Tax time 2018: Quirky facts about tax

In the 1600s Russian Emperor Peter the Great introduced a tax on beards, but it is believed Henry VIII was the first to level the tax in the mid 1500s. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

In the 1600s Russian Emperor Peter the Great introduced a tax on beards, but it is believed Henry VIII was the first to level the tax in the mid 1500s. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

Throughout the ages the topic of tax has instigated many robust debates, including who should pay taxes, how much should be paid and on what goods and service should tax apply.

But the history of tax in Australia and the world is also an intriguing subject. The Australian Taxation Office’s (ATO) Tax, Super + You educational website offers some facts you can store in the grey matter for trivia nights.

In the beginning 

Tax has been levied on some very diverse items including drinking water, beehives, beards (feudal Russia), cooking oil (ancient Egypt) and the flushing of toilets (Maryland, USA, 2004).

In Australia, the first taxes were raised in colonial times to help pay for a jail and provide for  orphans. Computers were first used by the ATO for issuing the five million refund cheques sent out each year in the mid 1960s.

Tough times

The Australian Government introduced income and estate taxes to help fund involvement in World War I.

During this time, many taxpayers felt it was their patriotic duty to pay more than their assessed tax. Some were not legally obliged to pay tax but did so, and others made payments of double, treble or quadruple the assessed amounts.

Primary industry suffered severely in the 1930s due to drought and the Depression, so the government introduced the flour tax, the wool tax and the apple and pear tax to support farmers.

At the beginning of World War II, 23 per cent of the ATO’s workforce were women. In 1945 that percentage rose to 57.

The poet, the pig and fireworks

In the 1950s, ATO personnel labeled tax laws as Pig's Stew because they collected Payroll tax, Income tax, Gift duty, Sales tax, Stevedoring industry charge, Tobacco charge, Estate duty and Wool tax.

Some tax revenue collected is used to fund bush regeneration, music festivals and fireworks on New Year's Eve.

A poetic Aussie wrote to the ATO: 'Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where my return iz. My rego’s due, my cash is nil, a cheque from you would pay the till'.