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'You're not spending it so well that we should be donating extra' — Kerry Packer's tax minimisation speech, 1991
It was today in 1991 that Australian billionaire Kerry Packer appeared at a parliamentary inquiry into tax evasion. His speech became famous in Australia, and a Youtube neocon classic.
You can tell from the YouTube title that some people really admire billionaires, and really barrack for them to pay as little tax as possible.
What is undeniable about this speech is that on this day in 1991, Australia’s richest man was utterly unintimidated by the parliamentary committee set up to challenge just how well he had managed to shrug his taxation responsibilities.
For pure confidence, it’s hard to fault Kerry Packer’s delivery. There are no notes, his eyes are up, he is a man speaking with conviction and clarity.
You made the rules in 1986. I didn't try to sneak around the back door or sneak underneath this. These rules were made in 1986. I read the rules, said, what am I allowed to do? And that's exactly what we've done. Now, why do you want to change the rules again? This is the first, what's happened with this operation going on now is exactly what those rules were put in place for. It's the first time it's been used. It's exactly what they were put in place for. And we have obeyed them absolutely. Why do you want to change the rules again? I mean, since I grew up as a boy, I would imagine that through the parliaments of Australia, from the time I was 18, 19 years of age to now, there must be 10,000 new laws being passed. And I don't really think it's that much better place.
I’m not sure his argument holds water. He seems to be saying, ‘you the parliament have one shot at setting the taxation rules, we then get to spend millions employing tax experts to get around those rules, and the government shouldn’t get another chance to reset the rules in order to make billionaires pay tax, tough luck!’.
But that bit’s not the famous part of the speech. The famous part is this last paragraph,
KP: There's nothing wrong with minimising tax. I don't know anybody who doesn't minimise their tax.
Committee: And you are doing so in ways that were contrary to the spirit of the law.
KP: Well, I just got through telling you what I thought about, that. I am not evading tax in any way, shape, or form. Now, of course I am minimising my tax, and if anybody in this country doesn't minimise their tax, they want the heads read. Because as a government, I can tell you, you're not spending it that well that we should be donating extra.
Still, this is the song of the Republican Party, the Australian Liberal Party, neoliberalism. Never mind that governments actually need to build roads, run hospitals and schools, establish infrastructure, make society work. Of course its not a purely efficient model, without wastage. But over thirty years we’ve been fed the lie that governments shouldn’t be trusted to spend, or to raise taxes, and that ‘genius’ billionaires will do it better.
And here we are.
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Podcast guest Wendy Harmer tells a great story towards the end of her episode about doing a private comedy debate for a Kerry Packer party at his country estate.