You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘taxes’ category.


If T.S. Eliot had lived down here with the rest of us, he would have written:  “April is the cruelest month, breeding dung beetles out of dead numbers.”  But Eliot had moved to England, where intellectuals don’t deal with such mundane issues as income taxes.  Taxes always send me into a funk.  I find the language baffling and the work paralyzing.  Tax prep triggers procrastination of the highest order, and procrastination simply prolongs the pain.

March is actually the worst month.  In March you must assemble the numbers that will go off to the accountant to be fleshed into a dead tree of a document that will go to the IRS.  Unless you live in Australia, of course.  Australians do most everything at odds with the rest of the world, including creating their own tax year– June 30 – July 1.  Taxes are due at the end of October.

I’m happy to say that the task is behind me.  I can enjoy the onset of Spring, the beautiful white blossoms and the greening of the city without the tax cloud overhead.  Although I have become accustomed to our nomadic life, sometimes I really miss Melbourne.  Two weeks ago there was an event that I would love to have witnessed, although I may not have gathered up the courage to actually participate– a nude cycle.  Melbourne’s turnout of 130 was small compared to London’s gathering of two thousand, but it is a respectable showing for a somewhat prudish country

A couple of newlyweds were on hand for a memorable wedding album.  “Looking down Bourke Street there was no doubt about the cause of the commotion: a wall of cyclists was headed their way, most wearing nothing more than helmet, shoes and body paint. This was the Melbourne leg of the World Naked Bike Ride, an annual bring-your-own-cause protest to raise awareness about issues as diverse as body image, pacifism, genetically modified food and carbon reduction.”

“It’s sort of an all-encompassing green, hippie, sun-loving attitude,” said event organiser Heidi Hill. Ms Hill said that in recent years the main message of the event has been taken over by “biketivists” — cycling activists — whose aim is to raise awareness about the dangers of cycling. As the message on one rider’s back read: “Now you can bloody see us.”


My wife and I are well into our third winter in a row, (not counting our brief flirtation with summer in Nova Scotia) and it is starting to get to me.  I may be plagued with a mild form of seasonal affective disorder.  After too many months of short days, the lack of light trips something in me and a general sense of malaise sets in.  This particular string of winters was entirely voluntary, of course, triggered by our decision to spend November through February in Turin, Italy, where we had a brief fall, then full-on winter.  It would have been summer here in Melbourne.

There are signs of spring now.  The birds are getting up very early and the sun is going down later.  One street in our neighborhood is lined with cherry trees and the blossoms are out.  It reminds me of  Washington, DC, where we lived for three springs.  Japanese cherry blossoms are so fragile and lovely that they seem inappropriate in the American capital, my nation’s nest of political intrigue and greed.

Unfortunately, spring is tax time here in Australia as well as in North America.  If you are from the Northern hemisphere and this fails to make any sense to you, here is a simple breakdown of the seasons in the Southern hemisphere.

  • Summer: December to February
  • Autumn: March to May
  • Winter: June to August
  • Spring: September to November

This is just a rough comparison.  This country is almost the same size as the continental United States and has a number of different climate zones.  Up North, it is simply “dry” or “wet.”  It gets very, very wet up there even though this is the driest continent on the planet and all the cities in the South are clamoring for water.  Summers are very hot.

I have mentioned before that tax prep is my least favorite activity, so I have to get an early run at it and put an enormous effort into procrastination in order to get anything done.  We don’t have sufficient income to make it worth hiring an accountant, but the language of tax baffles me.  My brain seizes up as if I had early onset Alzheimer’s.  It puts me into a real funk for weeks.

The only antidote is humor.  Fortunately, there is some first rate stuff in this land.  My favorite is a TV show called “The Hollowmen.”  Is is about a unit set up within the Prime Minister’s office to help with his most important tasks– defeating the opposition and getting himself reelected.

Their job is to develop the “long term vision,” to ignore tomorrow’s headlines and focus on next week’s catastrophe.  The cast and the writing are wonderful.  Each episode begins with a crisis (such as childhood obesity) which calls for immediate action by the prime minister and results in a great deal of rushing about before it dawns on the staff that every action has unintended consequences, such as alienating major campaign contributors.

In the end, like a dryer at the end of its cycle, there is nothing but spin.  It is absolutely fabulous, up there with “Fawlty Towers.”  In one of my favorite episodes, the team tries to reduce its carbon footprint as part of the PM’s “Carbon Challenge.”  They turn down the heat, install new lights and get on bicycles.  Their intentions are inevitably sabotaged by their own ignorance and the necessities of finding the very best “photo op” for the prime minister, which seems to be in the Antarctic.

Last week’s Sunday supplement had a feature on Peter Garrett, former lead singer for the rock group “Midnight Oil,” now besieged politician.  To say that his segue from adored pop star to Minister for the Environment, Arts and Heritage has not been smooth is something of an understatement.  Even as rock star, Garrett resisted interviews.  This time they didn’t give him any choice.  The article would be written with or without him.

He has made a couple of missteps and several decisions which have been considered betrayals by his former friends among the Greens.  The denunciations have been pretty savage.  Prime Minister Rudd took away half his portfolio (climate change and water) and gave it to another minister, Penny Wong.

The giant,bald headed Garrett was once Time Magazine’s “icon of outrage.”   Now some environmentalists consider him the ultimate sell-out.

He approved the construction of the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania’s Tamar valley (which seems to consider old growth forest simply future wood chips for Japanese paper);  he said yes to the resumption of zinc mining operations in the Northern Territory; he supported plans to dredge Port Phillip Bay here in Melbourne and he’s given the nod to a couple of big uranium mines.

On the plus side, he’s been instrumental in implementing a national waste strategy plan and the most significant household energy efficiency measures in the country’s history.

He has his moments of glory, even now.  After the devastating bushfires in Victoria, Garrett got his old band back together again for a “spellbinding” concert to raise funds for the victims of the disaster.  Garrett clearly cares about the environment, but he has made his pact with the political devils that drive the country these days, the PM, party and the “stakeholders.”

To me, that is a real shame. I liked him better when he was a powerful voice singing for the wilderness. If you’re going to sell out, you might as well do taxes.

France Peter Garrett


Winter has apparently been kicked out of office here in Australia and Spring, known as Miss Congeniality in the seasonal fashion parade, has taken its place.  Not that I would have noticed.  I’ve been too busy fending off a cold to notice much of anything.  I thought my little naps and efforts to conserve energy were actually working, too, until last night. Then, I found out that they have been entirely futile.

Toward the end of the evening, my opponent rose to its full height and let me have it.  My head swelled enormously, turning into an elephant head, with a long trunk full of mucous.  My throat began to ache, as if it had been used by our cat as a scratching post.  I had a series of sneezing fits, followed by the inevitable drip from one nostril to the other as I attempted to find some comfort tossing and turning in bed.

Now it is entirely possible that I have developed an allergic reaction to pollen or the cat or something that has not previously triggered such a reaction.  This morning I took an over-the-counter allergy medication to test this theory.   If it works, we may have to shave the cat.  Or move.  Or do something drastic.

On the other hand, there is a strong possibility that this is entirely psychosomatic.  I have started to assemble some numbers for our Australian tax filing.   It is not due until the end of October, but we are are going to be busy then, and it never hurts to get a head start. To say I have an aversion to taxes is a colossal understatement, a bit like saying the Beatles were just a band.  Or Bush is… , well, you get the idea.

There are a few quirks associated with doing Australian tax that I may not have mentioned in a previous posts.  For one thing, the tax year runs from July 1 to June 30, which does not help when one has to file in two other jurisdictions that have not adopted the same calendar.  And filing in Oz seems to be based on the honor system, which may be a legacy from British boarding schools or something.

Then, there is the complicated issue of medical expenses.  For reasons that appear to have more to do with ideology than sense, this country has chosen to follow America down the costly path of privatized health care.  In terms of tax, it means you are penalized if you don’t take out private medical insurance and subsidized if you do.  Depending on your income.

I have been doing other things besides suffering.  I took the tram down to the Writer’s Festival on the last day of the event.  I tuned in to three discussions on very diverse subjects, from Chinese factory work to the hard work of writing a cracking good mystery.  An Australian writer by the name of Don Watson delivered some very incisive homilies on my homeland reminiscent of Will Rogers, a humorist in the thirties.  Watson was sufficiently steeped in American history to mention the name.  I bought his book and read the first chapter last night.  It was about his visit to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.  Not funny at all.

If my allergic reaction (or my cold) is, indeed, psychosomatic, then my best medical strategy may be to discontinue all medications, shelve the taxes, read a very funny book and hire a good accountant. I’ll keep you posted. By now, you are no doubt wondering why your faithful blogger has been going on at length about his miseries when he could have been passing on some news that you have been dying to hear– the results of Australia’s premier cross-country ski race, the Kangaroo Hoppet.  Considering recent events in American politics, it may not have been featured on your local T.V. station.

On August 31, in Falls Creek, Victoria, 1200 competitors from fifteen countries took on the grueling 42 km challenge.  This year a young Australian, Ben Sim, took the men’s title.  He is one of Australia’s best hopes in the winter Olympics in Vancouver.  Evelyn Dong, a young American, beat the field of women.  I’m sure they were all healthy as all get out. Happy, too.  But have they done their taxes?

by Alan Lam

by Alan Lam

When I mentioned at the end of my last post that the weather was getting back to normal, I was telling a whopper that would have made George Bush blush. I didn’t know it at the time, but our fair city was under siege from a cyclone named Pancho. Its ferocity generated 130 km an hour winds, toppled huge trees, shattered scores of yachts and killed at least two people. Two hundred housand people lost their power and some are still in the dark, four days later.

It has been reported since as an event that happens only once in a hundred years. Foolhardy as usual, yours truly took the wife for a walk right in the middle of it. I did notice that the sky was an odd, dirty yellow and there were not many pedestrians about. But we marched blithely on, cursing our lack of perspicacity only when the rain began pelting down and soaked us before we reached the car. It didn’t seem all that scary where we were, but when you read about the wind blowing over a brick wall, you know something is amiss.

The weather that has affected me most of late is a dark cloud that arrives every year, and it seems to come earlier and earlier. I used to think it was seasonal affective disorder. I did resent the dwindling amount of daylight in the Northern hemisphere as winter set in, but it finally dawned on me that my cranky mood didn’t really kick in until March. By that time, winter was almost over. It was the tax cloud.

When I was younger, taxes never bothered me. My income/outgo financial situation was not large, and moving from place to place simply meant pulling up stakes and getting a passport renewed. When your stuff can no longer be packed in a suitcase, when you begin to buy property, when you buy stocks and bonds, start small businesses, then the great black tax clouds begin to gather overwhelming force.

Your life may still be that of a nomad, but it gets very difficult to truly leave anywhere behind. We are no longer residents of Canada or the United States, but we are filing taxes there. Next year we may add another country to the list, if only as a one off. And none of the preparation is easy anymore. I would guess that many Americans over the age of twenty-five can no longer prepare their own taxes. The best government money can buy has created a tax act so convoluted that even CPA’s are bewildered.

Canada used to be relatively simple, but more and more it seems to take its cues from the U.S. I nominate this country as the best of the bunch. Our filing in Australia last year was straight-forward enough that I could actually do it myself online. But we don’t own a house, a business, or any investments here, so I’m not in a position to judge how we might fare in different circumstances. It does seem more like an honor system than any other jurisdiction we have lived in. I like that. It shows a remarkable faith in the essential honesty and decency of the people.

Of all the places we have lived, Hong Kong was the best by far from the tax point of view. A flat fifteen per cent of income. You could do your return in fifteen minutes. It was heavenly. If only we had their tax regime available in a more livable location, say Melbourne.  If only you didn’t have to put up with Hong Kong’s terrible air pollution, exorbitant rents, rudeness and spitting, not to mention the tornadoes….

If only….. Never mind. I’ll keep my mouth shut. Get out the calculator, buckle down and just do them.

Flickr Photos

Categories

Blog Stats

  • 40,513 hits
August 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 141 other followers

Top Rated

August 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  
August 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Categories