2012 Update on my
conscientious objection to
the military use of my taxes
Dave Keenan, 31-Jan-2012
On the 30th of November 2011 I received the following email praising me for my stance and asking what had happened in the 12 years since May 1999, where my previous story left off.
Email from Javier Amian
This document is my reply.
Thanks for your kind words. I have been meaning to write a follow up for my web site for a long time now. But it was difficult to know exactly why I did what I did, and therefore difficult to write a coherent story. You have been the catalyst. It is much easier to write to a single definite person than an abstract readership.
It's probably best to admit right away that since 2009 I've been paying 100% of my taxes like a good little citizen. So how did that happen!?
First let me assure you that my beliefs haven't changed. I still believe in the possibility, desirability and eventual inevitability of nonviolent defence (if civilisation is to survive) and the immorality of the preparation for mass violence which is military defence. The philosopher and wit known as Voltaire wrote in the 1700's, "All murderers are punished, unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets."
And I still believe that a conscientious objector should have the right to have the military portion of their taxes spent on nonviolent defence or its research, in a manner that would stand up to an accountant's audit, in much the same way as those who choose to buy "green electricity" can be assured that their money is so spent.
The only thing that has changed (in degree, not in kind) is my willingness to suffer for these beliefs, and to cause indirect suffering of those close to me.
The sequence of events?
After the court hearing in 1999 I guess I was somewhat burned out by the whole year-long process, and maybe also just a bit too cocky about having "won".
This was the early years of the Howard Government in Australia ('96-'07), and as I became increasingly disgusted with its treatment of aborigines, workers, poor people, asylum seekers etc., its funding cuts to everything except military defence, its reduction of civil liberties in the name of "anti-terrorism", its support for George W Bush and the invasion of Iraq, its refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, its support for nuclear energy, I simply stopped paying tax altogether. I still submitted tax returns, but simply failed to pay the assessed amounts or the requested payments in advance. I did not have a well-reasoned argument for this and did not write to the tax office with any explanation of my change from 10% to 100% redirection.
There are only so many books on nonviolent defence that you can buy for the Defence Academy library, and with Robert Burrowes and his partner Anita McKone's withdrawal from society there was no longer an obvious organisation to receive donations of resisted military taxes. On several occasions I contacted university departments which I thought had an interest in nonviolent defence and explained my position and asked how I might contribute financially to such research, but it always seemed too hard for them to figure out.
I suppose I can claim that I broadened my definition of nonviolent defence to include more than Australia's borders, by making occasional donations to Amnesty International, the Sea Shepherd organisation and similar groups. I also continued to send money to Robert & Anita personally, on random occasions, and while these sat well enough with my conscience it would be hard to justify them as tax redirections in a court of law. Also, there was not a one-for-one relationship between the amounts donated and the amounts resisted. Such accounting was very distasteful to me at the time.
My donations to these groups easily exceeded my resisted taxes, because I did not earn much above the tax-free threshold. And the tax office did get _some_ money out of my wages as I continued to teach renewable energy technology at Ithaca TAFE part time (at nights) until the end of 2002. I was also doing electronic design work remotely, part time, from home, for the company of a friend in the USA, from 1999 to 2003. This was wonderful as it allowed me to be a house-dad for my growing children and the money could not be garnisheed. In 2004 the USA work was completed and I went back to work part time for a local company Electronic Innovations Pty Ltd. I also made some money designing and installing the occasional photovoltaic power system, until the Howard Government effectively killed off this industry in 2004 by severely cutting the government rebate, only to restore it to an excessive amount just prior to the 2007 election, which they lost. Fortunately my wife Janelle has always had regular part time employment doing work she enjoys. I certainly couldn't have done any of this tax resistance without her support.
Although the resisted taxes didn't amount to much, the fines and interest multiplied the claimed debt many times over, and in late 2005 I was served with another bankruptcy notice from the Tax Office. A number of factors contributed to my decision not to contest it, or perhaps it would be more correct to say "my lack of decision to contest it".
Firstly, I had no enthusiasm for creating publicity around the hearing as I had done last time, because (a) I am by nature a fairly private introverted type and this had been very stressful the previous time, (b) I could not easily justify my 100% redirection and (c) the Australian public was unlikely to be as supportive this time due to the fear of terrorism and the fact that Australia had troops overseas "in harm's way".
Secondly, I convinced myself that the Tax Office would have learned from the previous time and so this time it would not fail. I learned the previous time that it had been a mistake to own any assets at all -- that joint names were no protection -- since they could obtain a court order (even outside of bankruptcy) for a public trustee to sell the investment property that my wife and I owned jointly, and return my wife's share of the proceeds to her, even though she would not cooperate. I had also learned that it was futile for me to sell my share in this asset, as bankruptcy law allowed that such transactions could be reversed by the court. So I reasoned that it would be best to follow the path of least resistance here and allow them to sell my share (hopefully to my wife) and that I would simply begin again to withhold 100% of my tax until I got back all that they had taken. The way I put it was "They can't refuse to do business with me", as a real business would do with a customer who refused to pay.
The result would be that the third time they went to declare me bankrupt, I really would be insolvent, and would have to remain a bankrupt for the rest of my life, completely dependent on trusted-others to hold any significant assets I might want or need the use of.
So I did not even attend court, was declared bankrupt in my absence, and was duly issued with a huge form to complete (a Statement of Affairs) followed by a summons to meet with my Trustee in Bankruptcy.
Here I insert an email I wrote to my wife immediately after my first meeting with my trustee.
------------ Hi Janelle, You may get a call soon from the Trustee's offsider who is handling my case, if you haven't already. I gave her your work phone number. The meeting went ok. First names (Gerry and Alice). They are just people doing their job. They explained lots of things on the Statement of Affairs that I wasn't sure of. We basically just worked through it. They asked me questions about stuff I hadn't completed yet and Alice took notes. I gave them the signed acknowledgements (saying that I'd read various warnings), and my accounting info for the last 5 years. They agreed to Courier the most recent stuff back to me soon so I can do my 2004/2005 tax return, which they want ASAP. Towards the end of the meeting, when I went to tell them about my website with my CO history, they told me they had already read most of it. It's probably a required educational resource for the tax office these days. ;-) Anyway, I think all three of us felt a little more relaxed and less defensive by the end of the meeting (which lasted a little over an hour). I made it clear that I preferred whatever option required the least cooperation from me (and thereby did the least violence to my conscience), and that I was only cooperating at all because I knew they could do it without my cooperation anyway and I didn't particularly want to go to jail (or even through contempt-of-court proceedings) when they would still get the money. I said this was basically an admission of defeat and that in future I will probably try to ensure that I earn less than the tax-free threshold. I'm afraid I'm not as brave as Rob Burrowes. They asked what your views were. I told them that you were supportive of my stand but did not feel as strongly about it as I did, and that you were willing to buy the other half of the house. They said another option was that you could still just pay off my debt, in effect loaning me the money against my will, as you could have done before the bankruptcy, or reducing my equity in the house proportionally. I said that I didn't want that. They said "Should we talk to your wife?" I said "Yes, you'd better talk to my wife". But please don't agree to that, Janelle. It may seem crazy, but my conscience will go easier if they are forced to seize the asset and sell it (even if it is to you), rather than have you just pay the debt. They may not even ask you about the latter option, but I just wanted to make sure you knew how I felt about it. I feel that I will still have to make donations equivalent to the money the tax office will get (e.g. a school solar power system), in order to make up for the harm the government will do with it. So for that reason too it will be better for me to have the whole asset liquidated. By the way, Alice said your estimate of the value of the property agreed roughly with hers. No need to reply to this. We can talk when you get home. I just wanted to use the opportunity to write about it while it was still fresh. -- Dave Keenan ------------
I remember Gerry had a bit of trouble with my answer to the question about why I was insolvent, which was "I am not insolvent". I don't think they had ever had anyone before who was able to pay but simply refused. And indeed, once they got the money, the bankruptcy was "annulled" which means in some sense, treated as if it had never happened.
I have to admit that the bankruptcy process engendered a certain amount of bitterness in me, mainly over the sheer quantity of money the Tax Office and the Trustee took from my family. In round figures I think I redirected/withheld around $6,000. This was inflated to around $30,000 with interest and fines over many years, then to $60,000 with Trustee's expenses, stamp duty on the house sale etc.
How my thinking evolved over the next few years is probably best understood by reading this series of email exchanges with supporters and fellow tax resisters.
Email from Todd Hampson (2004 prior to bankrupty) Email to Todd Hampson Email to Robyn Williams (2005) Email from David Johnson (mid 2008) Email to David Johnson Email from David Johnson 2 Email to David Johnson 2 Email from David Johnson 3 Email to David Johnson 3 Email from Belinda Prinzen (late 2008) Email to Belinda Prinzen Email from Belinda Prinzen 2 Email to Belinda Prinzen 2 Email from Belinda Prinzen 3 Email from Helen Bayes (2010) Email to Helen Bayes Email from Helen Bayes 2 Email to Helen Bayes 2
It's hard to know whether the pleas by my 71 year old mother, for me to give up this particular struggle, were an influence or an excuse. But give it up I did.
It was very difficult for me to face those friends and family members, who had made sacrifices to support me in this struggle, and who could not help but now feel it had all been for nought; particularly my wife Janelle and Dr Mark Hayes my right hand man and media adviser. But they were true friends and said they would support me whatever I chose to do. And of course it has not been for nought. It has been one link in an unbroken chain of struggle that others now carry on -- learning from my mistakes.
Voltaire also wrote, "I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom."
I'm sorry that I have turned out to be a mere mortal after all. :-)
-- Dave Keenan