Opinion: Why every adult should get $500 a week from the government, no questions asked

Opinion: Why every adult should get $500 a week from the government, no questions asked
Opinion: Why every adult should get $500 a week from the government, no questions asked

By Peter FitzSimons

See original post here.

Adjunct Professor Everald Compton AO, 92, has been the most successful professional fundraiser in the country. He is the founder of National Seniors Australia, co-founder of the Brisbane Lions and leader of the team that got voluntary assisted dying legislation through the Queensland parliament. I talked to him on Thursday.

Fitz: Everald, we’ll get to your proposal on the Universal Basic Income (UBI), but first I want to go back to the principles of fundraising which you taught me 40 years ago, through which you have raised half a billion dollars on more than 1000 public campaigns.

EC: Go on.

Fitz: The first one was, “no-one built great things on 20-cent pieces thrown into a bucket.”

EC: Exactly. To get big money for big and important causes, you ultimately need to get most of that money from the people who can write big cheques. And this is the thing to bear in mind: people don’t so much give money to causes as to people. So I never took a job unless everyone on the fundraising committee had themselves dug deep. Then, and only then, will they be able to get other people to do the same.

Fitz: The other one I remember is: “People don’t want to just give money into a gaping maw of need, they want to see exactly what their money goes to, and get the feeling that their money has made an actual difference.”

EC: You remember it well. And afterwards, the donor must be kept up to date on achievements reached with their money. Otherwise, they’re not going to give again.

Fitz: And so now, Everald, after you have put your weight behind fundraising causes for almost 70 years, I confess myself more than a little stunned to see you advocating for the Universal Basic Income for all Australians, the basic idea being that every adult in the country be given the rough amount of the pension – $500 a week – regardless of their job status or wealth. You state this should not be viewed as welfare, but as a basic human right.

EC: Why are you stunned?

Fitz: Well, for one thing, when I knew you well, courting your fine daughter in the early ’80s, you were a great supporter of Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and I know you to be a close friend of John Howard – a friendship which included you fundraising for him, for free. All up, I would have had you marked down as a strong conservative. But this UBI sounds a lot like socialism. Just wait until Bronwyn Bishop hears about it!

EC: What I believe I’ve done is to move to the centre of politics because I reject pure capitalism on one side and socialism on the other. I look at things and I say, “What is the best way to fix this problem?” And I don’t care whether the world thinks the UBI is a left-wing solution – it will work, and it is vital.

Fitz: But, Everald, can we start with the cost? I don’t just mean the government giving out free money to everyone. Think of the number of microphones of the shock jocks that will simply blow up at the very idea of it, the word processors destroyed as the columnists unleash their thunder! And, more seriously, the gutting of the hard-working taxpayer to pay for such largesse, including to those who simply don’t want to work!

EC: For all my life, there’s been a stigma attached to those getting money without work attached – the whole “lifters and leaners”, “dole-bludgers” and “welfare cheats” thing – and most of it is unfair. We must get away from this. The whole Universal Basic Income idea was designed in the Scandinavian countries and in those parts of the nations where it has been applied on a trial basis – in parts of the US and Canada, Finland, India, Iran, Uganda and so forth – it works. So here, instead of having an entire welfare apparatus expending huge resources to work out who qualifies for payments, who doesn’t, and trying to catch cheats, your starting point is that everybody gets it. You no longer need people who need money to fill out 25 pages for someone else to go through to decide. So the first virtue is simplifying the system and supporting everyone, including the people who don’t qualify for payments now and fall through the cracks for all sorts of reasons. And with the UBI, you’d never have the horrors of things like robo-debt.

Fitz: But even if you did give it to the poor, is it not absurd to give $500 a week to wealthy people who simply don’t need it? And is it tax-free?

EC: No, it’s not absurd. And if you are wealthy, you could tick a box where you decline it or donate it. But if you take it, all of it goes onto your taxable income. And here’s the thing. What’s been proved in places where this has been applied is that once people know they are to get a monthly remittance from the government, they are more inclined to try and set up their own business rather than go to work because they have the confidence to take risks. It helps with mental illness and the overall social benefits of a happier society are massive. With this simple system, you shrink your own vast bureaucracy, as you just get rid of all the narrowly applied means-tested social welfare programs and all the costly apparatus to work out who should get it and who shouldn’t.

Fitz: Maybe it will encourage some people to be entrepreneurial and help the economy that way. But surely it would also encourage others to lie on the beach all day long, do nothing and live off the teat of the government, courtesy of the taxpayers?

EC: Well, there’s a hell of a lot of them doing that right now. And the evidence is that instead of people sitting on their backsides and do nothing, it actually encourages people to do something, and it also enables people who are in a job that they don’t like to break out and learn a new profession while they’re living on their UBI.

Fitz: But Everald, I come back to the tax! All that money has to come from somewhere, and it is surely inevitable that taxes would indeed have to go up to the Scandinavian levels.

EC: No. Think of all the money spent trying to alleviate poverty and all the problems that come with it – the ill-health, the crime, the dysfunction. We say it is cheaper to pay the money first, to alleviate the problem from the beginning, instead of trying to fix it downstream.

Fitz: It will still be hideously expensive.

EC: That is why you must put the whole thing together with a different tax code where instead of people dodging high tax on income, people would have to pay a low tax on all the money that goes through their account – with no loopholes, no write-offs, no deductions. There will be no more tax evasion, and the rich will at last have to pay their fair share. If you did it that way, you could not only finance this, you could also finance all the roads, bridges, hospitals and schools, etc. Because the amount of money that rich people don’t pay in tax, with all these trusts and schemes and deductions, is so enormous. We’d end all that.

Fitz: OK, so I didn’t realise that it’s a twin proposal, that with the UBI you’d put up a flat tax rate as well. If it got up, you’d be putting a lot of accountants out of work.

EC: I’m doing my best to put PwC out of work already. What you have to realise is that at the top scale, the wealthy people, pay the least tax of anybody in Australia. And once the tax evaders start paying the tax they should, the money will flow from the top to everyone else.

Fitz: All right. So, if it’s so great, why has no country in the world tried it in full?

EC: They might soon. But why can’t Australia become a world leader in becoming the first nation to do this? It’s going to take a lot of homework to get it right. But the social benefits of it all are enormous.

Fitz: I am still not convinced, though I might say that nor was I convinced the first time I heard arguments for normalising the drug laws and completely getting rid of prohibition. Abolishing the drug laws sounds like madness, until you explore, and it makes sense. Still, I’d be amazed if you can get the Australian political class engaged. I know that in the course of your career, you have visited Canberra 120 times, and were acknowledged for that this year in Question Time. What traction have you got on this one?

EC: The last trip I did to Canberra, we went to all the people in all the parties and some were intrigued. Many have the same concerns as you, but agreed that it might be worth exploring.

Fitz: Have you run the idea by John Howard, and if so, is he convinced?

EC: No, I haven’t, Peter, as I know him well enough to be aware he will not buy UBI right now. My initial findings are that most LNP MPs will oppose it on ideological grounds. I have had positive support from MPs who are Labor, Greens, teals and other independents, but am not yet organised for a serious UBI campaign. Will commence that after political scientist Dr Karen Stenner and I formally lodge our petition to parliament asking for a committee to be set up to investigate it. At that point, we will really crank it up. Eventually, I reckon I can win the support of the LNP on the basis of how it will boost small business. At that time, I will call John Howard to get his backing.

Fitz: I wish you well. Last thing, though. Andrew Denton said to me today that when he was pushing assisted dying in Queensland, you were a real force and had the energy of three men. How is it so, when you are 92?

EC: That is nice of Andrew. At my age, I am glad to wake up every morning. And I want to achieve things. When I stop achieving things, I will die.

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