Vital signs: we need those tax cuts now, all of them. The surplus can wait



If you’re going to stimulate the economy, it’s wise not to wait.
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Richard Holden, UNSW

In an enormous week for economic news at the start of the month, parliament passed the government’s three-stage personal income tax plan, and the Reserve Bank cut official interest rates to an unprecedented low of 1%.

It happened against the backdrop of a flagging economy in dire need of stimulus.

As the bank cut rates to a record low, its governor Philip Lowe again warned about the waning power of rates (monetary policy) to lift the economy.

At the Darwin community dinner after the board meeting he said:

Monetary policy does have a significant role to play and our decisions are helping support the Australian economy. But, we should not rely on monetary policy alone. We will achieve better outcomes for society as a whole if the various arms of public policy are all pointing in the same direction.

Lowe and many others – including yours truly – have repeatedly pointed out that spending on physical and social infrastructure can do what lower rates can’t do well – boost the economy while lifting its productivity. So, too would other productivity-enhancing reforms, particularly in the labour market.

And, of course, the government’s tax cuts will also stimulate the economy when they come into effect.

With tax cuts, timing’s the thing…

The obvious problem is that much of stimulus from those tax cuts will happen years from now, rather than today.

What the government should have done was insist on enacting all three stages of their tax plan immediately. Not staggered over several years, not in 2024-25. Now.

That would have, of course, pushed the budget into deficit in the short run, and that would would have run counter to the government’s narrative about being responsible economic managers.

But how responsible is it to prioritise one’s own political brand over the economic health of the nation?




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Let’s not forget where the timing of the government’s tax plan came from. 2024-25 is outside the budget’s so-called “forward estimate” period and thus the impact on the deficit or surplus projections is not apparent.

It was the same rationale that underpinned the glacial, decade-long pace at which the government’s “enterprise tax plan” was to move to a 25% company tax rate. And it is the same set of dodgy accounting tricks that Wayne Swan was a master of for everything from health to education spending commitments.

…and the timing could be immediate

Productive infrastructure spending is hard to enact quickly. Spending on social infrastructure like education and training has a long lead time.

And structural reform of the industrial relations system might is probably the hardest and longest of all to put in place.

They are real constraints.

The Reserve Bank faces another, the so-called “zero lower bound” of conventional monetary policy and the complexities and uncertainties of unconventional policies such as quantitative easing.




Read more:
Below zero is ‘reverse’. How the Reserve Bank would make quantitative easing work


But a government which won a mandate for its tax policies, and who frankly has the Labor opposition in a tailspin, could have insisted on all three stages of the tax cuts immediately.

The only thing standing between the economy and the aggressive fiscal stimulus it needs is the government’s obsession with balancing the budget regardless of the circumstances.

We’re not in the best of times

Don’t get me wrong, I think debt and deficits most certainly do matter. The government deserves credit for chipping away at the structural budget deficit, and we shouldn’t be running deficits in good economic times.

But we’re not in good economic times. We’re standing on the precipice of the first recession in nearly three decades. We’re looking at highly uncertain global conditions, domestic economic growth that has slowed to a trickle, sluggish wages growth, persistently high underemployment, and even the possibility of Japanese-style deflation.

The irony is that if, with the failure to enact sufficiently bold stimulus, we do tip into a recession, the red ink will flow all through the budget. Unemployment benefits and welfare payments will rise, personal and corporate income receipts will fall, GST revenue will drop. And young people who enter the labour market during a recession will suffer for years to come.

The downsides of not enacting sufficient fiscal stimulus far outweigh whatever benefits there are of a glide to path to budget balance while avoiding a recession.

It’s certainly not the time for hand-wringing

Coming back to Lowe’s admonition that we need the “various arms of public policy…pointing in the same direction”, here’s where we currently stand: The bank has acted, but far too late. For years it told us that 5% unemployment was as good as it could get long-term, to be patient and to wait for higher wage growth and inflation.

It’s been a mere five weeks since Lowe stopped impersonating Charles Dickens’ character Wilkins Micawber, who was fond of saying “something will turn up”.




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Now the treasurer Josh Frydenberg is giving us his version of the same routine. On one hand he says personal income tax cuts are crucial to boosting employment and spending. On the other hand, he says we’d better wait.

The Australian economy can’t afford to wait for aggressive stimulus. The government has shown more concern for its political brand than for our economic health.

It isn’t what a responsible steward would do.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Frydenberg declares tax package must be passed ‘in its entirety’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government’s tax relief package is shaping up as the first test of incoming opposition leader Anthony Albanese, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg declaring on Friday it must be supported “in its entirety” when put to the new parliament.

But Albanese has only guaranteed support for the first tranche. As for the later cuts for higher income earners, “we will consider that,” he said on Friday.

But let me tell you, it is a triumph of hope over experience and reality that the government knows […] what the economic circumstances are in 2025 or 2023, in the middle of the next decade.

Appearing with Albanese on the Nine Network, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said:

Albo, it would be remarkable if your first act as leader of the opposition was […] to oppose a long term package of tax relief – that would show a real tin ear for the Australian people”.

In an interview with The Conversation, Frydenberg refused to be drawn on what the government would do if unable to get the whole bill through.

It would, however, be hard for it to avoid splitting the bill – to hold out would deny the immediate relief pledged in the April budget.

All or nothing

Nor could Frydenberg say when parliament will meet to consider the legislation, although the government has effectively conceded it will not be in time for the promised July 1 start of the additional tax offset promised in the budget. (A smaller offset from last year’s budget will be paid from then.)

But Albanese said the tax cuts could be passed in time for July 1, because it would only need a couple of hours of sitting. “We’ll do a deal. I can do that. One speaker a side, and Bob’s your uncle.”

Frydenberg said Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe had highlighted the positive impact the tax cuts would have on household incomes.

“Let’s too not forget that $7.5 billion will flow to households in the coming financial year, as a result of these tax cuts,” Frydenberg said.

Tax cuts as good as rate cuts

“This benefit to households and the economy is equivalent to two 25 basis point interest rate cuts and is one reason why growth and household consumption is projected to pick up,” he said.

“The tax reforms we are putting to parliament are not just providing immediate relief, but leading to long term structural change. This will tackle bracket creep and reward aspiration.

“Earning more is nothing to be ashamed of and should be encouraged not punished. Rewarding aspiration is in the Coalition’s DNA and will be a fundamental driver of our policies in government.”

In his assessment of the economic outlook, Frydenberg had two messages.

He said in his discussions with some of Australia’s biggest employers, “I’ve been buoyed by their confidence and their desire to work with the government, to support continued economic growth and job creation”.

Headwinds worsening

But the economy “faces significant headwinds. Trade tensions between the United States and China have increased, with the potential to negatively impact global growth.

“Were there to be another round of US tariff increases, the potential for which has been flagged publicly, the proportion of global trade covered by recent trade actions would double from 2% to 4%.”

Also, flood, drought and fires had taken a toll and the housing market slowdown was hitting dwelling investment and having an impact on consumption.

The challenges made the government’s agenda for growth, including tax relief, so important and time critical.

Asked whether the “headwinds” faced by the Australian economy were stronger than at budget time, when he also spoke of headwinds, Frydenberg said: “I think the tensions between China and the US have increased”.




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Frydenberg spoke with the US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this week and the two will meet in Japan at the G20 finance ministers meeting in a few weeks. Frydenberg stressed in the conversation the importance of free trade to Australia and its wish to see disputes resolved as amicably as possible.

Asked whether, if the economy deteriorated further, the government would be willing to live with a smaller surplus next financial year than the $7.1 billion projected in the budget, Frydenberg said, “that’s the amount that we’re committed to”.

He would not be drawn on the signal this week from Lowe that an interest rate cut was coming.

The Treasurer said the current unemployment rate of 5.2% reflected “strong labour market performance”.

While there are no plans for an overhaul of federal-state relations by the re-elected government, Frydenberg said he would work closely with the states on infrastructure and managing population.




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He said he would respond fully to the Productivity Commission report on superannuation, although he had not set a date for this.

“The issues that were raised through the Productivity Commission report which we need to have a good look at are about the unintended multiple accounts and the under-performing funds,” he said.

“The royal commission [on banking] recommended having a single default [account], which we accepted and Labor accepted, so we’ll go ahead and do that”.




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The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The ABC didn’t receive a reprieve in the budget. It’s still facing staggering cuts



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According to new research, the ABC stands to lose A$783 million in total funding by 2022, unless steps are taken to reverse budget cuts.
Shutterstock

Alexandra Wake, RMIT University and Michael Ward, University of Sydney

Despite some reprieve in the 2019 federal budget, the ABC is still in dire financial straits. More job losses and a reduction in services remain on the agenda.

The Coalition government has provided another three years of tied funding of A$43.7 million specifically for the national broadcaster’s “enhanced news-gathering” program. This program supports local news (particularly regional and outer-suburban news gathering), national reporting teams and state-based digital news.

But this funding doesn’t address the broadcaster’s need for more stability in its operational funding.

In July, the ABC will start to feel the full impact of a three-year, A$83.8 million indexation freeze on its funding, which was contained in the 2018 budget. So devastating is the size of that cut – and the ones prior to that – that ABC managers are almost completely focused on money, undermining their capacity to be strategic about the future.

There is no provision in the 2019 budget to restore the funding lost over the past six years and certainly no boost to cater for the dynamic and changing media environment.

Audiences who value what the ABC does now – and what it needs to be doing to support Australian democracy into the future – should take a closer look at the numbers, the way the money has been allocated and the impact of that.




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Accumulated losses to ABC are staggering

To illustrate the need for more secure operational funding for the ABC, one of the authors of this article, Michael Ward, conducted research on just how much the broadcaster stands to lose in the aggregate over the course of an eight-year period. Ward used a number of public financial sources to build the table below, including ABC portfolio budget statements and ABC answers to Senate Questions on Notice

One of the difficulties in looking at budgets is the way forward estimates work. As the figures in the table show, the past six budgets have included measures to reduce, remove or freeze (indexation) ABC funding, without adding any new funding initiatives.

This has resulted in an accumulated reduction in available funding of A$393 million over a five-year period, starting from May 2014. According to current budget forecasts, this also means the ABC stands to lose A$783 million in funding by 2022, unless steps are taken to remedy the situation.

The Coalition government and others would argue, however, the ABC actually received a reprieve in this year’s budget with committed funding for “enhanced news gathering” because it treats as “new” the renewal of tied fixed-term funding as it expires.

The “enhanced news gathering” and digital delivery funding was first enacted by the former Labor government in 2013. Although “enhanced news gathering” funding has been renewed twice by the Coalition government since then, including in this year’s budget, the amount allocated for the program was slashed in 2016.

So, while it appears that the current budget announcement is good news for the ABC, the reality is, it is simply a continuation of what should be seen as core business.




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One way governments of all ilks have tried to control the ABC – and to win voters over – is by providing tied funding to specific programs like this. One of the earliest examples of tied funding was a National Interest Initiative by the Howard government in 2001, and later the Rudd government’s Children’s Channel and Drama Funding Initiative of 2009. These were seen as core to the ABC’s work, and were eventually made part of the ABC’s ongoing budget.

The problem, of course, is that voters do not understand the impact of the cessation of limited-term, tied funding programs.

We argue that tied funding is also contrary to the principles of independent public broadcasting because it effectively forces the broadcaster to prioritise its activities and programs at the current government’s whim. It also inhibits longer-term effective financial planning by the ABC.

Tied funding used by all parties

If elected, the ALP has committed to restore the A$83.8 million indexation freeze for the ABC included in last year’s budget. It has also promised an additional A$15 million for specific projects to restore short wave radio to the Northern Territory and add more local and regional content, emergency broadcasting and a news literacy program aimed at combating misinformation campaigns online.

Labor has also pledged “funding stability for the ABC over the next budget cycle”, though this has not come with a guaranteed boost in funding.

These commitments are important, but the freeze is just the tip of a funding iceberg that the ABC has been dealing with for the past six years. The continuation of a tied funding approach doesn’t address the underlying budget problem. More needs to be done.




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Cut here: reshaping the ABC



The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia, a group that represents journalism academics in Australia, drew on Ward’s research at the recent Senate hearing into allegations of political interference of the ABC to call for more secure operational funding for the broadcaster.

JERAA argued that the ABC has been cowed by repeated parliamentary inquiries, funding cuts and efficiency reviews. These have had a severe impact on the broadcaster’s ability to perform its important role for the Australian people, which includes production of excellent public affairs reporting, local programming, international news, children’s programming and services on a range of current and emerging platforms.

Tied funding stops the ABC from meeting the core components of its legislated obligations, particularly digital content delivery, where the cost of success – increased take up of services – carries an extra financial burden, unlike analogue broadcasting.

Unless the ABC has ongoing stability of funding and ideally an increase that allows it to keep innovating, it won’t be able to maintain relevance in this fast-moving, globalised media world, nor will it be able to continue as a watchdog on people in power, particularly governments.The Conversation

Alexandra Wake, Program Manager, Journalism, RMIT University and Michael Ward, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What just happened to our tax? Here’s an explanation you’ll understand



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So far, Labor is $95 ahead of the Coalition, for many Australians.
Shutterstock

Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

With all the announcements on tax over the past few days it’s hard to keep track. So here goes.

A year ago the then treasurer Scott Morrison unveiled a “seven year personal tax plan.

Some of it involved tax cuts way out into the future, in 2022 and 2024, with which we needn’t concern ourselves – there’ll be two, maybe more, elections before then.

The bit that was to start in mid 2018 (and did) wasn’t a tax cut at all, strictly speaking. It was an “offset” with an ungainly name: LMITO – the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset.

A standard tax cut, applying to any rate, would save money to all taxpayers on that rate and rates above it, including those on very high incomes. It couldn’t be directed to just low and middle earners, which is what the Coalition wanted.

What’s on offer isn’t really a tax cut

So the Coalition designed an offset, to be paid as a lump sum after the end of each tax year, after returns had been submitted and only to those taxpayers whose returns showed they weren’t high earners.

The full offset was A$530 per year, paid only to taxpayers who earned between $48,000 and $90,000. Taxpayers who earned more than $90,000 would lose 1.5 cents of it for each dollar they earned above $90,000, meaning no-one who earned more than $125,333 would get any of it.

(Taxpayers earning more than $125,333 wouldn’t go home completely empty handed – they would benefit from an increase in the point at which the the second highest rate came in, worth a barely consequential $135 a year.)




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Taxpayers who earned less than $37,000 would get $200 off their tax, climbing to $530 for taxpayers earning $48,000.

It was ungainly – it was better described as a series of annual lump sum payments than a tax cut – and Labor embraced it entirely.

In 2018 Labor trumped it

Except that Labor supercharged it. Under Labor it was to operate in exactly the same way, except that each payment would be 75% bigger: the Coalition’s $200 became Labor’s $350, the Coalition’s $538 became Labor’s $928 and so on.

Labor outbid the Coalition.

And these things stayed, for almost a year, except that it was all a bit academic.

Labor wasn’t in government, and the leglislated offsets weren’t to put the lump sums in pockets until after the end of June 2019.

In 2019 the Coalition trumped Labor

It allowed the Coalition to sneak in before them in Tuesday’s budget and double the maximum lump sum: $538 became $1,080, a promise Bill Shorten matched in his budget reply speech on Thursday night.

But for some reason the Coalition didn’t double everything: $200 only became $255, rather than the $350 Labor had already promised.

On Thursday night Shorten confirmed the $350 promise.

He is able to offer the 3.6 million Australians earning less than $48,000 more than the Coalition – in most cases an extra $95 more: $350 instead of $255.

Now Labor has trumped the Coalition

Shorten says it’ll cost an extra $1 billion over four years, which is a mere fraction of the money Labor believes it will have that the Coalition won’t, because of its crackdowns on negative gearing, capital gains tax concessions and dividend imputation.

As Shorten put it on Thursday night:

Labor will provide a bigger tax cut than the Liberals for 3.6 million Australians all-told, an extra $1 billion for low income earners in this country. Here’s the simple truth – 6.4 million working people will pay the same amount of income tax under Labor as the Liberals. Another 3.6 million will pay less tax under Labor.

In fact they’ll pay just as much tax from payday to payday, but they’ll get back more at the end of the year, in most cases $95 more.

So here’s the scorecard:The Conversation

Annual tax offset by taxable income.
Source: Australian Labor Party

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shorten promises to reverse budget cut to the ABC


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bill Shorten has moved to make the ABC an election issue, promising to reverse the Turnbull government’s $83.7 million budget cut and to guarantee funding certainty over the broadcaster’s next budget cycle.

Ahead of appearing on the ABC’s Q&A program, Shorten and frontbench colleagues declared the Coalition had “launched the biggest attack on the ABC in a generation”.

In recent months Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has sent a stream of complaints to the ABC about stories, both online and on air, contesting facts and interpretations. The Prime Minister’s Office has also complained. Government frontbenchers and backbenchers frequently make cracks at or about the ABC, echoing a theme of many conservative commentators.

The ABC is also under constant attack from News Corp, driven by both ideology and commercial interests. The government has an inquiry underway into the ABC’s competitive neutrality, which was part of a deal with Pauline Hanson but also important in the context of News Corp’s argument about the government-funded ABC encroaching on financially strapped commercial media.

When the government made the $84 million budget cut – which took the form of a freeze to indexation – Treasurer Scott Morrison said “everyone has to live within their means”. Managing director Michelle Guthrie said that “the decision will make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations.”

In a statement Shorten, communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland and regional communications spokesman Stephen Jones said Labor’s commitment would ensure the ABC could meet its charter requirements, safeguard jobs, adapt to the digital environment “and maintain content and services that Australians trust and rely on”.

They said the Coalition since 2014 had “overseen $282 million in cuts to the ABC that has seen 800 jobs lost and a drop in Australian content and services”.

“Labor will stand up for the ABC and fight against the conservatives’ ideological war against our public broadcaster,” the statement said.

The promised investment “demonstrates Labor’s commitment to the ABC’s independence and to maintain the ABC as our comprehensive national broadcaster.

“Now, more than ever, Australians need the ABC – our strong, trusted and independent public broadcaster.

The Conversation“At a time when too many Australians feel disengaged from their democracy and distrustful of their representatives, Labor wants to restore trust and faith in our institutions. Part of restoring trust is is supporting a healthy public interest media sector, and protecting that trusted institution – the ABC”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Budget policy check: do we need company tax cuts?


Janine Dixon, Victoria University

In this series – Budget policy checks – we look at the government’s justifications for policies likely to be in this year’s budget and measure them up against the evidence.

In this piece we look at the need for company tax cuts.


Business investment in Australia declined steadily for four years after peaking in 2013. In early 2016, the Turnbull government settled on a series of company tax cuts as their preferred policy to reinvigorate business investment and the economy.

Our modelling shows that a cut to the company tax rate for large businesses will indeed lift foreign investment in Australia, driving an economic expansion and an increase in pre-tax wages, but there is more to the story.

Like many policy changes, there are winners and losers. The give-and-take nature of the tax cut means that the “losers” from the tax cut will be Australian-owned businesses and the Australian government. We find that despite the expansion in GDP, the average income of the Australian population (a more suitable measure of the material welfare of the population) will fall.

Do we need investment to maintain jobs and economic growth?

The jobs growth figures last year – we all know now, more than 1,100 jobs a day – that’s had a really big impact on our economy and we can expect that to continue and now lead to – I would expect – better wage outcomes as long as businesses keep investing and businesses can keep remaining competitive.

– Treasurer Scott Morrison

More investment creates more buildings, equipment and intangible assets that enable workers to be more productive and, in theory, earn higher wages.

If investment is weak for a prolonged period, job opportunities are reduced and wage growth will weaken.

In a well-functioning economy, population growth and technological progress naturally attract investment. When investment only keeps pace with population or employment growth, wages stagnate. For wages to grow, investment needs to be above this level. This happens when there is technological progress, generating the higher returns which attract the level of investment needed.

Australian investment depends largely on foreign finance, so world economic conditions, including rates of corporate tax in other countries, also play a role.

In reality the link between investment and wages is not always clear cut. If unemployment or underemployment is high, investment may lead to growth in jobs without wage growth.

Businesses might also make profits in excess of a “normal” rate of return. These profits exist when new businesses struggle to break into a market dominated by a few large players, and can be an impediment to wage growth.

Even if you do accept that higher investment does lead to higher wages, giving tax cuts to companies to stimulate investment is not justified on this basis.

If company taxes are cut there will be significant costs to government revenue that amount to a “windfall gain” to the (mostly foreign-owned) investments that have already been made on the basis of the 30% tax rate. On balance, the positive impact on growth and wages is not enough to justify the loss of this revenue.

Is there a problem with business investment in Australia?

Business investment is critical to economic growth. When firms are empowered to invest in new productive capacity and technology, it supports innovation and helps create new opportunities and employment for Australians.

– Treasurer Scott Morrison

Business investment is now showing signs of picking up. In a speech late last year, Reserve Bank deputy governor Guy Debelle saw “signs of life” in investment growth, particularly in the services sector and in infrastructure projects completed by the private sector on behalf of the public sector.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/YZHhR/2/

A Grattan Institute report identifies four very good reasons for the four-year decline. These include a return to “normal” investment following the mining boom and an overall decline in the amount of money needed to create capital goods in most industries. The report also points to an ongoing shift towards households spending more on services such as retail, cafes, and professional services and slow economic growth overall.

Viewed in this light, there are plausible and benign reasons underlying the decline in investment. These suggest that it is not a large enough problem to justify “repair” in the form of a costly tax cut.

What’s the verdict?

Certainly business investment has weakened over the last five years, and along with this we have seen weak wage growth. It would be foolhardy to argue against the need for more business investment. Jobs and growth underpinned by a healthy level of investment are essential aspects of a modern society.

But cutting the company tax rate is not the way to go. It may deliver more business investment and economic activity, but by forgoing taxation revenue from existing investment, it comes at a cost to the average income of the Australian people.

The ConversationTo reap the benefits of strong business investment without a costly tax giveaway, Australia must continue to play to its strengths. Reducing the government revenue base through a cut to company tax will undermine the sort of stable, prosperous society that underpins the world-class environment that we strive to offer all investors.

Janine Dixon, Economist at Centre of Policy Studies, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Poll wrap: Labor maintains its lead as voters reject company tax cuts; wins on redrawn boundaries



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The results of next week’s Newspoll will be eagerly awaited on both sides of the House.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A ReachTEL poll for Sky News, conducted March 28 from a sample of over 2,000, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, unchanged since late February. Primary votes were 36% Labor (down one), 34% Coalition (up one), 10% Greens (down one) and 7% One Nation (steady).

ReachTEL uses respondent allocated preferences. The primary votes imply a swing to the Coalition, though that swing is from the ReachTEL taken the day before Barnaby Joyce resigned as Nationals leader. Analyst Kevin Bonham estimated the February ReachTEL as 55.5% two party to Labor by last election preferences, and this ReachTEL at 54.2%.

Malcolm Turnbull led Bill Shorten by 52-48 as better PM in ReachTEL’s forced choice question (53-47 in February).

By 56-29, voters opposed tax cuts for big companies. 68% thought it unlikely that tax cuts would be passed on to workers, with just 26% thinking it likely. The government was unable to pass its company tax cuts through the Senate before parliament adjourned until the May budget.

By 64-25, voters did not want Tony Abbott to return as Liberal leader after the next election. 37% opposed Labor’s plan to alter the tax treatment of franking credits, 27% were in favour and the rest were undecided.

Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor

In last week’s Newspoll, conducted March 22-25 from a sample of 1,600, Labor led by 53-47, unchanged since early March. Primary votes were 39% Labor (up one), 37% Coalition (steady), 9% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (steady).

As has been much discussed, this Newspoll was Turnbull’s 29th successive loss as PM, just one behind Abbott’s 30 losses. Labor’s primary vote was its highest since Abbott was still PM, and the total vote for Labor and the Greens was 48%, up one point – the first change in the total left vote since August.

Turnbull’s net approval was up one point to -24, while Shorten’s improved three points to -20. Turnbull led Shorten by 39-36 as better PM (37-35 previously).

By 50-33, voters were opposed to Labor’s franking credits policy. I believe Labor has gained despite this opposition as those strongly opposed are likely to be Coalition voters anyway. In addition, Labor’s policy may give it more economic credibility as they may be seen as more likely to balance the books.

On Monday, The Australian released Newspoll’s February to March analysis. In Queensland, the Coalition improved from a 55-45 deficit in October to December to a 51-49 deficit. It appears Newspoll is now assuming One Nation preferences flow to the Coalition at about a 65% rate, consistent with the Queensland state election; previously they assumed the Coalition would receive just half of One Nation preferences.

With One Nation’s Queensland vote at 13%, the four-point gain for the Coalition is partly due to the changed preference assumptions. Under the previous method, Labor would lead in Queensland by 52-48 or 53-47.

Turnbull’s net approval with those aged 18-34 was just -3, compared with -20 overall, yet the left-wing parties dominated this age group with a combined 57%, to just 30% for the Coalition and 4% One Nation. Turnbull has been seen as a social progressive, restrained by the conservative Coalition base. Young people are far more likely to like Turnbull than they do the Coalition generally.

Turnbull’s persistent lead over Shorten as better PM can be explained by a lead with young people, among whom the Coalition would be crushed at an election.

Essential: 52-48 to Labor

Unlike ReachTEL and Newspoll, last week’s Essential moved two points to the Coalition, though Labor retained a 52-48 lead. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up two), 36% Labor (down two), 9% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (steady). This poll was conducted March 22-25 from a sample of 1,027.

Only 21% understood a lot or a fair amount about franking credits. 10% said they received a cash payment from franking credits and 16% a tax deduction. By 32-30, voters supported Labor’s plan on franking credits.

Voters generally supported left-wing tax ideas, though they supported “cutting the company tax rate to 25%” by 40-30, in contrast to ReachTEL. Voters trusted the Coalition over Labor 28-26 to manage a fair tax system, with 31% opting for no difference.

By 79-12, voters thought there should be more regulation of Facebook, and by 68-22, they were concerned about how Facebook uses their personal information. Nevertheless, voters thought Facebook is generally a force for good by 45-37.

In the early March Essential, concerning the Adani coal mine, 30% supported the Greens’ anti-Adani position, 26% the Liberals’ pro-Adani position, and just 19% Labor’s murky position. 38% of Labor voters supported their party, 31% the Greens and 15% the Liberals. Other voters supported the Greens by 40-26 over the Liberals with 11% for Labor.

Voters supported regulating energy prices 83-7, creating a new Accord between business, unions and government 66-11, increasing the Newstart allowance 52-32 and company tax cuts 42-39. These proposed measures were all asked with a question phrased to skew to support.

By 65-26, voters supported same sex marriage (61-32 in October, before the result of the plebiscite was known).

Victorian and ACT federal draft redistribution

Last year, it was determined that Victoria and the ACT would each gain a House seat, giving Victoria 38 House seats, up from 37, and the ACT three seats, up from two. On Friday, draft boundaries were released.

The Victorian redistribution creates the new seat of Fraser in Melbourne’s north-western growth suburbs, which will be a safe Labor seat. According to the Poll Bludger, Labor also notionally gains Dunkley from the Liberals, and the renamed Liberal-held seat of Cox (formerly Corangamite) is very close.

Labor won the ACT-wide vote by 61-39 against the Liberals at the 2016 election, so the new ACT seat had to be a Labor seat.

In other changes to state representation, South Australia will lose a seat, falling from 11 seats to ten. The total number of House seats will increase by one, from 150 to 151. The new draft South Australian boundaries will be released on April 13.

At the 2016 election, the Coalition won 76 of the 150 seats, and Labor 69. The draft boundaries released Friday give Labor three extra notional seats, while the Coalition loses two. With the South Australian redistribution still to come, the Coalition has notionally lost its majority, and will require a swing in its favour at the next election to retain a majority.




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The draft boundaries will go through a further consultation process before they are finalised. If an election is called before all boundaries are finalised, emergency redistributions are used. These emergency redistributions have never been used.

Batman byelection final results

The ConversationAt the March 17 Batman byelection, Labor’s Ged Kearney defeated the Greens’ Alex Bhathal by a 54.4-45.6 margin, a 3.4% swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 43.1% Labor (up 7.9%), 39.5% Greens (up 3.3%) and 6.4% for the Conservatives. The Liberals, who won 19.9% in 2016, did not contest.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Government defers company tax cut vote for want of numbers


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has been forced to put off a vote on its tax cut for big business after failing to secure support from the final two crossbenchers it needs to pass the legislation.

The deferral until the budget session in May is a bitter disappointment for the government, which had been hopeful of landing the legislation this week.

It needs nine of the 11 non-Green crossbenchers to pass legislation. It had seven on side but still needed Victorian senator Derryn Hinch and South Australian independent senator Tim Storer.

Hinch has most recently been talking to the government about trade-offs in the areas of help for pensioners, affordable housing, assistance for the older unemployed, and more action to combat paedophilia.

One source said Storer’s inexperience – he only arrived in the Senate last week – was a complication in finalising negotiations.

Storer said lower company tax should be part of broader tax reform. “This bill is a narrowly cast proposition of change to the overall tax and transfer system”, he said.

“I have held numerous meetings and received input from stakeholders including members of the public, South Australian businesses and business-groups, leading economists, national welfare groups, national business councils and their members” and “I am processing my consideration of this bill.”

The legislation is for the second tranche of the tax cuts, which is directed for big business. It would cost the budget A$35.6 billion, apply to companies with turnovers of more than $50 million annually, and bring the rate for them down from 30% to 25% by 2026-27.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the Senate late on Tuesday that the legislation would not be debated further this week.

“It is a matter of public record that, as a result of the work that has gone so far, we have been able to secure the publicly stated support of 37 senators in this chamber for our business tax cuts legislation,” he said.

“Everybody knows we need 39. So, given that proposition and given that’s the situation we are in, the government has made a decision we will need to do some more work.”

He said the government thought it could get the numbers and so was “committed to keep working, to keep engaging”.

Cormann said the government intended to bring the legislation back to the Senate in the next sitting week – which is budget week.

Speaking to a function organised by the Business Council of Australia (BCA) at Parliament House, Malcolm Turnbull said the government was still two votes short and encouraged the businesspeople to keep talking to the crossbench.

He said the government wasn’t fighting for higher dividends or higher remuneration for executives but to give companies every incentive to invest and grow, creating more jobs and higher-paid jobs.

Earlier on Tuesday, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten pledged a Labor government would repeal the legislation if it passed. He said the opposition would decide its position on the tax cuts already passed for businesses with annual turnovers up to $50 million “in the context of the information we receive in the budget”.

The case for the tax cuts received a setback on Tuesday with the reporting of a secret BCA survey finding that fewer than one in five of leading chief executives had said they would use the proposed cut to directly increase wages or employ more staff. The Australian Financial Review reported that “more than 80% said they would either use the proceeds to boost returns to shareholders or invest in the company”.

The BCA played down the survey, saying it had never been finished.

Last week, the BCA released a letter signed by ten business leaders, saying: “If the Senate passes this important legislation we, as some of the nation’s largest employers, commit to invest more in Australia which will lead to employing more Australians and therefore stronger wage growth as the tax cut takes effect”.

The Australia Institute, lobbying against the legislation, wrote to senators with a brief about reaction to the Trump cuts.

The Conversation“Critically, the evidence shows it is not workers and employees who are benefiting most from the tax cuts. In fact, the tax cuts will exacerbate inequality with benefits flowing overwhelmingly to wealthier Americans via, for example, share buy-backs,” the institute’s executive director, Ben Oquist, wrote.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How the government can pay for its proposed company tax cuts



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The government is still attempting to lower the corporate tax rate to compete globally.
Ben Rushton/AAP

David Ingles, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Miranda Stewart, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

There are ways the government can pay for a cut in the company tax rate. In a recent working paper, we worked with researcher Chris Murphy to model three different options: reforming Australia’s system of giving shareholders tax credits, allowing less tax deductions on interest for companies, and introducing a tax on the super-profits of banks and miners.

After taking economic growth into account, the budget cost of the tax cut could be net A$5 billion a year.




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In the US, a company tax cut to 21% continues an inexorable global trend of cutting rates, making international tax competition even more pressing. As our working paper noted, Australia’s rate is now higher than most other countries, making tax avoidance even more attractive and deterring inbound foreign investment.

A cut in the Australian company tax rate to 25 or even 20% is important because it will attract foreign investment, boosting wages and the economy in Australia.

Remove dividend imputation

Australia has an unusual system of integrated company and personal tax, called dividend imputation. It has been in place since the 1980s.

Australian shareholders receive franking (imputation) credits for company tax. If shareholders are on a personal tax rate less than 30%, they receive a refund.

The company tax cut could be financed by removing dividend imputation. Our modelling indicates a company tax rate of 20% would mean the government breaks even, while halving imputation could finance a 25% rate.

It would be simpler to abolish dividend imputation and replace it with a discount for dividend tax, at the personal level.




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Dividend imputation only makes sense if we assume Australia is a closed economy with no foreign investors. In reality, Australia depends on inflows of foreign investment. About one-third of the corporate sector is foreign owned.

The likely source of additional finance, especially for large Australian businesses, is a foreigner who does not benefit from dividend imputation. So the company tax pushes up the cost of capital and domestic investors benefit from franking credits for a tax they don’t actually bear.

But the politics of making a change to the system are difficult, because domestic investors, especially retirees on low incomes and superannuation funds would lose out. But this approach could benefit workers, jobs and Australian businesses.

Broaden company tax by removing interest deductibility for companies

Another approach is to remove or limit deductibility of interest for companies. This can raise the same revenue at a lower rate, by allowing less deductions. Excessive interest deductions are used by multinationals to reduce their Australian tax bill, as shown in the recent Chevron case.

This would be like imposing a withholding tax on interest paid offshore. We explore a comprehensive business income tax on all corporate income. Modelling shows that this tax would finance the rate cut to 25%.

The comprehensive business income tax raises some difficult issues for taxing banks. This is because their profit is interest income less interest expense.

But there are numerous policies to restrict interest deductions already in place, here and around the world. These restrictions could be expanded. For example the thin capitalisation rules limit of the amount of loans a business can have relative to equity.

We still need anti-abuse rules because businesses can use other methods to minimise tax, as canvassed by the OECD in its Base Erosion and Profit Shifting project, including transfer pricing, and deductible payments offshore for intellectual property fees.

A rent tax or allowance for equity

A third option for a company tax cut is to change to a tax with a lower effective marginal rate. This means that the return on a new investment is taxed less heavily than under a company income tax.

We could introduce an allowance for corporate equity, or corporate capital, which provides a deduction for the “normal” or risk-free return for capital investment. This is also called an economic rent tax because it only taxes the above-normal profit.

Modelling shows that the allowance for corporate capital encourages new investment, which helps economic growth, but there is a large budget cost. The extra deduction reduces the overall tax take and so a higher rate is needed for the same revenue.

It is unlikely Australia would want to maintain or increase our company tax rate, as this directly contrary to the global trend and can lead to even more tax planning by businesses.

For Australia, a supplementary rent tax aimed at the financial and mining sectors – where above-normal returns are known to occur – could be combined with a lower company income tax. Modelling this option for the finance sector shows a large welfare gain and sufficient revenue to fund the rate cut to 25%.

The government has a lot of choices

We show that the government has many options available to finance the needed corporate rate cut and improve efficiency of the company tax.

Policymakers could mix and match these options. Dividend imputation could be replaced with a discount and combined with a comprehensive business income tax. Limits on interest deductibility could be combined with a part allowance for corporate capital.

The ConversationReplacing dividend imputation with a dividend discount at the personal level could be the best initial step. Other options for major reform of Australia’s company tax need to remain on the table, as company taxes drop to a new low and systems are reformed around the world.

David Ingles, Senior Research Fellow, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Miranda Stewart, Professor and Director, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.