‘Socialism sounds good, but how are you going to pay for it?’

Whenever some measure to alleviate the lot of the poor or oppressed is proposed, you can always rely on some right winger to chime in: “Where’s the money going to come from?” They accuse socialists of believing there is some bottomless pot of government cash that can pay for what they reckon are money-wasting schemes for idlers.

But these people never ask “Where’s the money coming from?” when tax cuts for the rich are on the table, despite the huge cost in foregone income for the Treasury. Once last year’s federal government tax cuts are implemented, the government will be poorer by $24 billion a year. The richest 20 percent of households will scoop up three-quarters of the benefits.

They never stop to ask where the money will come from to pay for the ballooning military budget. Ten billion dollars more are being pumped into the military every year compared to when the Abbott Liberal government was elected in 2013. But not once has the affordability of the military been raised. Always, the demand is for more.

The right wing never ask “Where’s the money going to come from?” when it comes to the police. Tens of thousands more cops are now on government payrolls than two decades ago, but the conservatives are always demanding more cops. 

You’ll never hear the Coalition complaining about the cost of detaining and torturing asylum seekers trying to come to Australia by boat – yet the government has forked out $5 billion to deal with just over 3,000 asylum seekers held offshore over the past five years.

Government money will always find its way to those in the upper echelons of the corporate world. Last year the federal government handed over $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Research Foundation, whose board is stuffed with presidents, directors and CEOs of banking, resource, energy and aerospace companies.

Far from complaining about the cost of subsidising the fossil fuel industries, the federal government is desperate to throw more money at them, even to bankroll new coal-fired power stations shunned by the banks. Labor governments too: the Palaszczuk government in Queensland is spending $100 million on a road upgrade for the Adani mine and is considering loaning the company $200 to $400 million, according to the Australia Institute, a think tank. 

For conservatives, there’s never enough money for things that working people need – health care, education, housing and so on. But they never seriously advocate cracking down on the one in five of Australia’s biggest companies that paid no tax over the past three years.

So, if anyone thinks that governments should just tap into a bottomless pot of money, it’s right wing politicians and big business executives, for whom austerity happens only to other people. Their claim to stand for “fiscal responsibility” is hot air.

Let’s talk about what could be done with all that government money that ends up in the pockets of the wealthy and the well connected.

We could, for example, redirect the $10 billion a year that will go to the top 20 percent of households every year for the first 10 years of the government’s tax cuts to double federal spending on universities. Or we could double federal spending on public schools and vocational education and still have $500 million left over. We could build six big new hospitals every year for the next decade or boost federal government spending on public hospitals by nearly 50 percent. 

Had we processed asylum seekers expeditiously and welcomed them to Australia, we could have built 350 new schools in the past five years from the money saved by ending boat turn-backs and shutting offshore hellholes.

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) reckons that increasing the rate of Newstart, Youth Allowance and related payments for single people by $75 a week and indexing them to changes in wages would cost Treasury $3.3 billion every year. Lifting rent assistance by 30 percent would add another $800 million. 

The total, more than four billion dollars, sounds like a staggering sum, but it could easily be recouped by phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, starting with the abolition of fuel tax credits for the mining industry, halving capital gains tax concessions, restricting negative gearing and freezing the Coalition government’s tax cuts for high income earners. Simple things, but which would have a massive impact on the lives of the country’s poorest people.

Simply scrapping the F35 joint strike fighter jet, one of the military’s big new acquisitions, could fund a long list of welfare improvements across the board. We could reverse the cuts to community services, provide two days a week of quality early childhood education and care to all children in the two years before school, abolish the draconian cashless debit card and income management system and double the number of adults provided public dental care. These are just some of the options costed by ACOSS in its submission to this year’s federal budget. 

So, in answer to the question “Where’s the money going to come from?”, we can respond: “From every tax bludging billionaire, CEO and warmonger”. These people, who never fail to demand sacrifices from us, live a life of luxury based on wealth stolen from others: from Indigenous people and from wage workers scraping by from week to week. 

The CEOs of Australia’s top 100 public companies take home 75 times average weekly earnings. Three thousand individuals in Australia have private wealth of more than US$50 million. They didn’t get that through honest toil. It’s time we taxed them properly to build a society that works for everyone.