There is an old joke about the Rear-admiral’s vice being the Vice-admiral’s rear, (and the Vice-admiral’s rear being the Rear-admiral’s vice). But in the case of Rear-admiral Geoff Smith, his vice seems to have been of a quite different nature. Apparently the chief executive of Sydney Ferries made some $237,000 worth of questionable purchases on his corporate credit card.
Now, all of us who have a corporate credit card know the score. The card is a bit of a perk. You can make a few questionable purchases on the card, and effectively avoid a bit of income tax. Think about it – you make a few grand of purchases on the card – a few taxi fares, some boozy lunches, a new set of clothes, and even the occasional interstate trip, and these quietly get charged to the plastic, with the silent approval of The Boss.
The money is charged to the company (your employer) instead of having to be paid as bonuses. You end up better off because you don’t have to pay income tax on the money (it shows up as a company expense, not taxable income), and your employer doesn’t have to pay payroll tax on the money. Every one ends up better off. Everyone except for Wayne Swan that is, and let’s face it – he’d just use the money to lend to his used-car-selling mates anyway.
So The Corporate Card is a functional tool in tax minimisation, as well as being a powerful symbol of status and trust. Trust, that is, that you won’t over spend on school fees, alcohol, furniture, trips to the theatre and overseas trips for the wife – like the Rear-admiral did. His excuse was that “No one told me I shouldn’t”, and that he thought that using the cards for personal expenses was “an entitlement”.
Many public servants claim to have a strong sense of ‘social justice’. Apparently it’s not as strong as their sense of entitlement.
Of course it’s one thing for a private company to give a little extra to a loyal employee. It’s quite another for those in government to give a little extra to their mates. That’s why the public service has much stricter guidelines about employee conduct than the mere public who pay their wages. The endless (and expensive) paperwork, the double and triple checking that goes into just buying a paper clip – it’s all for the common good to protect your taxes.
But where were the checks and balances on the Admiral’s vice? Apparently no-one was taking up the Vice-admiral’s rear. Apparently no-one told them they should. Or maybe the vice goes further than the Rear-admiral?
Or maybe privatization would mean that at least it wouldn’t be the tax-payer’s problem.