The previous government kept changing the amount of the offset – a kind of tax refund – over the years. It started out as “up to” $530 a year, but was increased to $1080 a year just before the 2019 election.
It was to have been absorbed into the second stage of the tax cuts, but it was decided to keep it going. Then, in last year’s pre-election budget, it was decided to increase it by $420 to “up to” $1500 a year. Yippee, we said. Good old Liberals!
By then, people earning up to $37,000 a year got a refund of $675 a year. It then slowly increased to be the full $1500 for those earning between $48,000 and $90,000 a year. Then it started cutting out, reaching zero when income reached $126,000.
This meant more than 10 million taxpayers – almost 70 per cent of the total – got a rebate on top of any other refund they were entitled to.
But here’s the trick. Unlike a normal tax cut, which goes on forever, the lamington was a temporary measure. If it were to be continued for another financial year, a decision had to be made. Morrison and Frydenberg’s last budget contained no such decision.
Why not? Because, in the days leading up to the budget, cabinet decided to increase it, but not to continue it beyond June 2022. Decisions not to do things don’t have to be announced, and this one wasn’t. For obvious reasons.
You really had to be in the know to realise that this constituted a decision to increase the tax 10 million people would pay in 2022-23, by up to $1500 a throw.
Wright and I were at pains to point this out in our coverage of the budget. We thought that, especially with an election imminent, people might find it pretty interesting. But, with neither side of politics wanting to talk about it, few people took much notice. Perhaps they didn’t believe us.
The other strange thing about the lamington is that, whereas a normal tax cut flows through immediately to increase your fortnightly take-home pay, you don’t get a tax cut delivered in the form of a tax offset until after the relevant financial year has ended and you’ve submitted your tax return. The taxman just adds it to any other refund you’re entitled to.
This means the last-ever lamington, for 2021-22, was served up between July and October last year.
It also means that the only way many lamington eaters will get a hint that they paid a lot more tax in the year to June 2023 is when, some time after July, they notice that their refund cheque is a lot smaller than last year’s and wonder why.
Note, I don’t disagree with the two-party cartel’s decision to be rid of the lamington. It was a stupid way to cut tax, born of creative accounting. But when they tacitly collude to conceal what they’ve done, it’s supposed to be the media’s job to point it out. We’ve done our bit.