by Vaughan Gunson
Tax Justice campaign coordinator
18 October 2010
To protest GST going up to 15% on 1st October the Tax Justice campaign organised a nationwide push for signatures to the petition calling on parliament to remove GST from food and tax financial speculation.
As well as getting more signatures for the petition – at a time when resentment towards GST was going to be high – the aim was to expand the network of active campaign supporters and get national media coverage.
20,000 signatures collected to date
After our efforts Friday-Sunday (1-3 October) following the GST hike we’ve collected 20,000 signatures for the petition. That puts the Tax Justice campaign in the serious category.
The bulk of signatures were collected over the three days at organised petition stalls in Northland, Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, with many more contributions coming in from individuals in other centres (still being reported). See the photo essays on www.nogstonfood.org
Getting close to an additional 10,000 signatures in a short space of time was a good effort by Alliance Party and Socialist Worker members, with the help of a small number of Tax Justice supporters.
The evidence on the streets was that the GST hike had created simmering resentment. A common sentiment expressed was that National’s tax cuts were “rubbish”. Many people were aware of the unfair nature of the income tax cuts, which have seen big tax cuts for the rich and virtually nothing for low and middle income earners once the GST increase is factored in.
For instance, someone earning $15 an hour will be $4.13 better off from the tax changes, while someone earning four times as much – $106,080 annually – will have $43.08 more in their pay packet. Your average CEO earning $265,200 will be richer by a whopping $153.92 a week (Source: Bill Rosenberg, Council of Trade Unions economist and policy director).
The tax changes have also come at a time of rising living costs and stagnant wages. This makes the GST hike particularly painful for people struggling to make ends meet. Inflation is resulting in declining real wages for workers and beneficiaries. (See Council of Trade Unions media release Real incomes falling, 7 October.)
It was the simmering resentment at the unfairness of National’s tax changes, combined with an outlet in the form of the Tax Justice petition, that saw people flocking to petition tables. Large numbers of signatures were often collected in a short space of time. The evidence is clear: the demands of the Tax Justice petition are connecting with grassroots people.
The factors behind the popularity of the Tax Justice petition are going to intensify in the months ahead. New Zealand Institute of Economic Research chief economist Shamubeel Eaqub predicts food price inflation in New Zealand to hit 10 per cent by the end of the year, which will wipe out National’s meager tax cuts for low and middle income earners. (See Rising prices to offset October tax cuts, 1 September.)
Grassroots people are going to be affected by this in a big way. The cost of food is already an issue that people feel very strongly about. The anger is going to intensify in the months ahead and into 2011. We need to be there with the solution that our twin Tax Justice demands provide.
Tax Justice in the media
As expected there was significant media attention focused on the 1st October tax changes and GST increase. A string of Tax Justice media releases tied to the promotion of the Double Day of nationwide signature collecting saw the campaign get some national media coverage. This included:
* Interview with Tax Justice media spokesperson Victor Billot on TVNZ Breakfast on 28 September (See http://tvnz.co.nz/breakfast-news/breakfast-tuesday-september-28-3804261/video?vid=3804333)
* Interview with Tax Justice campaign coordinator Vaughan Gunson that featured in a Newstalk ZB story on GST, which was played on radio stations throughout the country.
* NZPA article (30 September) which was widely published in newspaper and online news sites. (See http://www.nogstonfood.org/2010/09/29/petition-to-take-gst-off-food/)
* Two stories on the TV3 website: GST activists welcome Labour’s change of heart (27 September) and Govt accused of hypocrisy over GST exemptions (29 September).
* An interview with Vaughan Gunson for Radio NZ that was part of their coverage of the GST increase.
* Plus a number of short and longer articles in local community papers throughout the country.
These media breakthroughs were encouraging, but we’ll need significantly more coverage to really break the campaign into national consciousness. We must continue to explore options for getting the media’s attention, but there are no short cuts. The main thing we have to do is get heaps more signatures, so that the media will be forced to take notice.
Expanding the Tax Justice network
Any campaign which aims at achieving tangible success must seek to broaden the network of active supporters, as well as forming alliances with other organisations in pursuit of the goal. “Tax Justice 10,000” helped this process along.
In the course of promoting the Double Day of signature collecting we encountered more individuals who wanted to help. A few dozen people contacted us by email offering their support for the campaign or to enquire about the petition. New volunteers helped collect signatures in Kerikeri, Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.
In the days either side of 1st October there was a sharp increase in activity on the No GST on Food Facebook page. In the space of a week the number of people who “like” the page almost doubled to 5,000. (As a result of all the activity on the Facebook page there was a big increase in hits to our website, which peaked on 30 September with 310 views.)
Through the Facebook page dozens more people have volunteered to help collect signatures. We’re starting to receive completed signature sheets, boosting our signature total higher every day.
But if we’re going to chalk up some really good numbers for the Tax Justice petition for the rest of this year and into 2011, then we must continue to encourage more volunteers to get actively involved. And crucially, we need other organisations to join the campaign.
Leading up to and including the Double Day of signature collecting there were discussions about the Tax Justice campaign with individuals representing different political organisations.
A Green Party activist and council candidate helped collect signatures in Whangarei, and there were discussions with other Whangarei-based Green Party members about broadening the campaign. In Lower Hutt, a member of VAN (Valley Action Network) organised a petition stall at a local market. Members of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) in Dunedin helped collect signatures for the petition.
In Auckland, the Tax Justice campaign was invited by Labour Party MP for Mangere Su’a William Sio to attend a Labour Party organised event at the Mangere Mall. The petition proved very popular with grassroot Labour members and was circulated by local organisers of the Labour Party. At the event was Labour leader Phil Goff and Labour list MP Ashraf Choudhary. They both came over to the Tax Justice table and discussed the campaign with our team. Though Labour’s new policy is GST off fresh fruit and vegetables only, the two politicians expressed solidarity with our campaign and happily posed for a photo (see photo essay).
Labour MP to present Tax Justice petition to parliament
In conversations with our team in Mangere, Su’a William Sio offered to present the Tax Justice petition to parliament. We have accepted the offer from Su’a and will liaise with him to present the petition to parliament sometime in 2011.
Having a South Auckland Labour MP present the petition to parliament will give it real weight, and will potentially open doors with other organisations to come in behind the campaign.
The broadening out of people and organisations interested in supporting the campaign through active participation or through expressions of solidarity is very encouraging. In the first instance it reflects the popularity of the campaign – especially the demand to remove GST from food – amongst grassroots people. Nothing would be possible without this reality.
Broad cooperation to achieve our goal
It’s only through broad cooperation and alliances between different organisations and groups that we can hope to affect a major change to neo-liberal tax policy, which is what removing GST off food and the introduction of Financial Transaction Tax would undoubtedly represent.
Broad cooperation around the Tax Justice campaign is achievable. In the coming weeks we will contact some big organisations about supporting the Tax Justice campaign. Our focus in the first instance will be on getting support from Grey Power, trade unions and churches.
The twin demands of the Tax Justice petition have the potential to attract grassroots and institutional support in a big way. The challenge now is to keep the campaign moving forward by expanding our network of active Tax Justice campaigners and collecting more and more signatures, so that by the sheer weight of numbers we break into national consciousness.
In the weeks and months ahead the Tax Justice team will be announcing new initiatives to propel the campaign forward. If you’re already an active supporter of the campaign, a big thank you for your efforts so far. If you want to get active in the campaign then contact us straight away.
If you haven’t already done so please distribute the petition around your networks and print off copies for friends, family and workmates to sign. And send them back to us as soon as possible.
The Tax Justice campaigners will be working hard for the remainder of 2010 and into 2011. Help us make Tax Justice a big issue next year.
Tax Justice campaign coordinator