Helen Szoke: the fair go must not be lost in political confusion


The past decade has seen a dramatic increase in inequality around the world. While many developed nations have experienced economic difficulties, the rich have grown richer and more powerful.

Throughout the election campaign, Oxfam assessed promises based on how each of the major parties planned to address the ever-widening gap between rich and poor in both Australia and overseas.

While there were some positive promises made, our political leaders must listen closely to the public’s growing concerns about tax dodging by rich and powerful multinationals, the erosion of indigenous rights, climate change and restoring Australia’s aid budget.

Our political leaders must act on these concerns.

The outcome of the weekend’s vote continues to be uncertain — but the lack of a decisive mandate for either major party is a chance for political leaders to take stock.

It is a chance during whatever negotiations may ensue, either to form government or with an expanded crossbench — to listen to growing public concern about issues of equality.

It is a chance to accept that Australians have demonstrated a genuine appetite for change.

This is an opportunity for Australia to raise its ambition as a nation to being a champion of equality and a champion of fairness at home and abroad.

Ensuring multinationals pay their fair share of tax

There is no room for complacency in a world where the richest 62 people now own as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people, and 400 million of the poorest people don’t even have access to basic healthcare.

An online poll commissioned by Oxfam found that 90 per cent of Australians want the government to stop tax dodging by corporations.  Oxfam’s report, The Hidden Billions — How tax havens impact lives at home and abroad, launched in May found that tax haven use by Australian-based multinationals cost Australia around AUD $6 billion in lost tax revenue annually, and cost developing countries an estimated AUD $2.8 billion every year.

Any incoming government must legislate to make tax fair — companies must be forced to publish details of their tax affairs on a country-by-country basis. Only then can we see if they’re paying their fair share of tax.

An opportunity to show leadership on climate change

Polls have shown that voter concern about climate change is at its highest for many years and has risen significantly since the last election in 2013.

Galaxy polling, commissioned by the Climate Institute, found that concern about climate change increased from 53% in 2013 to 72% this year. Almost two-thirds of respondents agreed Australia should become a world leader in finding solutions to climate change — an increase from 52% in 2012. And only 23% thought Australia should wait for other countries before strengthening the nation’s post-2020 emissions targets.

In the face of a dramatic escalation in climate impacts this year — impacts that are having devastating consequences for our Pacific neighbours — Australia needs to achieve zero emissions well before mid-century. We must rapidly transition to 100% renewable energy and no new coal mines.

Advancing equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

There was simply not enough focus on tackling inequality for Australia’s First Peoples this election. Inadequate progress has been made on closing the gap on health inequality and bringing down soaring rates of imprisonment. Any incoming government must reinstate a $15 million cut to the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, respond to calls to overhaul the much maligned Indigenous Advancement Strategy and set targets to reduce Aboriginal incarceration.

Australia contributing its fair share towards tackling global poverty

As a compassionate Australian, I want Australia to repair our aid budget to help the world’s poorest.  As one of the wealthiest countries in the world we must rebuild the aid program to at least $5.5 billion. When I visited the Solomon Islands recently, I had a chance to see Australian aid in action, in a family violence prevention program called Safe Families which is changing Solomon Islander’s attitudes and behaviours when it comes to violence. Aid is effective; it works.

The aid budget is a lifeline for our very poorest neighbours, it cannot be used as an ATM. Cuts have reduced Australia’s current funding commitments to an embarrassing 23 cents in every $100 of national income, which pales in comparison to the aid given by other wealthy nations such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

I look forward to an outcome from this election which delivers an Australian government that places fairness at the heart of its policies for the next three years and beyond.

This article has been co-published with the University of Melbourne’s Election Watch. Photo: Scott Smith/Flickr

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