Michael Pascoe: How to ethically minimise income tax

Helping those who help others through donations is one way of reducing your taxable income, Michael Pascoe writes.

Helping those who help others through donations is one way of reducing your taxable income, Michael Pascoe writes.

June – the winter solstice, the bare London plane trees in our street briefly not dropping stuff of one type or another, the (optimistic) start of the ski season – and the barrage of EOFY (end of financial year) advertisements encouraging folk to buy a new computer/ute/desk/forklift before June 30 to claim as a tax deduction.

It seems I’m an oddity who is in favour of Australians needing to pay more tax than we do to realise our potential, to be the better country we should and can afford to be.

In developed countries there’s a strong correlation between paying more tax and having a happier, healthier society.

By developed country standards, we’re lightly taxed, so I don’t begrudge the tax man his pound of flesh, while wishing he would cut it from more appropriate parts of the body.

Simple deductions

Of course I still like a good tax deduction as much as the next comfortable income earner, though not as much as the seriously wealthy prepared to jump through the hoops of family trusts, Caribbean domiciles and paying fortunes to PwC-type accountants to save money they don’t need.

So I find myself making sure I make the most of franking credits and deductions for a rental property while thinking Labor had good policies involving both in 2019, and it’s a shame they’ve been abandoned.

And I have a literal shoe box with receipts for the sorts of things a journalist/author/conference speaker can legally claim.

And there’s the big one: The best tax haven this side or the other of the Caribbean – superannuation.

While it has been tightened a little, the super tax breaks remain ridiculously generous for those with the means to make the most of them.

Spirit of giving

But my favourite tax deduction, one I actually enjoy as opposed to carry out through self-interest, has become a June ritual: Giving money away.

I know, I know, this is stale, pale male privilege, but it comes with a mixture of guilt, fear, love, thanks, and a debt of honour that overshadows any self-congratulatory inner glow of virtue. I’m not generous – these tax deductions don’t impact my comfortable standard of living.

And it isn’t philanthropy. It’s what a great many average Australians do haphazardly – and proportionately, ‘average’ Australians do more than the above-average. There are many widow’s mites to shame the comfortable.

I just like to do it a little methodically, encouraged by the tax system to sit down in June to acknowledge my good fortune in being able to offer a little help to a few institutions and charities I respect or like or have a link to or that impressed me somewhere along the line.

There are many, many more good causes that deserve support than I support and the ones I give money to deserve more than I give, but it’s my list and my amount so that’s my business – and tax deduction.

A flood aid hub was established in Weismans Ferry, just north of Sydney.

A flood aid hub in Weismans Ferry, just north of Sydney. Photo: AAP

Make your list

Your list and motivations would be different and might well be better. I don’t want to promote any particular charity over another, but I’ll try to explain a bit of an eclectic mix.

There’s the obvious one, one of the there-but-by-the-grace-of-God-go-I charities that help pick up the pieces and support people who fall on hard times.

If you think you couldn’t find yourself destitute somewhere down the track, you don’t know much about life and its temptations and injustices and randomness.

There’s the international aid, because however hard things can be here, there are vastly worse things happening to people elsewhere. A child is a child wherever they are.

There’s the thanks. For the hospital and staff who looked after me so well during my dance with a cancer.

The oncologist did it on the Medicare fee. It was a public hospital’s chemo. Our taxes pay for that and that is a grand and wonderful thing, but with donations they can do more, can always do more.

There are a couple of randoms – stories I’ve heard at conferences that appealed to me, striking one chord or another.

Sweet charity

I’m loath to promote one charity over another when so many are deserving, but I like and respect what the boys started at Orange Sky and good people continue to grow, and how could you not like something called Cows for Cambodia?

There’s love for a friend who died of brain cancer, honouring her by supporting those battling the disease that killed her, keeping her funeral wish in lieu of flowers.

There’s a debt of honour for the boarding school that granted half-fees, making it possible for my parents to nearly afford giving me the education they were denied and opening all the doors that education can.

There’s the continuing link to a bursary program I was involved in running at one stage, hoping to give other children the sort of break I was given, perhaps helping to develop the next generation of Indigenous leaders.

There’s guilt over the way Australia has treated and treats refugees, offering a little to one or two of the services trying to ameliorate what our governments – we – have done and do.

As I said, it’s only my list, one that ignores many other worthy causes, maybe more worthy, but I like to think that for the few hours tapping a keyboard or speaking to earn the money donated, despite not being a generous, brave or good person, I’m sort-of-almost working with those better, braver, more generous and talented people at the various front lines.

And, hey, it’s a tax deduction. A privileged stale, pale male’s gotta love that.

Happy EOFY.

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