We need to talk about tax.

By Steve McCabe, Branch President, Te Pūkenga – Manukau Institute of Technology

Anything worth having needs paying for. This includes tertiary education. Without it, we’d have no nurses, no doctors, no teachers, no builders, no… well, none of the professionals we need to keep the country functioning. Tertiary education is, it should go without saying, absolutely essential.

So we need to pay for it, and, of course, by “we” I mean the country, the government. And governments raise their money largely through taxation. So taxes are, fundamentally, a good thing—they enable our country, our society, to function.

But our current tax system is essentially broken. In theory, the more you earn, the more you pay. But that only goes so far. Serious high earners have ways of avoiding paying tax, through schemes that the less well-paid simply don’t have access to.

Unearned income, like money gained from selling property, is largely untaxed. And money that is—let’s be blunt here—hoarded by the very wealthy, in the form of property or investments, sits untaxed and growing, while the money you had to work hard for gets taxed to pay for services that everyone enjoys and benefits from.

But we don’t seem to be able to have a mature conversation in this country about a fairer tax system. The current situation benefits the very wealthy massively disproportionately. And so the very wealthy, literally invested in the status quo, donate to the more conservative political parties to encourage them to maintain the status quo.

Imagine a country with a vibrant, thriving tertiary education sector, one that didn’t have to rely on immigration for its skilled workforce. It could be ours, if only we invested properly in the sector that would generate this workforce for society. And yes, it would cost money, but the money is there. It’s just being hoarded by a small majority, who allow the hardest-working members of our society to do the hard mahi that enables them to build their wealth more and more.

Thing is, they’d benefit too. They’d just have to pay a little more. So let’s not be afraid of having a sensible conversation about tax, and don’t take radical steps like a wealth tax off the table.

We’re Aotearoa, after all—we lead the world. Let’s lead it here too.

Te Hautū Kahurangi | Tertiary Education Union is a supporter of the Fair Tax Coalition – a group of like-minded organisations that aims to promote discussion about a better tax system in Aotearoa through their Better Taxes for a Better Future campaign. Click here to visit their website.