The government has pulled its legislation for tax cuts for big businesses – for the second time this year – after its last minute bid to get the Senate crossbench numbers failed.
Announcing the retreat, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who had been running the negotiations, reaffirmed that the government remained committed to the cuts, and cast the July 28 byelections as a referendum on them.
Cormann was unable to win Pauline Hanson’s two votes or the two senators from the Centre Alliance.
After flip-flops and with the byelection in Longman at the forefront of her mind, Hanson stuck with her rejection of the measure. The Centre Alliance’s opposition was reinforced by the fact that its lower house member, Rebekha Sharkie, is fighting for survival in the Mayo byelection.
The government had flagged that it intended to press the matter to a vote this week but then decided it did not want to be rebuffed on the floor or parliament.
Cormann told a news conference: “We
need more time to make our argument to our colleagues on the
Senate crossbench – and we, of course, will continue to make our argument in the Australian community.”
“The government remains fully committed to these business tax cuts for all businesses because it is the right thing to do for working
families around Australia.”
This is the second blow on the tax front for the business community this week.
On Tuesday, in what’s been labelled a “captain’s call”, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced a Labor government would repeal legislated tax cuts for businesses with turnovers between $2 million and $10 million. Business has reacted angrily to the repeal plan.
The ALP is still considering its position for those with turnovers from $2 million to $10 million. It is under pressure to clarify its policy quickly.
Cormann said the byelections “will
be a referendum on who has the better plan for a stronger economy and more jobs”.
In a reference to speculation about the Labor leadership in the event of bad byelection results, Cormann said, “After the byelections, who knows? We might
have a more business-friendly Labor leader. All sorts of things could
be different on the other side of the byelections.”
He said his message to the people of Longman and Braddon was that they “do have the opportunity to send Bill Shorten and Labor a message. If they don’t like Bill Shorten’s higher taxes on business, on hardworking Australians, on retirees, on home owners, on everyone who moves, then vote against Labor, put Labor last.”
Cormann also targeted One Nation voters. He pointed to polling showing two thirds of One Nation voters in Longman supported lower business tax.
“I hope that the fact that One Nation voters increasingly appear to be coming on board with our plan for lower business taxes will, over time, help to persuade Senator Hanson this is the right thing to do.”
Malcolm Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg had clear Coalition party room support on Tuesday to decisively stare down a fresh sortie by Tony Abbott on the National Energy Guarantee.
The frustration many government MPs feel about the ongoing argument was epitomised by the comment of marginal seat holder Ann Sudmalis who told colleagues, “The more that people stuff around with this issue, the greater the risk I won’t be here”.
Before the meeting Abbott had again publicly left the way open to cross the floor when legislation comes to parliament, assuming Frydenberg gets a deal at the COAG Energy Council in August.
Asked whether, if the premiers sent back a plan he didn’t like, he was committed enough to cross the floor, Abbott said: “The short answer is yes. I think that I have an obligation to keep faith with the position that the government took to the people in 2013.”
“My anxiety about the national energy guarantee is that it’s more about reducing emissions than it is about reducing price,” he said.
But Frydenberg has been actively mobilising pro-NEG forces in the Coalition to counter Abbott – last week, several MPs spoke out publicly – as well as to lock in backbench support before the final push with the energy ministers.
Ahead of the party room, industry representatives briefed a backbench committee meeting attended by more than 30 government MPs. Their message was that the NEG was the only realistic option available to restore investment confidence.
Those present were Jennifer Westacott, CEO, Business Council of Australia;
Innes Willox, CEO, Australian Industry Group; Mark Vasella, CEO, BlueScope; Arnoud Balhuizen, Chief Commercial Officer, BHP; Vanessa Guthrie, chair, Minerals Council of Australia, and Fiona Simson, president, National Farmers Federation.
Government sources said the briefing, which saw many questions, went well for the NEG supporters.
At the later party meeting, 16 backbenchers spoke.
Two, including Abbott, wanted Frydenberg to bring the detail that he planned to take to the August meeting to the party room first. Two urged greater focus on pricing in the NEG. The four dissidents were Abbott, Eric Abetz, Craig Kelly and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce.
Among the rest, according to the government briefer, there was strong support for both the policy and the process.
Turnbull stressed the importance of getting on with the policy and said that anything from the meeting with the states and territories would come back to the party room.
Frydenberg said the corner had been turned on prices. There was no silver bullet but the NEG was an important part of dealing with prices.
Turnbull declared Frydenberg had the confidence of the party room.
Abetz, speaking on Sky later, said his main concern was to keep prices down. He said the business leaders had told the backbenchers they were still sorting out details of the NEG with the government. Abetz said he didn’t like “signing blank cheques”.
He said that if there was to be a NEG there needed to be a reasonable place for coal, and urged that there should be “a commitment to retrofit some of our existing coal operations or build a new one”.
Asked on Tuesday night whether he would cross the floor on legislation Joyce dodged the questioning, saying it was a hypothetical.
Longman and Mayo are two of the five seats that will be contested at byelections on July 28. ReachTEL polls for the left-wing Australia Institute had a 50-50 tie between Labor and the LNP in Longman, and a massive 62-38 lead for the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie over the Liberals’ Georgina Downer in Mayo.
These polls represent a two-point gain for Labor in Longman since a late May ReachTEL for Sky News, and a four-point gain for Sharkie since early June. Both polls were conducted with 720 to 740 respondents on June 21 – the day the Coalition passed its complete income tax cuts package through the Senate.
Primary votes in Longman were 39.1% Labor, 34.9% LNP, 14.7% One Nation, 4.4% Greens, 3.7% Other and 3.2% undecided. With Labor well ahead on primary votes, the LNP is benefiting from a strong flow of One Nation preferences.
I believe this is the first Longman poll that has asked for candidate names, rather than just parties. Labor’s MP Susan Lamb resigned over the citizenship fiasco, but will recontest. The LNP’s candidate is Trevor Ruthenberg, former MP for the state seat of Kallangur, which is close to Longman. Both major party candidates are likely to be well-known to Longman voters.
In Mayo, primary votes were 43.5% Sharkie, 32.7% Downer, 9.0% Greens, 8.2% Labor, 4.1% Other and 2.6% undecided. I discussed potential problems with Downer’s candidacy here.
The ReachTEL Australia Institute polls for both Longman and Mayo repeated a question on the company tax cuts that I criticised in the above article.
National Ipsos: 53-47 to Labor (54-46 respondent allocated)
A national Ipsos poll for the Fairfax papers, conducted June 20-23 from a sample of 1,200, gave Labor a 53-47 lead by 2016 election preferences, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the post-budget Ipsos in mid-May. Primary votes were 35% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (down two), 12% Greens (up one) and 6% One Nation (up one).
Labor’s 54-46 lead in the post-budget Ipsos was an outlier, with other polls showing better results for the Coalition. This week’s Ipsos is in line with other polls by 2016 election preferences.
Almost all polling this term has given the Coalition a better position in respondent allocated polling than using the previous election method. This Ipsos poll is an exception, with a 54-46 lead for Labor using respondent preferences, a point better for Labor than the previous election method.
Ipsos is the only current Australian pollster that uses live phone polling. It tends to have weaker primary votes for the major parties than other polls, and stronger primary votes for the Greens and Others.
50% (down one) approved of Malcolm Turnbull’s performance, and 44% (up five) disapproved, for a net approval of +6. Bill Shorten’s net approval was -13, down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 51-33 as better PM (52-32 in May). Ipsos gives Turnbull stronger ratings than other pollsters, particularly Newspoll.
Turnbull led Shorten on nine of 11 attributes; the exceptions were on social policy and confidence of his party. The largest Turnbull leads were on economic policy (67-48) and foreign policy (64-45). Since April 2016, attribute scores have moved in Shorten’s favour.
In additional questions from last week’s Newspoll, voters favoured Turnbull over Shorten on asylum seekers by 47-30, down from a 52-27 margin in December 2017. 37% thought Labor would open the floodgates to asylum seekers if it wins the next election, 26% thought Labor would improve the current policy, and 24% thought there would be no difference.
ReachTEL’s large error in Darling Range (WA) byelection
On Saturday, the Liberals won the byelection for the Western Australian state seat of Darling Range by a 53.3-46.7 margin against Labor, a 9.1% swing to the Liberals since the 2017 state election. The byelection was caused by the resignation of Labor MP Barry Urban over allegations of fraudulent behaviour. You can read more at my personal website.
The major implication of this byelection to the July 28 federal byelections is that individual seat polls can be very wrong. Just one week before the Darling Range byelection, a ReachTEL poll for The West Australian gave Labor a 54-46 lead, so there was a seven-point error in this poll.
The Darling Range poll was skewed to Labor, but in general seat polls have had large misses in both directions. The Poll Bludger reviewed the performance of seat polls at the last federal election in a July 2016 article. National and state-wide polls have been far more accurate in Australia.
If a seven-point error is applied to the Longman and Mayo polls, then Labor’s two party vote in Longman could be between 43% and 57%, and Sharkie could be between 55% and 69% in Mayo.
Another concern about the Longman poll is the unbelievable age breakdowns. Young people nationally are the strongest demographic for Labor and the Greens, but ReachTEL gave Labor just 20.4% among those aged 18-34, behind One Nation’s 23.0% and the LNP’s 38.8%. Among those aged 51-65, Labor had 53.8% and the LNP just 25.8%.
In brief: Turkish President Erdoğan re-elected
In Sunday’s Turkish election, incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has dominated Turkish politics since 2002, was re-elected with 52.6% of the vote, avoiding a runoff election. Erdoğan’s AKP party lost its single-party parliamentary majority, but will form a coalition with a right-wing ally.
In April 2017, a constitutional referendum granted far more powers to the president at the expense of parliament. Erdoğan will arguably now have powers comparable to a feudal king.
The opposition is seeking to turn the battle over company tax onto Malcolm Turnbull’s personal wealth, with an attack advertisement declaring the Prime Minister stands to profit if the cuts for big business are passed.
The advertisement, to be used this week in campaigning for the Super Saturday July 28 byelections, says Turnbull “has millions invested in funds which hold shares in dozens of big businesses that would benefit from the tax cuts.”
The inflammatory ad runs as the government is making a last ditch effort against the odds to gather Senate support for the company tax legislation, due to be voted on this week. It also comes after Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese on Friday distanced himself from Bill Shorten’s assaults on the top end of town.
The advertisement says: “Why is former banker Malcolm Turnbull so keen to give big business a tax cut instead of properly funding our schools and hospitals? Who exactly is he looking after? Malcolm Turnbull – is he just for the top end of town?”.
Labor also issued details of Turnbull’s investments, saying his statement of interests “shows that, through at least 15 of his 39 managed funds, he invests in 18 businesses that have a turnover of more than $50 million and an additional 14 businesses that have a turnover of more than $1 billion per year. Several of these funds have a minimum investment of $1 million.”
The tax cuts for big business are directed to companies with a turnover above $50 million annually.
ReachTEL polling in the Queensland seat of Longman done last Thursday, commissioned by the progressive think tank The Australian Institute and released on Sunday, has the Labor and Liberal National Party candidates 50-50 in the two-party vote.
The ALP’s Susan Lamb is fighting to regain the seat after resigning in the citizenship crisis. Labor’s primary vote was 39.1% and the LNP was polling 34.9%. One Nation was on 14.7%.
In Mayo, the other seat polled, the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, who also resigned over her citizenship, is leading the Liberals’ Georgina Downer 62-38%, widening her margin from her 58-42% lead in earlier polls.
Nationally, a Fairfax Ipsos poll, published in Fairfax Media on Monday, shows Labor leading the Coalition 53%-47% on the two-party vote. Turnbull has a 51%-33% advantage over Shorten as preferred prime minister.
In Longman, only a third of voters supported cutting company tax for large businesses; in Mayo just one quarter did so.
The government has flagged it will put the legislation to the Senate this week – the last before the winter recess – even if it is headed to defeat.
Several crossbenchers are opposed to the cuts, including Pauline Hanson and the Centre Alliance senators. The government has reiterated that it won’t split the bill to have a lower threshold that would exclude the banks.
Turnbull said on Sunday that Australia’s 30% rate for larger companies was the second highest in the OECD. Only Portugal had a somewhat higher rate.
Asked whether the government would walk away from the measure if it failed to get it through this week, Turnbull said: “We are committed to this reform”.
Friday’s Albanese speech has handed ammunition to the government. The broad-ranging address was seen as Albanese positioning himself in the event of Shorten doing badly at the byelections.
On relations with business, Albanese said: “Labor doesn’t have to agree with business on issues such as company tax rates, but we do have to engage constructively with business large and small.”
Questioned on Sunday, Shorten said his office got the speech before delivery and “there was nothing in that speech which caused me any offence at all”. He and Albanese had had “an amicable chat” since the speech.
“Let me make very clear for the record my views on big business. I will work with big business – I just won’t work for big business. I’m not anti big business – I’m just pro worker, I’m pro small business, I’m pro farmer, I’m pro pensioner,” Shorten said.
“It’s just all about priorities, we just happen to believe in the fair go for working and middle class people – Mr Turnbull on the other hand, he just looks after the top end of town and his other mates.”
A nationwide poll of nearly 3000 people commissioned by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), published on Monday in a report “Community pulse 2018: the economic disconnect” found that a majority of people don’t feel they have benefitted personally or don’t know if they have gained from Australia’s sustained economic growth.
It also found nearly eight in ten people believe the gap between the richest and poorest Australians is not acceptable.
Releasing the results, CEDA chief executive Melinda Cilento said: “Only 5% of Australians reported having personally gained a lot from our record run of growth, while 74% felt larger corporations and senior executives have gained a lot.
“A decade of stagnant incomes and cost of living pressures in areas like health and electricity are contributing to this feeling but waning trust in business and politics are also likely factors,” Cilento said.
In January 1931, as the newly elected United Australia Party government of Joseph Lyons was contemplating the establishment of a national broadcasting service, the prime minister received a deputation of prominent Melburnians, including a barrister and member of the Victorian parliament, Robert Gordon Menzies.
They urged that the new broadcasting service “be organised on an independent basis and that cultural potentialities of the Broadcast Service be considered a matter of primary importance”. The broadcast service came to be named the Australian Broadcasting Commission and went to air for the first time on July 1 1932.
It is a measure of how far today’s Liberal Party has drifted away from the values and ideals of its founder, Menzies, that last Saturday its federal council should have resoundingly adopted a motion that the ABC should be privatised.
One of the proponents of the motion was Mitchell Collier, the federal vice-president of the Young Liberals. He said there was no economic case to keep the broadcaster in public hands.
No economic case. Where the ABC is concerned, that is a false premise on which to proceed. The ABC was explicitly not established for economic purposes or in pursuit of an economic ideology. It was established for social, educational and cultural purposes.
It was also established on an explicitly non-commercial basis: it takes no advertising. Why? Because it was believed advertising would weaken its independence. The policymakers of the 1930s had seen only too clearly how beholden the newspaper proprietors of the day had become to commercial imperatives: the demands of advertisers and the pressure to increase circulation, even at the cost of editorial quality and integrity.
The newspapers of the day had also become mouthpieces for sectional interests. In Melbourne, The Argus stood for the interests of the mercantile classes and conservative political causes; The Age for a kind of Protestant liberalism and social justice. It supported the miners at Eureka.
The bipartisan political vision for the ABC was that it should not be vulnerable to sectional interests or commercial pressures, but should exist to serve the public interest in the widest sense.
The first paragraph of its charter captures the essence of these expectations:
The functions of the Corporation are to provide … innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard … and … to provide broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community; and broadcasting programs of an educational nature.
No mention there of economic criteria.
Nonetheless, in a political age dominated by the narrow perspectives of neoclassical economics, it is self-evidently no longer enough to rely on ideals of the kind promoted by Menzies and reflected in the charter.
In her reply to the privatisation motion, the ABC’s managing director, Michelle Guthrie, told the Melbourne Press Club the ABC contributed more than $1 billion last financial year to the Australian economy, on a par with the public investment in the organisation.
She also advanced an efficiency argument, saying the ABC’s per capita funding had halved in real terms over the past 30 years, and warned that the latest cuts in funding – $83.7 million in a so-called efficiency dividend – would serve only to punish audiences.
Herein lies the political sting for the government, and especially for the National Party.
A motion to privatise the ABC, no matter how vigorously repudiated by the government, is political poison, especially in regional, rural and remote Australia.
These voters have watched as the Abbott-Turnbull administrations have cut the ABC’s funding by $338 million since 2014. They have watched as the ABC has been used – in Guthrie’s words yesterday – as a punching bag by narrow political, commercial or ideological interests.
Guthrie was too diplomatic to nail the government or the Murdoch press. But the overt hostility to the ABC shown by the government over the past four years may now reap a political harvest.
That hostility has been demonstrated not only by the funding cuts but by sustained carping criticisms, vexatious complaints and political stunts exemplified by the current competitive neutrality inquiry.
It would be more accurately called the editorial neutering inquiry. Its focus is clearly on the ABC news service, as its own issues paper makes clear. That is the part of the ABC most detested by the government and the politician for whom the government is a cat’s paw in this, Pauline Hanson.
Each Tuesday, I engage in a pro-bono 25-minute segment on media issues with the presenter of ABC Radio Statewide Drive, Nicole Chvastek. The program is broadcast across regional Victoria and southern New South Wales, covering the National seats of Riverina, Mallee, Murray and Gippsland, and the Liberal seats of Farrer, Wannon, McMillan, Corangamite and McEwen.
Yesterday the talkback calls ran hot on this one issue: privatisation of the ABC. Yes, the ABC needed scrutiny; yes, the ABC was a bunch of lefties. But: where would we be without it?
Just after 5pm, the Nationals served up their deputy leader, the Victorian senator Bridget McKenzie, to answer talkback calls on this issue. It was like something from the Colosseum.
The odds were always in the government’s favour in the battle to get its A$144 billion income tax package through parliament.
However much some Senate minnows might have objected to the package’s third stage – taking effect way out in 2024 and favouring the wealthy – they didn’t want to be blamed for denying middle and lower income earners early tax cuts.
Pauline Hanson – of course – attracted the limelight but at no point voted against stage three. But the two Centre Alliance (former Nick Xenophon Team) senators epitomised the dilemma – they voted (successfully) to amend the bill to exclude the last stage, but when the government said it was the whole package or nothing, they folded.
In response, they copped a serve from Tim Storer, the South Australian independent who was on the NXT election-ticket in 2016. Storer was the only crossbencher to hold out.
Clearly the government has had a big victory and Labor has taken a risk in saying that if elected, it will (Senate permitting!) repeal the legislation’s second and third stages, while keeping, and building on, the initial tax cuts.
What’s less clear is the size of the risk for Labor.
If the whole package had been defeated, the ALP would have been exposed as tax-cut spoilers. As it is, middle and lower income voters will know that whoever wins the election, they have a guaranteed tax cut, indeed a rather bigger one under Labor.
From Labor’s point of view, committing to repeal the second stage, which moves the threshold at which the 37% rate cuts in from $90,000 to $120,000, is more of a gamble than saying it will kill the third stage, which flattens the scale, with benefits directed to high earners.
But stage two doesn’t start until mid 2022, so a Labor government would not be taking away a bird in the hand but one that was still on the wing. Some voters might apply a discount to a cut so far in the future, even though it has been legislated.
How voters react to Labor’s position will also depend on whether the government can convincingly sell its arguments that the ALP is dissing “aspiration”, engaging in “class warfare” and, via a range of policies, is the “high tax” party.
Also, the debate over tax cuts can’t be seen in isolation. The opposition has money to use and policies still to unveil. Polls show people have other priorities – fiscal consolidation, spending in certain areas. Voters at the election will look at the full menus before them, as well as the leaders and the government’s record.
Nevertheless, the results in the July 28 byelections will be interpreted as a referendum on the competing tax plans, though other factors will feed into those contests as well. Super Saturday will reset the political landscape in one way or another.
It would have been a huge setback if the government hadn’t secured its income tax package, which was the budget’s centrepiece. Politically, there’s less at stake in its intention to put to a Senate vote next week its tax cuts for big business. On current numbers this legislation is headed for defeat.
More crucial than the fate of the company tax cuts is the government’s long struggle to nail down its national energy guarantee (NEG), with the crunch coming when Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg meets his Council of Australian Government counterparts on August 10.
The tax win has further enhanced the reputation of Senate leader and chief negotiator Mathias Cormann. The outcome of the NEG negotiation will be important for Frydenberg’s reputation.
On tax, the battle was only with the parliament. On energy, Frydenberg has to wrangle state and territory ministers (the ACT is particularly challenging), and also fend off an insurgency from Tony Abbott and other sceptics, who ran interference at this week’s Coalition parties meeting. As well, unease seems to be growing among some Nationals, including frontbencher Keith Pitt.
After an earlier general discussion in the party room, the Abbott band had wanted the NEG plan returned there before the August meeting. This isn’t happening – the next broad party room consideration is due when the legislation comes forward. But that doesn’t prevent ad hoc sorties of Tuesday’s kind.
Abbott also launched public attacks covering not just the energy issue itself but the way Malcolm Turnbull runs the party room.
“I think the government is more interested in reducing emissions than it is in cutting prices,” he told 2GB on Wednesday. And it was “a big mistake for the Coalition to sub-contract out its energy policy to the Labor state governments”.
He left open the option of crossing the floor when legislation comes. It will formalise the emissions reduction target. The critics will cavil at any provision that would facilitate a Labor government moving to a more stringent target. Yet this flexibility might be needed to secure a deal for the package.
Abbott said he hoped things wouldn’t get to the floor-crossing stage but “the executive government needs to understand that you can’t take the party room for granted”.
He complained at Turnbull’s “practice of discussing legislation at enormous length every party room meeting before we actually get to backbenchers’ questions and comments”, declaring this “completely unprecedented”.
While by necessity, “the government spends an enormous amount of time negotiating with the crossbench”, it needed to “spend a bit more time talking to the backbench,” he said.
There are obvious retorts to Abbott’s criticisms. For example, on the “sub-contracting” to the states, it is the states that have the main responsibilities in this area.
As to party processes, while he contrasted Turnbull’s style with his own and that of Howard and others, some colleagues were quick to recall his notorious “captain’s calls”, especially the paid parental leave scheme.
By late Thursday, the pro-NEG forces were mobilised, with an assortment of backbench Liberals (Julia Banks, Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson) and Nationals (Mark Coulton, Andrew Broad) publicly rallying to its defence.
As the Coalition celebrates on tax, the internal heat over the NEG has suddenly been turned up to high, with the disunity going on full display.
Frydenberg’s timetable means he doesn’t have to deliver on the NEG until after the byelections. But when it comes to the main election game, a credible (though inevitably disputed) energy policy is as crucial for the government as having its income tax plan in place.
The Senate on Thursday is set to pass intact the government’s A$144 billion three-stage income tax package – but whether the plan is fully delivered will depend on who wins the election.
On Wednesday the Senate voted 36-32 for an amended package that removed the third stage of the plan. This stage, implemented in 2024, gives tax cuts to higher income earners, flattening the tax scale so the same marginal rate would apply through incomes from $41,000 to $200,000.
But the government has declared the legislation must be passed as a whole, and the House of Representatives on Thursday will reject the amended package.
After intense lobbying of the crossbench, the government is considered to have the required backing to carry the original bill when it is re-presented to the Senate.
Senate leader Mathias Cormann on Wednesday won Senate support for a motion for the bill when it is returned on Thursday to be voted on without further debate. All the crossbenchers except South Australian independent Tim Storer voted for this. Debate on the legislation was also cut short on Wednesday.
Centre Alliance senators Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick voted to strip out stage three, but are now set to vote with the government.
Griff said what while “we are going to make our final decision on the floor”, “we are not going to say no to low and middle income earners getting tax cuts.”
He said stage three was two elections away, and so there was plenty of time to try to knock it out.
Storer lashed out at the Centre Alliance senators. Centre Alliance is the renamed former Nick Xenophon Team – Storer was on its ticket at the election.
“They supported an amendment to remove Stage 3 of the bill … but say they will vote with the government to approve the bill in its entirety when it returns to the Senate,” he said. “We can only conclude Centre Alliance’s initial opposition to Stage 3 was all for show”.
Labor this week committed a Shorten government to repealing the last two stages of the plan if it had been legislated. Instead, Labor would maintain and enhance the first stage, directed to middle and lower income earners.
The first stage starts this year and gives a tax offset to a maximum of $530 for taxpayers earning up to $90,000. Labor would then build this to a maximum offset of $928. The ALP alternative would cost $73 billion over a decade.
An analysis by the progressive think tank The Australia Institute said that almost 95% of the benefits of stage three “go exclusively to top 20%, while 75% of taxpayers get no benefit at all”.
“We’re not splitting the bill,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said. “Our personal tax plan is not about creating winners and losers, setting winners against losers. It is about ensuring that all Australians win.”
Malcolm Turnbull said the government would reject any amendment “because we want all Australians to get the benefit of a comprehensive tax reform. We want to ensure that 94% of Australians don’t have to pay any more than 32.5% for every extra dollar they earn. We want to reward and encourage aspiration”.
“Aspiration is what is driving the Australian economy,” he said.
Bill Shorten said: “Labor is going to support tax reductions for lower paid workers, 10 million of them. …We have a better plan. We’re going to provide a tax refund, a tax cut, of $928 a year … for most people. That means over three years, that’s nearly $3,000.”
This week’s Newspoll, conducted June 14-17 from a sample of 1,660, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, unchanged since three weeks ago. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 38% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (up one) and 6% One Nation (down two).
This Newspoll is Malcolm Turnbull’s 34th consecutive loss as prime minister, four ahead of Tony Abbott. According to analyst Kevin Bonham, this is the worst Newspoll losing streak for a government, with Turnbull and the Coalition now one ahead of Julia Gillard’s 33 successive losses as PM.
Prior to July 2015, Newspoll was conducted by landline live phone polling with samples of about 1,100. Since July 2015, Newspoll has been administered by Galaxy Research, using robopolling and online methods with samples of about 1,700. The new Newspoll is much less volatile than the old Newspoll, so trailing parties have far less chance of getting lucky with an outlier 50-50 poll.
In this Newspoll, the total vote for Labor and the Greens was up one to 48%, and the total vote for the Coalition and One Nation was down two to 44%. This matches a late March Newspoll as the highest vote for the left-of-centre parties this term. These changes would normally give Labor a two party gain, but it is likely the previous Newspoll was rounded up to 52%, and that this one has been rounded down.
40% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (up one), and 50% were dissatisfied (also up one), for a net approval of -10. Bill Shorten’s net approval was down one point to -22. Turnbull continued to lead Shorten by a large 46-31 as better PM (47-30 previously).
Turnbull’s ratings improvement has been sustained since the budget. It is likely he is benefiting from the tax cuts in the next financial year. Recently, hard-right Coalition MPs have not had as much influence on government policy as they used to, and Turnbull is probably benefiting from this.
While Turnbull’s ratings improved, I believe the greater focus on the government’s tax policies and the publicity regarding Barnaby Joyce are holding back the Coalition’s vote. One Nation probably slumped owing to the split between Pauline Hanson and Brian Burston, who is now a senator for Clive Palmer’s new United Australia Party.
Both Newspoll and Essential’s fieldwork was mostly conducted before the federal Liberal council passed a motion to privatise the ABC on Saturday. This vote is likely to be embarrassing for Turnbull and Coalition ministers.
The Australian has been campaigning against the Australian National University’s refusal to allow a Western civilisation course. Most voters would have heard nothing about this issue. It is not surprising that, when given a question skewed in favour of the Western civilisation course, voters backed it by a 66-19 margin.
Essential: 52-48 to Labor
This week’s Essential poll, conducted June 14-17 from a sample of just over 1,000, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up two) and 35% Labor (down two). Tables have not yet been published, so The Poll Bludger’s report is the best for domestic issues.
79% supported the first stage of the income tax cuts that are introduced in the next financial year, but only 37% supported the third stage, which is scheduled to be phased in from 2024 – these tax cuts would flatten the tax scales. Support and opposition to the company tax cuts were tied at 39% each.
From Peter Lewis in The Guardian, 35% thought the agreement between US President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un would make the world safer, 8% less safe, and 41% thought it would make no difference.
Despite Trump’s presidency, 50% consider it very important for Australia to have a close relationship with the US, followed by the UK at 47% and China at 39%. Russia at 17% and Saudi Arabia at 14% are at the bottom of this table.
By 54-11, voters had a favourable view of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, followed by Canadian PM Justin Trudeau (54-14), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (43-18), French President Emmanuel Macron (42-15) and UK PM Theresa May (42-19). Trump had an unfavourable 64-22 rating, Russian President Vladimir Putin 56-19 unfavourable and Kim Jong-un 68-9.
Two Mayo polls give Rebekha Sharkie 58-42 leads over Georgina Downer
On July 28, Mayo is one of five seats up for federal byelections. The incumbent, Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, was forced to resign over the dual citizenship fiasco, but will recontest. The Liberal candidate is Georgina Downer, daughter of Alexander Downer, who held Mayo from 1984 to 2008.
A ReachTEL poll for the left-wing Australia Institute and a Galaxy poll for The Advertiser both gave Sharkie a 58-42 lead over Downer. Primary votes in Galaxy were 44% Sharkie, 37% Downer, 11% Labor and 6% Greens. In ReachTEL, primary votes were 41.4% Sharkie, 35.5% Downer, 11.1% Greens and 8.2% Labor.
These poll results represent a 3% swing to Sharkie in Mayo compared to the 2016 election. The ReachTEL poll was conducted June 5 from a sample of 1,031, and the Galaxy poll June 7 from a sample of 515.
In the Galaxy poll, 62% had a positive view of Sharkie and just 10% a negative view. In contrast, 31% had a positive view of Downer and 41% a negative view.
The Centre Alliance was Nick Xenophon’s former party, and the expectation was that Sharkie would follow Xenophon down. However, it appears that she has built up a strong profile in Mayo that is independent of Xenophon’s appeal. It is likely Sharkie will defy the collapse of her party to retain Mayo.
It could be perceived that Downer thinks she should have the seat because it was her father’s seat. Other weaknesses for Downer are her membership of the hard-right Institute of Public Affairs, and her absence from Mayo for the last 20 years.
The Australia Institute ReachTEL has left-skewed additional questions. Question 2, regarding company tax cuts, gave unpopular examples of large companies — banks, mining companies and supermarkets. It then offered three options for company tax rates (increased, kept the same or decreased), with only one unfavourable to The Australia Institute’s left-wing agenda.
Three weeks ago, The Australian had a right-skewed company tax cut question in Newspoll, but left-wing organisations often do the same thing, though their profile is far lower than Newspoll.
In brief: Darling Range (WA) byelection, Conservatives win in Ontario and Colombia
A byelection for the Western Australian state seat of Darling Range will be held on Saturday. At the March 2017 state election, Labor won Darling Range by 55.8–44.2 against the Liberals, a massive 18.9% swing to Labor from the 2013 election. However, Labor member Barry Urban was forced to resign over allegations of fraudulent behaviour. A ReachTEL poll for The West Australian gave Labor a 54-46 lead in Darling Range.
At the June 7 Ontario provincial election, the Conservatives won 76 of the 124 seats, the left-wing NDP 40, the centre-left Liberals seven and the Greens one. The Liberals had governed Ontario for the last 15 years. The Conservatives won just 40.5% of the popular vote, with 33.6% NDP, 19.6% Liberals and 4.6% Greens. First Past the Post, which is used in all federal and provincial Canadian elections, greatly benefited the Conservatives with the left vote split. You can read more at my personal website.
A re-elected Turnbull government wouldn’t sell the ABC, whatever scare Bill Shorten might be raising. But you’d have to be an optimist to think that if it wins, it won’t intensify its bullying and denigration of the public broadcaster.
There is more than a little irony in the Liberal federal council on Saturday delivering Labor a campaign issue around the ABC before the Super Saturday byelections.
Just a while ago, the government was surfing on the skirmishing on refugee policy ahead of the ALP national conference, only to see that dispute put on the backburner when Labor delayed the conference because the byelections were set for the same date.
The council motion came from the Young Liberals – who over the years are variously on the left or the right of the party – and called for “the full privatisation of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, except for services into regional areas that are not commercially viable.”
Unlike Labor, where conference policies formally carry heft with the MPs, Liberal council motions are non-binding.
This one has been described as “virtue-signalling” to the base. I think it is rather more serious than that. It will reinforce the anti-ABC sentiment of some in government ranks – which has reached, frankly, absurd levels.
The fact that Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues did not, would not, could not prevent its passage says a lot, especially about the Prime Minister.
When he was clawing his way towards the leadership, Turnbull was the conspicuous friend of the ABC. Now he’s critic-in-chief, as Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and the Prime Minister’s Office fire off complaints about errors and interpretations.
No one should object when the prime minister or ministers call out journalists’ factual mistakes (though they make quite a few of their own). And it is absolutely their right to argue the toss on commentary.
But we know there’s a lot more to this than robust criticism. Much of it is an attempt – that to a degree has been successful – at intimidation.
This isn’t the first government to engage in ABC bashing. On the other side of politics the Hawke government at one stage had (to borrow a Turnbullism) a red hot go. But I don’t remember any government sustaining the onslaught so strongly for so long.
What makes the assault even more concerning is that it’s part of the culture wars now engulfing multiple fronts of public debate. The media provide battlegrounds and targets in these wars.
News Corp, fuelled by financial imperatives as well as ideology, relentlessly stalks the ABC. News Corp is squeezed between the strains on the commercial media’s business model and the successful expansion, especially online, of the ABC.
The ABC is cast not simply as another competitor, but one that must be discredited in terms of both professionalism and legitimacy, by portraying it as out of touch with the “mainstream” and robbing the commercial media of what’s rightfully theirs.
As parts of News Corp have increasingly become bold, self-declared standard-bearers for the right, they are ever drawn to the ABC as a useful punching bag.
One can see what’s in this for the ABC’s commercial competitors, and indeed for a right wing think tank such as the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), which urges that the ABC be privatised.
It’s more difficult to discern what the government gets out of its obsession with attacking the ABC to a degree disproportionate to the alleged sins of individual journalists or the organisation as a whole.
Perhaps it’s a gesture of frustration – kicking the car tyres when you find you have a puncture. Or the feeling that if you can just cow the buggers, they mightn’t be so “biased” – ignoring that the perception of “bias” mostly varies according to where you’re coming from, and in journalism the notion of giving diverse viewpoints a fair go can be a more manageable one.
It’s noteworthy that for all their carrying on, ministers still seem anxious to appear on the ABC. If it were so bad, so unresponsive to the “mainstream”, you’d think some might be calling for a boycott now and then.
One reason why they line up is they actually know the public regards it as a trusted and credible media outlet.
The Australia Institute at the weekend released an ABC question taken from its earlier ReachTEL poll in Mayo that showed crossbencher Rebecca Sharkie leading Liberal Georgina Downer 58-42% in two-party terms. The June 5 poll asked: “In the budget the government cut the ABC’s funding by A$83.7 million. Do you think funding for the ABC should be reduced, increased, or stay the same?” Nearly three quarters said funding should be increased (40.5%) or stay the same (33.5%), with only 23% saying it should be decreased.
Last week Shorten promised a Labor government would restore that funding. The Liberal council motion has played into his hands.
In Mayo, the council motion has handed Sharkie a small gift. There will be interest in what Downer, who comes from the IPA, has to say about how she would like to see the future of the ABC.
Not quite as interesting, however, as hearing members of the Turnbull team protest they really are committed to the ABC, however badly they behave towards it. That they have to do so is a sort of perverse justice – the price of overreach.
Attorney-General Christian Porter has put forward compromise amendments to the government’s proposed register of foreign agents that will limit its reach.
The changes are designed to meet criticisms from charities, universities and others, and to get a quick agreement with Labor on the legislation.
The bill for the register is still being considered by the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, which on Thursday released a bipartisan report agreeing on 60 amendments to the legislation to counter the threat of foreign interference.
Porter wants to get both bills passed by the end of this month. “Most critically this would allow for Australia’s new legal framework designed to address espionage, interference and foreign influence in Australia’s democratic processes to be passed before the conduct of five key Australian byelections and be fully operational before the next scheduled general election,” he said.
There have been widespread concerns that the scope of the transparency scheme is too wide, and notably the breadth of the definitions in it, including that of “foreign principal”.
Arguments have been put by lawyers, the media, the arts, charities, not-for-profit organisations and the academic sector that these definitions will adversely affect them.
Porter said that the government had now given the committee a range of amendments “that address the most substantive stakeholder issues”.
The bill currently provides that people be required to register if undertaking certain activities on behalf of a foreign government, public enterprise, political organisation, business or individual.
The change would limit the “foreign principals” to foreign governments, foreign government-related entities, foreign political organisations and foreign government-related individuals.
“This ensures that only organisations or individuals ultimately working at the direction of a foreign government or political party are required to register,” Porter said.
The amendment would thus exclude “the vast majority of private international companies”, except where “they are closely related to a foreign government or political organisation”.
To stop some companies or individuals with opaque links to a foreign government falling through the cracks, the secretary of the Attorney-General’s department would have a power to issue notices stating a person or organisation was considered a foreign government-related entity or individual.
“This would allow the government to investigate and declare where it considers companies or individuals are hiding their connections to foreign governments,” Porter said.
Another change would mean broadcasters, carriage service providers and publishers would not have to register “where they are undertaking their ordinary business”.
The definition of “activity for the purpose of political or government influence” would also be changed “so that a substantial purpose of the activity has to be political influence, rather than just ‘a’ purpose of it”.
Porter said that responding to the university sector and charities, the definition of “undertaking activity on behalf of a foreign principal” would be amended “so a person isn’t deemed to be undertaking an activity merely because they are supervised by, receive funding from or collaborate with a foreign principal”.