Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Anglo-Saxon and Antipodean Attitudes

It is Australia Day and so it seems a good time to remember that this blog was supposed to be my means - as a mongrel, born with two nationalities - of sorting through the differences and similarities I notice between Britain and Australia.

Funnily enough, the area of taxation is one where I see a surprisingly clear gulf between the peoples of each nation. This first struck me when I saw the reaction to the fact that the Greens Party in Australia has on its agenda the introduction of an inheritance tax. This is something the vast majority of Australians almost instinctively reject, despite the fact that the Greens' proposal is only that inheritance tax kick in when the person who dies leaves an estate of over $5 milllion, excluding their house and any farmland they may have.

The proposal itself and the reaction to it both highlight, I think, how much less socialist in attitude Australia is than Britain, despite the fact that we have a Labour (or as they insist on calling themselves, thanks to O'Malley, 'Labor') government, while over there a hybrid Tory government is in power. In contrast to Australia, in Britain the general reaction to the Tory proposal to reduce the number of people being subjected to inheritance tax was that it was outrageously generous to the Toffs, whereas here any tax even mildly approaching that in severity would be regarded as an attack on the aspirant Aussie battlers.

My theory, to quote Monty Python, is that the difference in attitude lies in a difference in outlook. Australians don't like more taxes on the wealthy because we all believe that we ourselves can one day become rich. The barriers to achievement and success are, at least in the eyes of the populace, not too hard to get over in this country. By contrast, in Britain you have the politics of envy, fuelled by the belief, usually borne out by experience, that where you start is where you'll stay and the likelihood of achieving what the rich have is virtually nil - and therefore,'Let's get the bastards.'


  1. Interesting analysis. Do many Australians have $5 million knocking about, excluding house and any farmland? And what episode of Monty Python was that?

  2. 'This is my theory, and it is mine, ehem' - it was possibly John Cleese dressed up as a woman and she had a theory about, I think, dinosaurs (it may have been that they were very big.)

  3. I think it is becoming increasingly as you say zmkc ... I feel us sliding almost inexorably to the American stance on this - on government and taxes - and it is a little worrying. During the election campaign last year, the word "tax" (usually preceded by words like "great big") was thrown around, particularly by Abbott, with wild abandon. The power of words!

  4. Hmmm, I'd have to admit that an inheritance tax is not something I feel like supporting, Whispering - not that I have $5 million just at present. Nevertheless, I think it's a particularly cruel kind of tax, having seen a friend of mine in London hit with a bill for the first instalment (plus helpful government advice about where to go for a loan, which seemed to me to raise questions of conflict of interest on the part of the department concerned) before her mother was even in the ground.

  5. Excellent post, zmkc. I believe that most Americans are similar to Australians when it comes to taxation. Your final paragraph is extremely perceptive (and true, I think).

    This is purely anecdotal evidence, but in my travels I have encountered a number of Europeans who cannot understand why Americans seem to be instinctively opposed to taxation. They seem to believe that, through taxation, Europe has achieved (or will soon achieve) Utopia. Being an unsophisticated and uncouth American, I have given up arguing the point.

  6. Hi Stephen - of course, you also have a hugely admirable tradition of philanthropy over there. Here, a wealthy man called Dick Smith has been trying to encourage his fellow millionaires to go down the philanthropic route, with some amusing although disappointing results (long winded excuses from bankers about how, much as they would love to be more charitable, their huge bonuses can't be spared for anyone else, because every cent is vital to their own well-being et cetera)