Sunday, May 31, 2015

Don't give me culture: Taxing times for music fans

Rip It Up, May 1980

Audioculture, the website that calls itself the noisy library of New Zealand music, celebrates its second birthday today. I have had the pleasure to be involved as a writer for this site since its inception.

It has developed and evolved in amazing ways, with all sorts of incredible stories, photos (many previously unpublished) and visual material coming to light. I'm delighted to get the chance to write stories for the site.

The latest one I've done is on the infamous sales tax on music, that troubled the music scene here in the late 70s and early 80s. It was most often associated with Prime Minister Rob Muldoon.

Russell Brown recalls that time on his Hard News blog: "Unless you happened to be a Young Nat – and frankly, a few of them were probably wavering – to be young in late 70s and early 80s New Zealand was to be set against Prime Minister Rob Muldoon ... a key cultural factor was the punitive 40% sales tax on recorded music.

Ironically, as Peter McLennan points out in his fascinating new Audioculture story on the tax, it wasn’t Muldoon’s doing. Although he defended it with a peculiar contempt, the 40% sales tax was the work of the preceding Labour government, which reasoned that records, even if they were pressed here, were imports, because the royalty component largely went offshore. 

It was Labour, too, which axed the tax. It was cut from 40% to 20% in Roger Douglas’s first Budget ... they even taxed the turntables. And the tape decks, to the princely tune of 56%!"

Chris Knox comic, The Listener 1984

One of the amusing parts of researching this story was digging thru Parliamentary transcripts, and finding gems like this:

When the 1984 Budget was tabled, Muldoon started in on the increase on the tax on alcohol ...

Muldoon: “Although this bill taxes liquor at about twice the increase the National Government had in mind, it does give a savage blow to the wine industry, and quite a light tap to the brewers."
Prime Minister David Lange: "A light tap is quite a nice drop."
Muldoon: "Yes, and nothing at all to those who drink water, as the Prime Minister does."
Lange: "I commend water to the Leader of the Opposition."
Muldoon: "I use it for its proper use – washing."
Lange: "No one would guess."

and this exchange, which closes, my article:

On Tuesday, November 13 [1984], a few days after the Budget had been passed, the post-Budget debate resumed in Parliament.

Muldoon: “... Last night the Prime Minister and I were both at the music awards. The Prime Minister was greeted as a hero, and he had a little quip … he said that taxes were like clothes: they were more fun to take off than to put on. There was loud applause. It was an upbeat quip. 

"Taking the tax off records is good for young people, but putting up the price of milk by $30 million is bad for babies. The Government has taken the tax off records and the subsidies off milk. What kind of caring Government is that?”

Lange's reply didn't make the cut for the online piece, but I can report his response was to point out that during the 8 and a half years Muldoon was Minister of Finance, the price of a bottle of milk increased by a staggering 675%.

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