• George Negus on paying tax

    If tax is the price we pay for a civilised society, is tax evasion the ultimate act of bad citizenship?

    George Negus

    We've all heard the adages - in the pub, at the footy, at smart inner-city dinner parties and laid-back suburban BBQs.

    'Avoiding paying tax? Not a crime until you get caught!' 'Death and taxes, two things in life you can't avoid - well death anyway ...' And the one with a curiously Shakespearian flavour: 'Tax? To evade or not to evade, that is the question!'

    As we hear it from the experts, for thousands of money-conscious, wealth-aware Australians, that double-edged sword is an annual dilemma, a persistent temptation for even normally law-abiding 'digger-cobber-sport-mates'.

    Apparently, year-by-year, their pecuniary honesty and personal values are challenged by tax integrity.

    So let's ask the critical question- what is this demon 'tax'? Is this tiny three-letter conundrum a pain-in-the-butt bug-bear or the very cornerstone of our daily existence? Is it a patriotic obligation or something to be avoided, whatever the cost?

    You've probably noticed those unapologetically politically-driven 'Tax is theft!' bumper stickers that turn up every now and then on the back-end of cars around the country.

    Oliver Wendell Holmes, a man of the courts in the US in the early 1900s had no such concerns and once stated 'I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilisation.'

    The ATO has no doubts about its veracity. 'We pay tax so the government can provide services to the community.' They might have a point. Something like 66% of Federal Government revenue and almost as much, 57% of the total revenue across the three tiers of government comes from tax.

    By definition, paying the correct amount of tax the law demands of us is, in fact, buying the community services and systems we depend on and that a civil society expects to enjoy - including health, education and law enforcement.

    Consciously evading tax, therefore, robs the community as a whole - not just the 'tax man'. Which brings us to a critical point of difference in tax terminology, evading tax and minimising tax are not one and the same.

    Wanting to minimise your tax bill is as human as not wanting to get up and go to the office on Monday morning! And there are apparently many legal ways to do this. Not wanting to pay any more tax than the laws of the land dictates should not and does not make you a tax criminal. That said, understating your taxable income and over-stating your tax deductions means not only are you dodgy at arithmetic, but you could also find yourself the target of the ATO!

    So, if tax is the price we pay for government to provide the society we enjoy, is there a cost for not paying them? There certainly is and that's the flip-side of the taxpayer's love-hate relationship with the tax-collector.

    We're not talking Monopoly here but 'Do not pass Go; do not collect $200; go directly to jail!' pretty much says it all...

      Last modified: 22 Nov 2012QC 28311