I think the presenter was somewhat confused because The Kouk and I agreed on many things – what we disagree on is on the interpretation of data. To have two economists looking at the same data and coming to very different conclusions is nor unusual or even rare. In fact it makes economists the butt of jokes.
What makes this instance interesting is the public hysteria over smoking. The anti-smoking lobby has done an magnificent job of stigmatising and denormalising smokers and smoking. To the extent that anyone who questions any particular anti-smoking policy must be corrupt and on the take.
So The Kouk opened up his talk by stating that he has never worked for a firm that has accepted tobacco funding. The implication being that I have. Except I am not an employee of the IPA – I am a senior fellow but that is an honorary role.
More importantly, however, I don’t believe The Kouk’s statement to be quite correct.
Big Tobacco is a big taxpayer. It is a huge taxpayer. The Henry Review identified Tobacco excise as being one of the top ten taxes that collectively raise nearly 90 per cent of Australian tax revenue. That is not including any corporate income tax (also in the top 10) or payroll tax (also in the top 10) Big Tobacco pays. Did I mention the GST? Any and every person employed in the public sector is paid out of tax revenue collected in part from Big Tobacco. That includes the entirety of the ABC and, dare I say it, The Kouk’s salary when he was employed in the Office of the Prime Minister. To the extent that I work in a public university I too receive tobacco money (mind you, that part of the university I work in earns so much from international students, I can comfortably say that I earn less from tobacco tax than does anyone at the ABC).
Unless we want to argue that somehow the ATO acts as a tax kidney or liver and purifies money as it passes through from big tobacco and their clients to the public service the fact is that the ABC “accepts” money from big tobacco.