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John Passant

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November 2010



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

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Stop the anti-union Tax Office

The Tax Office is attacking a union member for being a union member.

Alan Hixson is a delegate of the Community and Public Sector Union in Adelaide. He works in the ATO there. A few weeks ago he sent an innocuous email to 30 people in his area telling them about a lunchtime union meeting on pay. 

The ATO have threatened Alan with action that could lead to him being sacked. His crime was sending a ‘bulk’ unsolicited email, contrary evidently to ATO policy. The ATO Peter Reiths have indicated they might attack other delegates, effectively an attempt to hamstring the union in any future campaign around pay and conditions.

The right to organise in the workplace is fundamental to the ability of unions to survive. This ATO attack is an attempt to stop the union organising and resisting ATO management attacks on its workforce.

The ATO leadership has a history of attacks or threatened attacks on its staff. Over 18 months ago example they floated the possible destruction of 3000 jobs from one area called Operations. They are anti-union; they fear their staff and the potential strength they have in disrupting Government revenue collection.

They are so busy smooching up to business – couched in terms of collaboration and partnerships and working together – that they have no understanding of the needs of their own staff. 

While they are busy fondling business, 40 percent of big companies paid no income tax between 20o6 and 2008. The latest figures are likely to be even worse, taking into the impact of the GFC and the inadequately staffed and funded ATO and its pro-business leadership.

That leadership doesn’t have the means, or, despite all its huffing and puffing, the real will to combat our homegrown tax terrorists. They are part of the same class as those big businesses they seek to tax, or not to tax.

Ultimately their ability to collect revenue depends on the success of that class in exploiting workers and stealing the value we create. So they operate a schizophrenic attitude to business – to tax them within the context of not going too hard on them. And to tax them so that ‘competition’ is on a level playing field. 

More specifically the ATO leadership are under immense budget pressure and looking for ways to save money. Salary and other employee related costs make up 2/3rds of their Budget.

On top of that is the overspending on the Change program – somewhere in the order of an extra $350 million. That program is an overblown filing system which supposedly will make the ATO more efficient. Many staff hate it.

Finally  there is the Government’s ‘efficiency’ dividend which cut budgets to agencies by 1.25 percent per year. In 2008 Labor ‘temporarily’ increased the cuts to 3.25 percent.

These efficiency dividends are death by a thousand cuts. In fact applying them to revenue collecting agencies like the ATO is double madness. The ATO Budget is around $3 billion. It collects over $300 billion.

Its marginal rate of return is today about ten to one. For every dollar spent on audit it collects ten dollars. So ATO management should be arguing for more staff, not less.

Of course they won’t. They are part of the complex web of ruling class people and arrangements that enmesh revenue collection into the exploitative relationship and dominance of capital over labour.

More staff to audit big business would upset the symbiotic relationship between business and the ATO.

So for the ATO leadership the union is the enemy. As an extension of their worldview, the union represents workers – the dregs of society who happen to produce all its wealth. But they also represent the one main obstacle to ATO heaven  – less staffing costs. Further undermining the union and any capacity to fight for decent wages and protect jobs is clearly on their agenda.

Fighting the attack through industrial action has a much greater chance of defending Hixson than playing games in the industrial courts.

That means re-building the union now on the ground and defending jobs and wages through direct action and the rank and file taking back control of the union.

It is no surprise this is occurring under Labor – their Workchoices Lite and their anti-worker pro-boss attitude and policies have given the nudge nudge wink wink go ahead to the ATO to attack the union.

And hasn’t CPSU affiliation with the ALP been a great success? It got former leader Stephen Jones into Parliament but not much more.

Maybe Jones could now take up the battle for Hixson within Government and force the ATO to back down and allow union activity to continue unhindered. Or was affiliation always about bumping sellouts like him into Parliament?

Bill Shorten is the Assistant Treasurer. He is a former leader of the Australian Workers’ Union and came to wider public prominence in the rescue of two Beaconsfield miners trapped one kilometre underground for 2 weeks.

Shorten has responsibility for the ATO. He should direct the ATO leadership to not only begrudgingly allow union activity to take place unhindered but force them through fake smiles to welcome union activity and listen to the voice of their workers.

Really however, the forces of conservatism in the ALP and the ATO will only listen to industrial action and threats to the revenue.

Given the failure of the CPSU leadership over the last 3 decades to mount a defence of anything, they have sowed the seeds for defeat after defeat in the workplace, including the attack on Hixson.

The time has come for public servants to reclaim their union through organising at the rank and file level and arguing for and if they have support taking industrial action in defence of union rights, jobs and wages.

This will not be easy. But already delegates’ committees outside the Tax Office have expressed support for Hixson. They too can see the threat to union rights.

Organise, organise, organise to stop the ruling class lackeys in charge of the ATO smashing unions in the workplace.



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Comment from Ben Courtice
Time November 14, 2010 at 4:05 pm

over ten years ago I was a union delegate in the ATO. They were bad then too – had just finished dismembering the inner city offices like Casselden Place that had been union strongholds, and were just beginning moves to outsource the lower level unskilled jobs.

Comment from Arjay
Time November 16, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Consider this.The ATO is primarily the collector of taxes for large corporate interests.Big Pharma,since we perceive medicine to be free, arms dealers for our wars of corporate imperalism, money for interest on debt that represents our GDP and inflation.

We work for foreign Corporates who keep us enslaved in debt.That is why we have no infrastructure,no quality of life, no medical services and a nation in serious decay.

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