The Per Capita Tax Survey

Since 2010, Per Capita has undertaken research to gauge the perceptions of ordinary Australians on the fairness and efficiency of their taxation system and to inform the national debate on these issues.

In each year, the Per Capita Annual Tax Survey has played a part informing and shaping national debates on taxation reform and government expenditure. Over the six years of the Survey, the results have shed light on some of the most controversial policy debates of the day, such as the mining and carbon taxes, raising the GST, reform after the GFC, and more recently has become part of the larger national conversation on tax, government spending and fairness.

For each of the annual surveys, there has been a specific focus or noteworthy findings:

  • The 2016 Survey highlighted the extent to which the public see Australia’s tax system as unfair, favouring the wealthy and large corporations. With the release of the “Panama Papers” in early 2016, global tax avoidance became one of the biggest issues of the year.  Survey respondents showed an understanding that good quality public services require funding and showed a personal willingness to pay for it, but indicated a frustration that the wealthy and big business are not paying their fair share.  The survey results also showed that Australians largely believe that our budget deficit stems more from a revenue problem than a spending one. Overwhelmingly the public says they wish to see more spending on public services, particularly health and education, rather than less.
  • In 2015, the survey was undertaken amid a national discussion on reform of our taxation system.  Many proposals have been put on the table – increasing the GST, increasing the Medicare Levy, adjusting tax brackets, cracking down on corporate tax avoidance, ending negative gearing, changing superannuation tax concessions – and Per Capita’s Tax Survey provides real world data for politicians, policy-makers, journalists, and the general public on which options Australians actually prefer.  The results show that people want good quality public services and are willing to pay for them.  Importantly, the Tax Survey shows that Australians want fairness to be at the core of the system.  With Budget deficits remaining into the foreseeable future, governments will come under increasing pressure make changes to taxation and/or cut public services.  The Survey gives progressives an evidence base to make arguments in favour of fairness.
  • The 2014 Tax Survey was taken prior to the report of the Commission of Audit and prior to the Coalition government’s contentious 2014 Budget.  Again, our survey results have provided much needed evidence of public attitudes in a time when the national debate on taxation and government spending is at the highest point for many years.  Our survey showed that people are not in favour of the kind of cuts proposed by the Commission of Audit and the Coalition’s Budget, and instead are comfortable with their level of taxation and public spending.  It is a major shift from previous reports and provides an important insight into why the debate around taxation and government spending is still going strong several months after the 2014 Budget.
  • In 2012, the report focused on people’s changing attitudes to taxation and public spending.  In the wake of the wider national debate on taxation brought about by the introduction of the carbon and mining taxes, the report was able to track changes in community sentiment. The survey found that Australians’ attitudes towards tax and public spending were getting tougher, and that increasingly Australians see themselves as paying too much tax in a system that is less fair.  In addition, the survey found that people’s opinions on tax are contradictory – people want more spending on public services, but also want to pay less tax. Furthermore, the survey found widespread ignorance of how the carbon tax works, what it covered, and whether or not they had been compensated, despite a high-profile national campaign on this issue.
  • In 2011, the survey, as well as the usual questions, encompassed public attitudes towards the two new and highly contentious taxes introduced under the Labour government: the Minerals Resources Rent Tax, and the carbon tax.  Again the results of our report provided information on public attitudes to these policies and provided some much needed evidence in an otherwise antagonistic public debate.  The second report was also an opportunity to observe shifts in public attitudes towards taxation since the previous report.
  • In 2010, the first survey was undertaken against the backdrop of the Future Tax System Review (the ‘Henry Review’) and in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, which renewed discussions and revived old arguments about taxation levels, public spending vs austerity measures, the pros and cons of running a deficit.  The results of this report were drawn into the larger debate on these questions and provided timely information on what people expect from their governments and what they are willing to pay for it.

In every year that we have run this Survey, the goal has been to assess public attitudes of Australian citizens towards taxation and public spending, to inform the public debate on tax reform and government spending, and to provide policy-makers with an insight into how Australians view their tax system, public spending and any purported changes.

The report has become a “go to” source for politicians, policy-makers, journalists and the general public on what people really think about their tax system and which reform options are preferable to the Australian people.