meeting never took place,” he said in a statement.

Since becoming trade minister, he had been briefed by Japanese government, defence and industry representatives, and also German industry representatives to promote NSW industry opportunities as part of the submarines competitive evaluation process.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended his defence minister.

“I’m not going to entertain this sort of sniping at Marise Payne,” he said.

NSW Premier Mike Baird says he didn’t know about Mr Ayres’ planned meeting beforehand and hadn’t sought assurances from him that he was not privy to information about the tender.

Mr Baird said he understands people’s concerns but stood by his minister, who he says is focused on bringing jobs to the state.

“Both of them (Mr Ayres and Ms Payne) are very professional and if there was any potential conflict of interest they would take the appropriate action,” he said in Sydney on Wednesday.

Iranian man sets himself alight on Nauru

A 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker is in a very serious condition after setting himself alight in protest in front of visiting United Nations officials on Nauru.


Confirming what he described as an “unfortunate” incident, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the man would be airlifted to Australia for medical treatment on Wednesday night.

“His outlook is not very good at all,” Mr Dutton told reporters in Melbourne.

Mr Dutton declined to say whether there was a link between the man’s action and the visit by UN refugee officials.

However, the Nauruan government said in a statement it was a “political protest to coincide with the visit by representatives from UNHCR”.

The man, who was named as Omid by Guardian Australia, had reportedly said: “This is how tired we are. This action will prove how exhausted we are. I cannot take it anymore.”

Refugee groups claim four other people on Tuesday night tried to self-harm by swallowing washing powder.

“If people think that through action of self-harm or harming a member of their family that is going to result in them coming to Australia and staying here permanently, that will not be the outcome,” the minister said.

Nauru police are also investigating reports two Iranian women have gone missing on the island.

“There’s some suggestion that people may have departed by boat, but I don’t have any confirmation of that,” Mr Dutton said.

Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said Nauru was in “complete social meltdown”.

“The protests and the attempted suicides reveal the sheer desperation of refugees and asylum seekers left in limbo for almost three years,” he said.

“Manus has to close and Nauru has to close.”

Mr Dutton said the two facilities were crucial to stopping people-smuggling and preventing deaths at sea.

Officials from the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments held talks on Wednesday following the declaration by PNG’s Supreme Court that the Manus Island facility is illegal.

“Like everybody, I want to see people off Manus and off Nauru, out of the regional processing centres and back to their countries of origin or back to third countries,” Mr Dutton said.

“(But) the government’s position is very clear and that is people will not be permanently settled in Australia.”

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said it was ironic that the government kept saying seeking asylum in Australia was illegal when a court had found the government was acting illegally.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78

Queensland court allows girl, 12, an abortion

A 12-year-old Queensland girl was granted permission from a Queensland court to have an abortion to protect her mental and physical health.


The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons and gave evidence before Justice Duncan McMeekin, described her pregnancy as “very stressful emotionally”.

She was nine weeks pregnant but had already run away from home, cut herself and attempted suicide, according to Supreme Court documents.

The father of the child, who is of a similar age, did not know.

The girl first sought medical help a month ago.

“She has maintained her view consistently throughout that the pregnancy should be terminated,” Justice McMeekin noted.

“She has no wish to be a mother.”

A psychiatrist expressed concern that pregnancy and birth could resume her patterns of self harm.

She had “no idea of the realistic emotional and physical demands that would be part of caring for and raising a child,” their report read.

One of her obstetricians said the risks of continuing with the pregnancy “far outweighed” the risks of termination.

“In summary, the evidence is all one way,” Justice McMeekin said.

Abortion is illegal in Queensland and any person who procures a miscarriage for a woman can be sent to jail for 14 years, while a woman who seeks her own miscarriage can be jailed for seven.

The criminal code, however, also provides that a person is not criminally responsible for performing or providing surgery “for the patient’s benefit or to preserve the mother’s life”.

Justice McMeekin also noted it was the duty of a guardian to “take precautions that are responsible in all the circumstances to avoid danger to the child’s life, health or safety”.

It was “beyond argument” that danger to a child’s health included danger to her mental health, he said.

“It is clearly in Q’s best interests for termination of her pregnancy to proceed,” he ruled in a decision published this week.

“It is necessary to do so in order to avoid danger to her mental and physical health.”

The Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service sought legal orders to allow for the abortion to be carried out.

The court ruled the termination of the girl’s pregnancy, by the administration of two drugs, was lawful and able to be performed on or before April 23.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25)

Storming cafe would have cost lives: siege inquest

NSW police assistant commissioner Michael Fuller was the first high-ranking officer in command at the siege at Sydney’s Martin Place on December 15, 2014.


He is being questioned about the police response to the incident which left gunman Man Haron Monis and hostages Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson dead.

He told officers to “contain and negotiate” with Monis, saying not enough was known to order a forceful response even after a warning shot had been fired.

“My fear was any action, deliberate action, would certainly have caused a loss of life and I’m not talking about the perpetrator,” Mr Fuller told the inquest on Wednesday.

A report by UK counter terrorism experts has said police should have immediately entered the building after Monis first fired his shotgun at 2.03am.

Ten minutes and 37 seconds later, Monis forced Mr Johnson to his knees and executed him with a point-blank shot to the head.

Mr Fuller disagrees with the UK report, saying community expectations in that country were different and led to different police responses.

“Strong action by police after a warning shot would likely cause someone’s death,” he said.

Balancing the attempt to preserve life and negotiate with the perpetrator against the possibility of taking action to end a violent stand-off was difficult and seems much easier in hindsight, the court heard.

“That will forever be the challenge of responding to these situations,” Mr Fuller said.

“You would be trying to piece together a very difficult puzzle to make a very difficult decision.”

Mr Fuller was in command at the scene from 9.50am until about 12.10pm but was asked about the actions of those in command more than 12 hours later as the siege escalated to its bloody conclusion.

“I don’t think there were enough pieces of the puzzle to justify us going in,” he said.

“Based on all the information coming in we didn’t have the power to go in.”

The inquest on Tuesday heard more about the “contain and negotiate” strategy.

Describing the early moments of the siege, Mr Fuller said police were uncertain about how many captives were inside and would not have stormed the building unless Monis had started shooting.

“There was no information to suggest there is any immediate threat in that environment to any of the hostages,” he said.

“There was an enormous amount we needed to know.”

The inquest continues.

Access to talent critical for innovators

Tax concessions, export grants and a healthy dose of fortune all helped transport start-up Jayride join the top 50 innovators in the country.


But for Vinko Grgic, Jayride’s operations officer, the business’ past and future success comes down to one thing – talent.

The four-year-old firm, which books shuttle buses and private transfers to and from airports, was listed as number 50 in venture capital firm H2 Ventures’ list of Australia and New Zealand’s top 50 tech and innovation pioneers.

Mr Grgic said the business, which employs 20 people, had enjoyed great success but could only grow further through investment in human capital from around the world.

“People are the most valuable and the most important thing in a company like this,” Mr Grgic said.

“Technology is part and parcel but you need the brains. It’s about access to people.”

The “Tech Pioneers 50” report, released on Wednesday, ranked Australian and New Zealand businesses on their capital raising efforts, sector diversity, innovation and success with consumers.

Software “unicorn” Atlassian, valued at over $6 billion in 2015, was named the leading tech pioneer, while Kiwi accounting software company Xero was ranked second and creative hub Envato came in third.

H2 Ventures founder Ben Heap, whose firm produced the report alongside investment bank Investec Australia, said the top 50 firms employed 5400 people in high-skilled roles that didn’t exist even a decade ago.

He said the companies were best placed to lead the charge into the digital economy.

“The next 10 to 20 years will be primarily driven by growth in companies like those that are on the top 50 here,” said Mr Heap.

“I don’t see any risk at all that this is a passing fad.”

Greg Symons from SocietyOne, a peer-to-peer lending service ranked number 20 on the list, said his industry needed at least another decade to “mature into something significant”.

He said his five-year-old business, which recently passed $100 million in loans, would continue to grow within Australia before branching out internationally.

“We’d like to expand at some stage, and our tech needs to be absolutely proven in its local environment,” Mr Symons said.

Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos, speaking at the launch of the report, said the federal government did not want startups and innovation “to be just a passing phase”.

“This is about building a new culture across the country as a whole,” Senator Sinodinos said.

Fish oil can enhance depression meds

Taking fish oil or vitamin D supplements can boost the effectiveness of anti-depressants for those suffering from depression.


That’s the finding from an evidence review conducted by a team from Melbourne University and Harvard Medical School, assessing 40 clinical studies worldwide.

Researchers found that certain nutrient or plant-based supplements had a positive effect on enhancing mood when taken with anti-depressants.

It’s welcome news for sufferers who see little improvement from taking anti-depressants alone.

“This is an exciting finding because here we have a safe, evidence-based approach that could be considered a mainstream treatment,” research leader Dr Jerome Sarris said.

“Millions of people in Australia currently take anti-depressants. There’s real potential here to improve the mental health of people who have an inadequate response to them.”

He said the studies backed omega 3 fish oil for boosting treatment, while vitamin D, methylfolate (an active form of folic acid), and S-adenosylmethionine (sometimes used to treat osteoarthritis) were also proven to lift mood levels.

“We’ve realised previously that omega 3 is good for the brain health … and omega 3 was shown to be more beneficial than a placebo when combined with anti-depressants in improving depression treatment.”

However, experts don’t know the extent of the correlation between the supplement and the anti-depressant – whether it’s the interaction of the two substances that can help lift someone’s mood, or if just taking the supplement itself helps.

“Is it working together synergistically to improve the activity of it (the anti-depressant) or is it working on different chemical pathways? My understanding is that it could be a combination of both,” Dr Sarris said.

While the results are encouraging, he warned patients to run any additions to their treatment by their doctors first.

“We’re not telling people to rush out and buy buckets of supplements. Always speak to your medical professional before changing or initiating a treatment,” he said.