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Care about the environment? Then get serious about tax.

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

This article was published by the Foundation of Young Australians here.

There are more people aged 18-24 on the electoral roll than ever before. Politicians who want to win need their votes.

In fact, according to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), five marginal seats held by the government have an overrepresentation of voters aged between 18 and 34, meaning that their votes could make the difference. So what will we demand of our politicians before we give them our vote?

A recent Triple J survey found that the most important election issue for 18-29 year olds was the environment. While media often portray millennials as entitled and self-obsessed, there’s evidence to suggest millennials are increasingly connected, educated and empathetic. That’s why we care about issues like climate change, refugees and LGBTQI+ rights. The people in power know this and they’re taking advantage of us. While we’re fighting to secure our social and environmental future, those same power brokers are slowly siphoning away our economic future.

However, young people are under increasing economic pressure with a lack of housing affordability, low wages and unemployment. They see the welfare state retreating from their generation as many politicians chase the grey vote—that is, our large ageing population. So why don’t young people get angry about this? Why don’t we see millennials marching for housing affordability the way they marched for marriage equality? Or school children striking for their economic future the way they do for their environmental one? Why don’t we see tote bags and statement t-shirts calling for tax reform? Because, well…economics and taxation policy is, umm…boring. There’s no denying it. It’s dry, it’s unsexy, it’s hard to comprehend. The phrase “refundable franking credits” makes even the most passionate activist’s eyes glaze over.

And this is entirely on purpose. The people who benefit from the tax system want us to think tax is boring.  They benefit from millennial disinterest. Not to mention it is complicated, and education about our taxation system is limited or non-existent in school. The second we put it in the “too-hard basket” they win.

As far as I’m concerned, this is the biggest issue facing young people today. The tax system discriminates against young people while others exploit obscure loopholes to increase their wealth. Right now, an older household earning $100,000 a year pays less than half the tax of a working-age household earning the same amount. That means an older household on $100,000 pays about the same tax as a working-age household on $50,000. In the 1970s, there were seven working age Australians for every pensioner. By 2055, that’s projected to fall to just 3.2. Why is this important? Because the cost of ageing baby boomers will be bigger than Medicare in just nine years. If we don’t ask the baby boomer generation to pay their way in retirement (by paying  a fair share of tax), then they’re passing on the burden to the kids in primary school today. When the time comes for our generation to lead the country we need to have the economic resources to address the social and environmental problems we care about. It’s election time, which is one of the few times when politicians need something from you, so make them work for it. Ask your local politicians how they will remove age discrimination from the tax system. Ask your Member of Parliament and the candidates running for election: What’s your plan for funding aged care into the future that doesn’t rely on today’s primary school kids working longer, paying more tax, and having less services?

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