A national emergency

Maurie Mulheron

By now, teachers in public schools across Australia will be all too aware of the national emergency that has been declared by the Australian government.

In order to cope, to get the nation through, everyone has been asked to do their bit.

For teachers, it will mean forgetting about seeking access to quality professional development or being provided with additional resources for the classroom or teaching smaller classes.

Students too will have to step up. After all, their future is at stake. They will have to forget about that extra literacy and numeracy support they were receiving, or the integration funding their parents had been told they needed. Their access to a broader curriculum and enrichment programs is a luxury during this crisis.

For public schools, it will mean forgoing any capital works programs. The enormous backlog of school maintenance will have to be ... well, further backlogged.

The Prime Minister made it perfectly clear: there will be sacrifices made but that is what Australians do when called upon.

The federal government has identified that the national priority must be tax cuts for the largest and most profitable corporations operating in Australia.

Funding for public schools, public transport infrastructure, healthcare, higher education, TAFE, family benefits, mental health initiatives and so on will just have to wait. If the Australian government does not look after our wealthiest and most advantaged, who will?

But the “looking after” will cost the Australian community $50 billion in lost revenue, with that money redirected to many of the world’s most powerful and influential corporations.

What is intriguing is that many of these same companies do not even pay tax now.

According to the Australian Tax Office’s (ATO) Report of Entity Tax Information, 678 of Australia’s largest corporations paid no tax for the financial year of 2014–15 (the most recent data available). This amounts to a whopping 36 per cent of the companies listed in the report.

In essence, these companies exploit international arrangements that allow them to engage in profit-shifting whereby the company is structured in such a way as to ensure that its profit-making operations are registered in tax havens and their loss-making arms are registered here.

A 2009 study by David Peetz and Georgina Murray of Griffith University found that about 68 per cent of shares in the world’s largest corporations were controlled by financial capital with only about 3 per cent held by individuals or families.

Wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. Indeed, Oxfam has estimated that 62 individuals own as much wealth as the poorest 50 per cent of the world’s population.

Earlier this year, the head of the energy and resources company, Chevron, with an annual salary of more than $20 million, found himself before a Senate inquiry held in a Perth hotel conference room. Senators were quizzing him about his company’s tax arrangements that resulted in this corporate giant paying no taxes, not one cent, in Australia for the past two years.

For the past five or so years, the ATO has been investigating the conduct and tax arrangements of a number of high-tech companies, the products of which are used in Australian schools every hour of every day. Companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Google are being audited.

Apple is also under investigation by the European Union, which is fighting the Irish government and Apple over an alleged $19 billion illegal secret tax deal.

Across the ditch, The New Zealand Herald reports that Apple paid no tax there for over a decade despite sales of $31 billion for the period. In response, Antony Ting, an expert on company tax avoidance from the University of Sydney, told The Guardian newspaper earlier this year, “The bulk of [Apple’s] profit is shifted to Ireland and never taxed anywhere in the world. It’s a very small portion that is being taxed, even in Australia.”

The billions in stolen revenue is more than enough to fund the original Gonski model.

So, when the Australian government tells us that it cannot afford to redress the growing gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged, just remember what is actually happening.

Our students are doing their bit as asked to by the Australian government: sacrificing their needs, compromising their future and lowering their expectations in order to ensure that wealthy and powerful corporations preserve their privilege and influence.

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