Sunday, April 20, 2008

2020: The washup

Commenter Willowtree is unkind enough to observe:

"Australia will maximise its wealth, excellence and equity by driving up productivity growth to the leading edge of developed countries, by:

•Equipping all Australians through an education and training system that leads the world in excellence and inclusion

•Deploying Australia’s human capital efficiently and fairly including by overcoming the barriers that lock individuals and communities out of real opportunities

•Connecting through new collaborations across our education, business and innovation systems."

And here I was thinking it was just going to be a bunch of motherhood statements."

Ouch! That was pretty much what the processes adopted were bound to achieve: to weed out ideas that didn't already have wide support.

Except for the Health stream, which used a different process. It actually came up with some great suggestions.

Nonetheless the networking, and the informal nature in which it took place really was really useful.

The Summit wasn't a waste of time.

Below, I write about what the Economy stream came up with:

Kevin Rudd has been challenged to set up a national inquiry into Australia’s tax system - the first in more than 30 years.

Put forward by a group of delegates to the economics stream of the 2020 Summit including Lachlan Murdoch, Bernie Fraser and Fred Hilmer, the inquiry would examine both business and personal taxation at the state, local and federal levels.

It would be the first such comprehensive inquiry since the one set up by Prime Minister William McMahon and his Treasurer Billy Sneddon in 1972 and conducted by a retired NSW Supreme Court judge Justice Kenneth Asprey.

More recent inquiries, such as the one that paved the way for Australia’s Goods and Services Tax were limited to considering only a part of the tax system – in that case personal taxes at the Commonwealth level.

The inquiry would be asked to come up with a new tax system that was fair, simple, efficient, non-discriminatory and interacted constructively with the welfare system.

It was to have also been asked to ensure that its recommendations were “fiscally responsible”, but the group dropped that suggestion at the prompting of the business figure Lachlan Murdoch who said it would be too restrictive.

The inquiry would have only two years in which to report and would be asked to present interim reports before then.

Specific suggestions to be put before the inquiry would include cutting the reliance on income tax, eliminating transaction taxes such as payroll and stamp duties, and ensuring that the tax system is genuinely as opposed to merely theoretically progressive.

The inquiry would also be asked to hunt out and remove perverse incentives such as the one that encourages Australians using company provided cars to “drive to Cairns and back” in order to cut their rate of Fringe Benefits Tax.

The economy steam also called for a recasting of federation in which a new body - modeled on the Productivity Commission – would recast the roles of the state, local and federal governments in order to create a “seamless truly-national economy.”

The former NSW Premier Bob Carr, a delegate at the Summit, made it clear that he would only support such a recasting if the body in charge or it was not “as dopey as the Grants Commission”.

Bob Katter, the independent member for Kennedy in outback Queensland argued for the creation of two new Australian states, North Queensland and North West Australia in which to house a booming population and new primary producers.

“If you took out the capitals and coastal towns in the golden boomerang around the south and south east of the country you would still have 90 per cent of Australia left and hardly any people in it,” he said.

“It is immoral that we are not using that land and putting people in it. About 80 million of our neighbours go to bed hungry and yet we sink their boats when they try to come here. We need the put people into northern Australia.”

A group of delegates to the economics stream including the tucking magnate Lindsay Fox pushed for what they called a “ramrod” approach developing infrastructure, charging a single national entity with the job of “making it happen”.

“It takes nine months to have a baby, but to get approval from government can take four years,” he said.

A group organised by a former Treasury head Ted Evans suggested that the Prime Minister be required to set out long-term priorities with each annual each budget, something that he said would be needed as Australia moved to a more presidential system of government.