View from The Hill: With apologies to Mathias, Hanson blows away government hopes on company tax


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Not so long ago, new South Australian independent senator Tim Storer and Victorian crossbencher Derryn Hinch were set to be the pivotal players determining the fate of the government’s tax cut for big companies.

But after the evidence from the banking inquiry Hinch’s doubts about the measure hardened further, while Storer continued to agonise.

The government then looked towards the Centre Alliance senators, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick, for the two crucial numbers it needed. The rest of the votes were in the bag.

Only it turned out they weren’t. Pauline Hanson, who commands three Senate votes and thus a veto, has suddenly withdrawn the support she earlier pledged. Hanson has flipped-flopped before but she insists this is for real – that she won’t change her mind again.

Hanson says she’s “so disappointed in this government” after the budget it produced. She has a litany of complaints: inaction on debt; intransigence on immigration; the absence of changes to the petroleum resource rent tax; no appearance of promised apprenticeships, and many more.

Hanson denies her reneging is driven by her political needs in the Queensland seat of Longman, though that claim lacks credibility. Tax cuts for the wealthiest companies, including the banks, would hardly appeal to potential One Nation voters, and this byelection will be a test for Hanson’s party, just as it will be for Labor and the Coalition. Bill Shorten had already been exploiting her closeness to the government.




Read more:
Research check: we still don’t have proof that cutting company taxes will boost jobs and wages


As much as the Senate is unpredictable, this does look like the end of the government’s chances of getting its company tax package through parliament before the election.

Senate leader Mathias Cormann, the government’s chief negotiator, said he hoped “that this is not the last word” but admitted “it might well be that we won’t ever get there”.

Once again, Shorten has had a lucky break. The tax cut for big companies, which Labor has strenuously opposed, is still on the political agenda. If the Senate had passed it, Labor would have a diminished target.

It also remains on the books. Admittedly the cost is way into the future, but in these times when parties like to talk in terms of a decade, those notional future dollars are useful to Labor.

Also, if the package isn’t passed, Labor doesn’t have to cope with the question: how can you be sure a Shorten government could persuade a post-election Senate to repeal the cuts?

Most immediately, the opposition on Tuesday was making merry with questions about what “secret deal” the government had with Hanson to try to get the company tax cut through.

A Senate estimates hearing saw an angry clash between Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong and Cormann, when Wong pursued whether the government was willing to meet Hanson’s various demands. As she went through these, Cormann retorted “I know that you always like channelling Senator Hanson”.

Wong, of Asian heritage, responded ferociously: “Don’t tell me I channel Pauline Hanson. I find that personally offensive. I can tell you what happened to me and my family and people like us, when she stood up in the parliament, possibly before you were here, saying Australia was in danger of being swamped by Asians. I will never do anything other than fight her.”

Cormann accused Wong of “confected outrage”; Wong countered “How dare you!”.

But a few hours later the two had made up.

Wong tweeted: “I will never do anything other than stand up to Pauline Hanson and her views, but I know Mathias is one of the decent people in this Government and accept his assurance he did not mean to cause offence.”

Cormann replied: “While we are fierce political competitors, I value the fact that we always aim to engage in the political contest professionally and with courtesy and mutual respect.”

It’s notable how much genuine respect Cormann commands in a parliament characterised by the lack of it.

Hanson went out of her way to stress she wasn’t blaming Cormann for anything – “his colleagues and the government” had let him down, she said. She told her news conference, “I know he’s devastated”, and she’s said to be genuinely upset that she’s left him in the lurch.

The government says that if there’s not a new turn of Senate fortunes, it will take the company tax policy to the election.

Although some argue the measure should be ditched, which is the superficially attractive course, that would potentially bring fresh difficulties. Not only would it open a brawl with business, but it would undermine the economic argument the government has been making for two years. Killing an albatross can be a dangerous business.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Can the Turnbull government make the election all about tax?


It would, however, be popular with the public. Tuesday’s Essential poll reported that when people were asked which in a list of measures they would support to cut government spending, the top item nominated (on 60%) was “not providing company tax cuts for large business”.

The Essential poll brought mixed news on the tax front for the government.

Asked to choose between the budget’s income tax plan and the alternative outlined by Shorten in his budget reply, Labor’s plan was preferred by 45% to 33%. On the other hand, Labor and the Coalition were equal (on 32% each) when people were asked which party they trusted most to manage a fair tax system.

The ConversationParticularly interesting was the poll’s voting figure. The two-party Labor lead has now narrowed to 51-49% (compared with 52-48% in the last poll). This is the closest result since late 2016, and in line with the most recent Newspoll. It reinforces the point that the contest is tightening.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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Don’t give anyone a tax cut: Greens


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Greens are standing out against the bipartisan consensus that tax cuts are needed for middle and lower income earners.

They are ruling out supporting all the budget’s tax relief, and say they are also opposed to the package of larger cuts the opposition has proposed, which would be confined to people in the lower and middle income ranges.

Instead, the funds should be spent on services, the Greens say.

The Coalition tax package will be a focus of this parliamentary fortnight, which sees the House of Representatives sitting and the Senate holding estimates hearings.

The legislation will be passed in the House, while estimates will be used by the opposition to seek the annual cost in the latter years of the seven-year plan, which the government has so far declined to provide. Treasury is before the estimates hearings next week; the Prime Minister’s department is up this week.

The opposition has submitted ahead of time a list of detailed questions about the tax package to try to prevent the delay of answers by officials asking for questions to be put on notice.

Labor supports the first stage of the three-part plan, is vague about the second stage, but has expressed opposition to the third stage, which flattens the tax scale and favours high income earners.

The government says it will not split the bill. It is not clear whether the opposition would vote against the legislation if the government holds firm, or whether the government would be flexible if pushed.

The shadow cabinet meets on Monday night, when the legislation is set to be discussed.

Labor’s alternative tax cuts, announced in Bill Shorten’s budget reply, would be confined to those on incomes up to about $125,000.

While the immediate concentration is on the future of the government’s legislation, the uncertainty of a post-election Senate also raises the issue for Labor of whether an ALP government could get its legislation through.

The Greens said in a statement that the government’s proposed income tax cuts were just a bribe to get the massive company tax cuts passed. People on the minimum wage wouldn’t even see $4 a week, while the wealthiest would benefit the most.

“Both parties’ plans will worsen inequality, and see us lose vital revenue for the essential services people rely upon,” the Greens said.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said with inequality rising, reinvestment in public services should be the priority.

“For years, politicians have been telling Australians that the budget doesn’t have money to properly fund our public schools, build a world-class NBN, or take action on climate change,” Di Natale said.

“Yet when an election is rolling around both old parties are giving away cheques like a breakfast TV show trying to increase their ratings.”

“This reckless tax auction is nothing more than a distraction from the millions of dollars stripped from our schools, hospitals and social safety net over the past decade.

The Conversation“While Turnbull is busy squabbling with Labor over how much they want to rip out of Australia’s institutions, the Greens are proud to stand up for Medicare, our public schools and hospitals and the environment”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

What was missing in Australia’s $1.9 billion infrastructure announcement


Virginia Barbour, Queensland University of Technology

When we think about infrastructure it’s most often about bridges or roads – or, as in this week’s federal government AU$1.9 billion National Research Infrastructure announcement, big science projects. These are large assets that can be seen and applied in a tangible way.

It’s not hard to get excited over money that will support imaging of the Earth, or the Atlas of Living Australia.

But important as these projects are, there’s a whole set of infrastructure that rarely gets mentioned or noticed: “soft” infrastructure. These are the services, policies or practices that keep academic research working and, now, open.

Soft infrastructure was not featured in this week’s announcement linked to budget 2018.




Read more:
Budget 2018: when scientists make their case effectively, politicians listen


Ignored infrastructure

An absence of attention paid to soft infrastructure isn’t just the case in Australia, it’s true globally. This is despite the fact that such infrastructure is core to running the hard infrastructure projects.

For example, the Open SSL software library – which is key to the security of most websites – has just a handful of paid individuals who work on it. It’s supported by fragile finances. That’s a pretty frightening thought. (There’s another issue in that researchers doing this work get no academic credit for their efforts, but that’s a topic for another time.)

There are other high profile, globally used, open science infrastructures that also exist hand to mouth. The Directory of Open Access journals which began at Lund University relies entirely on voluntary donations from supporting members and on occasional sponsorship.

Similarly, Sherpa Romeo – the open database of publishers’ policies on copyright and self-archiving – came out of projects at Nottingham and Loughborough Universities in the UK.

In some ways these projects’ high visibility is part of their problem. It’s assumed that they are already funded, so no-one takes responsibility for funding them themselves – the dilemma of collective action.




Read more:
Not just available, but also useful: we must keep pushing to improve open access to research


Supporting open science

Other even more nebulous types of soft infrastructure include the development and oversight of standards that support open science. One example of this is the need to ensure that the metadata (the essential descriptors that tell you for example where a sample that’s collected for research came from and when, or how it relates to a wider research project or publication) are consistent. Without consistency of metadata, searching for research, making it openly available or linking it together is much less efficient, if not impossible.

Of course there are practices in place at individual institutions as well as national organisations. The soon-to-be-combined organisations -Australian National Data Service, the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources project and Research Data Services (ANDS-Nectar-RDS) – are supported by national infrastructure funding. These provide support for data-heavy research (including for example the adoption of FAIR – Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable standards for data).

But without coherent national funding and coordination, specifically for open science initiatives, we won’t get full value from the physical infrastructure just funded.




Read more:
How the insights of the Large Hadron Collider are being made open to everyone


What we need

What’s needed now? First, a specific recognition of the need for cash to support this open, soft infrastructure. There are a couple of models for this.

In an article last year it was suggested that libraries (but this could equally be funders – public or philanthropic) should be committing around 2.5% of their budget to support open initiatives. There are some international initiatives that are developing specific funding models – SCOSS for Open Science Services and NumFocus for software.

But funding on its own is not enough: we need a coordinated national approach to open scholarship – making research available for all to access through structures and tools that are themselves open and not proprietary.

Though there are groups that are actively pushing forward initiatives on open scholarship in Australia – such as the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, the Council of Australian University Librarians, and the Learned Academies as well as the ARC and NHMRC who have open access policies – there is no one organisation with the responsibility to drive change across the sector. The end result is inadequate key infrastructure – for example, for interoperability between research output repositories.

We also need coherent policy. The government recognised a need for national and states policies on open access in its response to the 2016 Productivity Commission Inquiry on Intellectual Property, but as yet no policy has appeared.




Read more:
Universities spend millions on accessing results of publicly funded research


It’s reasonable to ask whether in the absence of a national body that’s responsible for developing and implementing an overall approach, what the success of a policy on its own would be. Again, there are international models that could be used.

Sweden has a Government Directive on Open Access, and a National Body for Coordinating Open Access chaired by the Vice-chancellor of Stockholm University.

The Netherlands has a National Plan for Open Science with wide engagement, supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. In that country, the Secretary of State, Sander Dekker, has been a key champion.

The EU has had a long commitment to open science, underscored recently by the appointment of a high-level envoy with specific responsibility for open science, Robert-Jan Smits.

Private interests might take over

Here’s the bottom line: national coordinated support for the soft infrastructure that supports open science (and thus the big tangible infrastructure projects announced) is not just a “nice to have”.

One way or another, this soft infrastructure will get built and adopted. If it’s not done in the national interest, for-profit companies will step into the vacuum.

We risk replicating the same issues we have now in academic publishing – which is in the hands of multi-billion dollar companies that report to their shareholders, not the public. It’s clear how well that is turning out – publishers and universities globally are in stand offs over the cost of publishing services, which continue to rise inexorably, year on year.


The Conversation


Read more:
Publisher pushback puts open access in peril


Virginia Barbour, Director, Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, Queensland University of Technology

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

Labor would deliver bigger surpluses than the Coalition: Bowen


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen on Wednesday will promise a Labor government would deliver bigger cumulative budget surpluses than the government over the forward estimates and substantially bigger surpluses over a decade.

Outlining the fiscal parameters the opposition will take to the election, Bowen will repeat that the ALP would achieve budget balance in the same year as the government – 2019-20.

He will also undertake that the majority of the savings raised from the ALP’s revenue measures over a decade would go to budget repair and paying off debt.

Bowen will insert a qualifier, saying that the pledges are on the basis of the budget figures released last week. If the government announced “a new secret policy that is fundamentally unfair and is an attack on working people, then we reserve the right to address that”.

Detailed figures of the full impact of Labor policies would be announced before the election, “but we are announcing today that the net result of those policies will be a better budget bottom line in the short term and bigger surpluses in the long term,” Bowen will tell the National Press Club.

He will also say that until a Labor government achieved a strong surplus it would be guided by the principles of

… repairing in the budget in a way that was fair, and did not place the heaviest burden on the vulnerable;

… more than offsetting new spending with savings and revenue measures;

… putting to the budget bottom line any positive changes in revenue and spending that resulted from economic changes.

Bowen will attack the government for not budgeting for larger surpluses.

“The whiff of a surplus, not reaching at least 1% of GDP until 2026-27, does not adequately protect Australia against the potential roiling seas of international uncertainty. Australia needs bigger surpluses, sooner than the government is scheduling,” he will say.

“We can’t afford to let the next four years go to waste in the efforts for a healthier, safer budget surplus”. He will point to the Coalition’s 2013 commitment to a surplus of at least 1% of GDP by 2023-24, criticising the the government for its having “watered down their fiscal rigour with regular monotony”.

Bowen will also emphasise the long term risks of the government’s seven year tax package.

“The government has the most expensive and growing component of their tax package coming in in six years’ time, based on the assumption the good times roll on for another decade.” This was “a budget that bakes in future tax cuts in six years’ time worth tens of billions of dollars, when the revenue may not turn up to fund them”.

Bowen will say that by making a series of tough decisions on revenue measures as well as opposing the corporate tax cuts, Labor is setting out to deal faster than the government with debt and deficit and to fund policies that are important for economic growth, including investment in education.

The ConversationHe will also announce a panel to review Labor’s costings, which have been done by the Parliamentary Budget Office. Its members are Bob Officer, emeritus professor at Melbourne University; Mike Keating, former head of the finance and prime minister’s departments, and James Mackenzie, a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Institute of Company Directors. These three undertook a similar task before the 2016 election.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Post-budget poll wrap: Labor has equal best Newspoll budget result, gains in Ipsos, but trails in Longman



File 20180515 122916 1upszc9.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
While this is Malcolm Turnbull’s 32nd consecutive Newspoll loss as PM, the past two have been narrow losses.
AAP/Ellen Smith

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted May 10-13 from a sample of 1,730, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 39% Coalition (up one), 38% Labor (up one), 9% Greens (steady) and 6% One Nation (down one).

This Newspoll is Malcolm Turnbull’s 32nd successive loss as PM, two more than Tony Abbott. However, the past two have been narrow losses.

The total vote for Labor and the Greens was up one point to 47%, while the total for the Coalition and One Nation was steady at 45%. The gain for the left would normally result in a gain after preferences, but rounding probably helped the Coalition again.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor’s Newspoll lead narrows federally and in Victoria


39% (up three) were satisfied with Turnbull, and 50% (down three) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -11, Turnbull’s highest net approval since the final pre-election Newspoll in July 2016. Bill Shorten’s net approval was down two points to -22. Turnbull led Shorten as better PM by 46-32; this is Turnbull’s clearest better PM lead since February.

Newspoll asks three questions after every budget: whether the budget was good or bad for the economy, good or bad for you personally, and whether the opposition would have delivered a better budget.

The best news for Labor was on the third question, where it only trailed by seven points, equal to their deficit after the badly perceived 2014 budget. According to The Poll Bludger, Labor trailed by more during all of the Howard government’s budgets.

This budget was seen as good for the economy by 41-26, and good for you personally by 29-27. The Poll Bludger says it is fifth out of 31 budgets covered by Newspoll on personal impact, but only slightly above average on the economy.

Turnbull led Shorten by 48-31 on best to handle the economy (51-31 in December 2017). Treasurer Scott Morrison led his shadow Chris Bowen 38-31 on best economic manager. By 51-28, voters thought Labor should support the government’s seven-year tax cut package.

Turnbull has delivered a well-received budget, while Shorten’s credibility took a hit after four Labor MPs were kicked out over the citizenship fiasco.

Voters were not sympathetic to politicians who held dual citizenships. By 51-38, they thought such politicians should be disqualified from federal parliament (44-43 in August). By 46-44, voters would oppose a referendum to change the Constitution to allow dual citizens to become MPs.

A key question is whether Turnbull’s ratings bounce will be sustained. The PM’s net approval and the government’s two party vote are strongly correlated, so the Coalition should do better if Turnbull’s ratings are good. Past ratings spikes for Turnbull have not been sustained.

While people on low incomes receive a tax cut, it will not be implemented by withholding less tax from pay packets. Instead, people will need to wait until they file their tax returns after July 2019 to receive their lump sum tax offsets. As the next federal election is very likely to be held by May 2019, this appears to be a political mistake.

In last week’s Essential, 39% thought the Australian economy good and 24% poor. While Australia ran large trade surpluses in the first three months of this year, the domestic economy is not looking as good as it did in 2017 – see my personal website for more.

Ipsos: 54-46 to Labor (53-47 respondent allocated)

An Ipsos poll for the Fairfax papers, conducted May 9-12 from a sample of 1,200, gave Labor a 54-46 lead by 2016 election preferences, a two-point gain for Labor since early April. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up three), 36% Coalition (steady), 11% Greens (down one) and 5% One Nation (down three).

Newspoll is no longer using last-election preferences, so it seems better to compare Ipsos’ respondent allocated preferences with Newspoll, not the last election preferences. By respondent allocated preferences, Ipsos was 53-47 to Labor, a three-point gain for Labor.

Ipsos is bouncier than Newspoll, and the Greens’ support is higher. If you compare Ipsos’ respondent allocated two party vote with Newspoll, the difference is diminished.

Turnbull had a 51-39 approval rating (47-43 in April). This is Turnbull’s best rating in Ipsos since April 2016; Ipsos gives Turnbull his strongest ratings of any pollster. Shorten’s net approval was up three points to -12. Turnbull led Shorten by 52-32 (52-31 in April).

By 39-33, voters thought the budget was fair (42-39 after the 2017 budget). By 38-25, voters thought they would be better off, the highest “better off” figure in Nielsen/Ipsos history since 2006. However by 57-37, voters thought the government should have used its extra revenue to pay off debt, rather than cutting taxes.

Queensland Galaxy: 52-48 to federal Coalition, 53-47 to state Labor

A Queensland Galaxy poll, conducted May 9-10 from a sample of 900 for The Courier Mail, gave the federal Coalition a 52-48 lead, unchanged since February, but a 2% swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 40% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (steady) and 10% One Nation (up one). Primary vote changes would normally imply a gain for Labor, but this was lost in the rounding.

By 39-33, Queenslanders thought the budget was good for them personally, rather than bad. By 39-28, they thought the budget would be good for Queensland.

The state politics questions gave Queensland Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since February. Primary votes were 38% Labor (up one), 35% LNP (down one), 12% One Nation (up two) and 10% Greens (steady).

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had a 46-38 approval rating (44-38 previously). Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had a 31-28 approval rating (29-25). Palaszczuk led Frecklington as better Premier 47-27 (42-31).

Longman ReachTEL: 53-47 to LNP

The Longman byelection is one of five that will be held soon. A ReachTEL poll, conducted May 10 from a sample of 1,280 for the left-wing Australia Institute, gave the LNP a 53-47 lead, about a 4% swing to the LNP since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 36.7% LNP, 32.5% Labor, 15.1% One Nation and 4.9% Greens.

ReachTEL is using respondent allocated preferences. The two party vote in this poll looks reasonable assuming One Nation preferences flow to the LNP.

National polls and the Queensland Galaxy poll show swings to Labor compared with the 2016 election. It would be highly unusual for a seat to swing so strongly to the Coalition when other polling shows a swing to Labor. In the past, seat polls have been far less reliable than national and state-wide polls.

In better byelection news for Labor, the Western Australian Liberals will not contest either Perth or Fremantle. Fremantle has a 7.5% margin with an incumbent recontesting, but Labor only holds Perth by a 3.3% margin with no incumbent.




Read more:
Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie most vulnerable at byelections forced by dual citizenship saga


Essential: 52-48 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted May 10-13 from a sample of 1,033, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last week. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (up one).

By 44-28, voters approved of the budget overall. 22% thought the tax cuts would make a difference to their household. 39% supported the tax cuts, with 30% wanting more spending on schools and hospitals and 18% preferring a reduction in government debt.

The ConversationBy 44-40, voters disagreed with giving higher income people larger tax cuts. By 79-14, voters agreed that those earning $200,000 should pay a higher tax rate than those earning $41,000.

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

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

Mixed messages in post-budget Newspoll and Fairfax-Ipsos


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Labor continues to hold a 51-49% two-party lead in the wake of last week’s budget. However, Malcolm Turnbull’s advantage over Bill Shorten has surged in the Newspoll published in The Australian on Monday.

But the Ipsos poll, in Fairfax papers, has Labor ahead by a much wider 54-46% margin on a two-party basis – a rise of two points for the ALP since the last Ipsos poll in early April, with a corresponding fall for the Coalition.

Post-budget opinion will soon be tested on the ground in five byelections, four of them caused by the citizenship crisis.

The Western Australian Liberals have announced they will not run in the two contests in that state, while Pauline Hanson and opposition leader Bill Shorten are trading public blows over preferences for the Queensland seat of Longman, where One Nation preferences were crucial in Labor’s win last election.

In Newspoll, Turnbull has stretched his previous three-point lead over Bill Shorten as better PM to 14 points. Turnbull jumped eight points to 46%, while Shorten fell three points to 32% in the poll, done Thursday to Sunday.

Last week Shorten was embarrassed over his previous boasts that Labor had a strong citizenship vetting process, after the High Court on Wednesday disqualified Labor senator Katy Gallagher for having dual citizenship when she nominated for the 2016 election. The court decision prompted three Labor MPs and a crossbencher to resign.

Turnbull’s satisfaction rating has risen three points to 39% in Newspoll, while Shorten’s rating went down a point to 33%. The Coalition primary vote was up a point to 39%; Labor also rose a point to 38%, since the last poll, published three weeks ago. One Nation is on 6%, the Greens are 9%.

Newspoll found 41% thought the budget good for the economy; only 26% said it would be bad. People were split on its impact for them personally: 29% said they would be better off, 27% thought it would leave them worse off.

Just over half (51%) backed the government’s tax plan, the first stage of which would give a tax cut to lower and middle income earners.

The Labor primary vote in the Fairfax-Ipsos poll was 37% (up three points). The Coalition was unchanged on 36%.

In the Ipsos poll, taken Thursday to Saturday, 38% believed they would be personally better off as a result of the budget – the highest rating in perceived personal benefit since 2006 – while 25% said they would be worse off. On the measure of fairness, 39% believed the budget was fair, while 33% said it was unfair. Ipsos found 57% would prefer the government to use extra revenue to pay off debt; 37% would prefer it to be used for tax cuts.

Turnbull’s approval rating was 51% (up four points) in the Fairfax-Ipsos poll; his disapproval was 39% (down four points). Shorten was on 39% approval (up a point) and 51% disapproval (down two points) . As preferred prime minister, Turnbull was ahead 52% (unchanged) to Shorten’s 32% (up a point).

The timing of the byelections is yet to be announced – they are expected to be on the same Saturday. Four are in Labor seats; the fifth is in Mayo, held by the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie – the Liberals are hoping to wrest the seat back.

Braddon in Tasmania and Longman will be the two government-opposition head-to-head battles.

In Longman, on less than 1% margin, a ReachTEL poll commissioned by the left-leaning think tank The Australia Institute found the government leading the ALP 53-47% in two-party terms. It had One Nation on 15.1%. The poll was done Thursday night, of 1277 people.

As it seeks a strong candidate for Longman, the Liberal National Party is bedevilled by the dual citizenship issue that has caused the byelection in the first place. The LNP is having to ensure, before it does its preselection, that no potential candidate is a dual citizen, which can go to complicated questions of eligibility for foreign citizenship through relatives.

Labor’s Susan Lamb, who won the seat in 2016, also must renounce her dual British citizenship in time for her renomination.

Shorten at the weekend delivered a sharp response to Hanson’s demand that Labor put the Greens last.

Hanson wrote to Shorten that:

With a looming byelection in the seat of Longman and a federal election likely within the next 12 months, One Nation and its supporters are seeking an assurance from you as Leader of the Australian Labor Party that you will guarantee placing the Greens at the bottom of all Labor how-to-vote cards.

Conservative Australians do not support parties who flow their preferences to the Greens and I cannot in good conscience flow One Nation preferences to Labor if their preferences relationship continues with the Greens.

Shorten wrote back:

I know you are under a lot of pressure following your decision to support the Prime Minister’s $80 billion tax handout to multinationals and the big banks. That’s the only explanation I can think of for your letter to me, in which you appear to be attempting to direct the preferences of Longman voters voters to the LNP.

Meanwhile a row has blown up over the preselection dumping of Queensland Liberal Jane Prentice, an assistant minister in the Turnbull government. She was beaten decisively in a rank and file ballot by a Brisbane city councillor, Julian Simmonds, a former staffer of hers. Her defeat has reignited the criticism of the Liberal party for having so few women in its parliamentary ranks.

The ConversationAsked about Prentice’s loss, Treasurer Scott Morrison told the ABC that politics was “a contestable process”. Prentice had “done a great job and we thank her for her service”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Research check: we still don’t have proof that cutting company taxes will boost jobs and wages



File 20180510 185500 guowse.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
There still isn’t clear research showing company tax cuts will increase employment or wages.
Shutterstock

Ross Guest, Griffith University

If you read these headlines you might think we finally have proof that cutting company taxes will boost employment and investment:

These stories are based on analysis of the 2015 company tax cut by consultants AlphaBeta. But the study, as well as some of the media coverage of it, show a worrying misunderstanding of how company tax cuts work.

Simply comparing companies that receive a tax cut with those that don’t isn’t the right methodology to conclude that the 2015 tax cuts created more employment or higher wages.




Read more:
There isn’t solid research or theory to support cutting corporate taxes to boost wages


Cutting taxes lets companies keep more of their profits, allowing them to invest in new equipment and premises for example. The company then needs to hire more workers to work with these new assets. The newly created jobs require businesses to compete for workers and this increased demand pushes up wages across the entire economy.

Suppose a retail company gets a tax cut and opens a new store. It advertises for workers, many of whom are already employed by a rival store that didn’t get the tax cut. The first company will need to offer the workers higher wages to entice them away. The rival store will need to consider matching the wages in order to keep the workers.

In other words, even workers in companies that don’t receive the tax cut should see a wage rise.

Going through the AlphaBeta report

In 2015, the federal government cut the tax rate from 30% to 28.5% for businesses with less than A$2 million in revenue. Eligible businesses saved around A$2,940 on average because of the tax cut.

AlphaBeta used transaction data from 70,000 businesses to compare businesses just below the A$2 million threshold to companies that were just above it.

The analysis looked at the differences between the two groups of firms in terms of whether they hired new workers, invested in their businesses, increased worker wages, or kept some of the cash as a reserve.

AlphaBeta chalked any differences between companies that received the tax cut and those that didn’t to the company tax cuts.




Read more:
The full story on company tax cuts and your hip pocket


As reported in The Australian, AlphaBeta found that companies that received the tax cut increased their employee headcount by 2.6%. The companies that didn’t receive the cut increased employment by just 2.1%.

This difference turned out to be “statistically significant”, meaning it is very unlikely to be the result of random chance.

As the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out, AlphaBeta also concluded that 51% of the tax cut was kept as cash, 27% went towards new investment, but only 3% was paid to workers in higher wages.

In other words, wages increased by just A$1.44 per week. This is not only a small amount, it was also found to be not statistically significant.

Problematic methodology

The main issue with this study’s methodology is actually noted by AlphaBeta in the report itself (and echoed in the coverage by the ABC and Sydney Morning Herald).

The problem is that we cannot draw any conclusions about the effect of company tax cuts on jobs or wages by studying a bunch of firms that received them and another bunch that did not, even if the firms are only slightly different.

This is because, as noted above, the effect of company tax cuts on jobs and wages take place in the entire labour market. An increase in demand for labour flows through to all business, and therefore, so do higher wages.

So we should not expect to see wages rising only in those businesses that receive the tax cuts. The finding that an increase in wages is small and insignificant is exactly what we would expect to see from this study.

Another problem is that we do not know whether the characteristics of the companies in AlphaBeta’s sample. Were some industries with particularly pronounced employment or wage increases over represented in one group but not the other, for instance?

Studying the effect of company tax cuts on employment and wages also requires a longer time period – sometimes years – and careful control of other factors affecting jobs and wages in some firms relative to others.

Blind review:

The analysis in this review is generally fair and reaches a sound conclusion regarding the AlphaBeta report. However, the logic behind company tax cut raising wages is somewhat simplified.

A cut in company tax lowers the costs of production and can flow to labour, capital (including equipment and buildings) and consumers. Economics tells us that who actually benefits from a tax cut depends on what is more responsive to the tax – labour, capital or output.

The lower production costs from a company tax cut can lead to greater output and lower prices as consumers buy more goods and services. This depends, of course, on how responsive consumers are to changes in price.

In the short-run labour is more mobile than capital, which is usually regarded as fixed. Therefore, in the short-run most of the benefit is borne by owners of capital (the companies) in the form of higher after-tax profits.

However, over the longer term, companies invest their after-tax profits in the business. So most of the benefit of the tax cut goes to workers though higher wages as the increased “capital stock” (such as equipment) makes labour more productive.

The ConversationIt follows that there is no reason to expect a significant increase in wages over a period of one or two years (as the AlphaBeta report covers). Indeed, such a result would be somewhat surprising. – Phil Lewis

Ross Guest, Professor of Economics and National Senior Teaching Fellow, Griffith University

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

Most of the benefits from the budget tax cuts will help the rich get richer


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Chris Samuel/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Robert Tanton, University of Canberra and Jinjing Li, University of Canberra

In the federal budget, Treasurer Scott Morrison promised tax cuts to all working Australians in the form of an offset and changes to tax income thresholds. But our analysis of Treasury data shows that while the government advertised these as payments to low and middle income Australians, most of the benefits would flow through to high income earners in future years.

If all of the stages of the tax plan passed parliament, there would be a sharp increase in benefits for people earning above A$180,000, due to the reduction of their marginal tax rate from 45% to 32.5%.

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Taxes in most countries are progressive. This means that the more you earn, the higher your marginal rate (the additional amount you pay for each dollar earned).

There are good reasons for this – progressive tax systems mean those on a lower income pay a lower average tax rate, while those on higher incomes pay a higher average tax rate. This reduces income inequality – as you earn more, for each dollar you earn, you will pay more in tax than someone on a lower income.

With the 2018-19 budget, the proposal is for a “simpler” tax system from 2024-25. This means a reduced number of tax brackets, and a lower rate of 32.5% to those earning between A$87,001 and A$200,000.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said following the budget:

Well, you’ve still got a progressive tax system. That hasn’t changed. In fact, the percentage of people at the end of this plan, who are on the top marginal tax rate is actually slightly higher than what it is today.

However this new tax system from 2024-25 is less progressive than the current system. It means higher income inequality – the rich get more of the tax cuts than the poor.

As part of the new proposal, low and middle income earners get a tax offset in 2018-19, with high income earners getting very little. This part of the plan is progressive – more money goes to lower income earners.

However, by 2024-25, the tax cuts means high income earners gain A$7,225 per year, while those earning A$50,000 to A$90,000 gain A$540 per year, and those earning A$30,000 gain A$200 per year.

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Of course, another factor of tax cuts is that they only benefit those who are employed. Tax cuts don’t benefit people like the unemployed, pensioners, students (usually young people) and those on disability support pensions.

The conversation Australians need to have is how we should be spending the revenue boost we are seeing over the next few years. We can either spend this windfall gain on benefits to high income earners, in the hope that this will flow through spending to everyone else; or maybe we should encourage young people into housing through an increase to the first home owners grant, or increased funding for our schools, universities and health system.

The ConversationWe’ve developed a budget calculator so you can see how your family is affected by the 2018 budget.

Robert Tanton, Professor, University of Canberra and Jinjing Li, Associate Professor, NATSEM, University of Canberra

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

Bill Shorten outbids Turnbull’s tax cut for lower and middle income earners



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Shorten pledged to give bigger income tax cuts for 10 million taxpayers.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has launched a tax bidding war, promising to top the government’s tax relief for lower and middle income earners, as he prepares to fight a string of byelections in Labor seats.

The Labor alternative almost doubles the budget’s relief for these taxpayers, incorporating the early part of the government’s plan and then building on it.

Delivering his budget reply in Parliament on Thursday night, Shorten pledged to give bigger income tax cuts for 10 million taxpayers. Some four million would get A$398 a year more than the $530 under the government’s plan.

Labor’s “Working Australians Tax Refund”, would cost $5.8 billion more than the government’s plan over the forward estimates.

Labor’s alternative comes as debate intensifies about the latter stage of the government’s plan, when a flattening of the tax scale would give substantial benefit to high income earners.

The ALP hardened its position against that change as modelling cast doubt on its fairness. The opposition launched a Senate inquiry which will report mid June on the tax legislation, introduced into parliament on Wednesday.

The government says it will not split the bill, which it wants through before parliament rises for its winter break, but will be under pressure to do so including from the crossbench.

Under Shorten’s proposal, the ALP would support the government’s budget tax cut in 2018-19. Once in power, it would then deliver bigger tax cuts from July 1 2019, when it began the refund.

In Labor’s first budget “we will deliver a bigger better and fairer tax cut for 10 million working Australians. Almost double what the government offered on Tuesday”, Shorten told parliament.

The Labor plan would give all taxpayers earning under $125,000 a year a larger tax cut than they would get under the budget plan.

In a speech heavy on the theme of fairness, Shorten said: “At the next election there will be a very clear choice on tax. Ten million Australians will pay less tax under Labor”.

He also pitched his budget reply directly at the campaign for the byelections.




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“This is my challenge to the Prime Minister. If you think that your budget is fair, if you think that your sneaky cuts can survive scrutiny, put it to the test. Put it to the test in Burnie, put it to the test in Fremantle and in Perth.

“I will put my better, fairer, bigger income tax cut against yours. I’ll put my plans to rescue hospitals and fund Medicare against your cuts. I’ll put my plans to properly fund schools against your cuts and I’ll put my plan to boost wages against your plan to cut penalty rates and I’ll put my plans for 100,000 TAFE places against your cuts to apprenticeships and training and I’ll fight for the ABC against your cuts.”

In the Labor model, a teacher earning $65,000 would get tax relief of $928 a year, $398 more than the $530 offered by the government.

A married couple, with one partner earning $90,000 and the other $50,000 would receive a tax cut of $1855, making them $796 a year better off under Labor than under the government.

Shorten said Labor could afford the tax cuts it proposed because it wasn’t giving $80 billion to big business and the big four banks. Also, it had earlier made hard choices on revenue measures.




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An ALP government could deliver “the winning trifecta” – “a genuine tax cut for middle and working class Australians; proper funding for schools, hospitals and the safety net; and paying back more of Australia’s national debt faster”.

Shorten said that the Liberals were proposing to radically rewrite the tax rules in their seven year plan. Research had revealed that $6 in every $10 would go to the wealthiest 20% of Australians, he said .

“Very quickly, this is starting to look like a Mates Rates tax plan”.

“And at a time of flat wages, rising inequality and a growing sense of unfairness in the community”.

Other initiatives he announced include:

· A plan for skills, TAFE and apprentices costing $473 million over the forward estimates.

· Abolition of the cap on university places, re-instating Labor’s demand driven system, at a cost of $140 million over the forward estimates.

· Reversing cuts to hospitals and establishing a Better Hospitals Fund, seeing an extra $2.8 billion flow to public hospitals. This would cost $764 million over the budget period.

· Invest $80 million to boost the number of eligible MRI machines and approve 20 new licences – which would mean 500,000 more scans funded by Medicare over the course of a first Labor budget.

The Conversation· Provide $25m to the Commonwealth Public Prosecutor to establish a Corporate Crime Taskforce. The Taskforce would deal with recommendations for criminal prosecution from the banking royal commission.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Government timing tricks hide the real budget story



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Timing tricks help politicians avoid dealing with the substance of their policies. That isn’t going to change any time soon.
Cindy Zhi, CC BY-ND

Richard Holden, UNSW

This year’s budget may not have had a whole lot of surprises, but it was chock full of crafty timing tricks. The government’s new personal income tax plan is implemented over seven years, the much-vaunted return to surplus begins in 2019-20, and support for the “smart economy” involves $2.4 billion over, wait for it, 12 years.

In fact, it seems that timing tricks are now a thing in Australian politics. Revenues are brought forward and spending pushed back for cosmetic effect.

The Coalition’s company tax cuts are scheduled to be implemented over a full decade, Labor’s plan to cut back on negative gearing has modest short-term impact on the budget but ramps up over time, and on and on.




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This gradual, glide-path approach to fiscal policy is sometimes good, sometimes not so much.

Labor’s negative gearing plan is an example of where the long timeframe is both sensible and appropriate. By grandfathering in existing negatively geared properties the Labor plan ensures that folks who relied on existing tax arrangements when making investment plans are not punished. Similarly, current Coalition policy regarding raising the retirement age for the pension is not retrospective.

Protecting reliance interests in this way is important for both fairness and certainty. The principle applies equally to potential changes in superannuation taxation, indexation of the aged pension, and other budget measures past, present and future.

Having said that, both sides of politics could do a better job of protecting Australians who have relied on existing policy settings when making big decisions. The government’s changes to superannuation taxation last year clearly violated the principle, and Labor’s plan to curtail the use of franking credits also runs afoul of it.

But many of these timing tricks are just that—tricks. Take the company tax cut. It is clearly structured to make sure the big revenue hits happen in years eight to 10.

The hope seems to be that voters don’t focus on things that far into the future, but companies possibly do. Add to that the fact that the federal budget is heavily focused on a four-year horizon — the so-called “forward estimates period”.

Four years is a completely arbitrary time frame with no real economic basis. The idea is that it is far enough into the future to be meaningful, but close enough to the present to be predictable. In reality it is neither meaningful nor predictable.

Treasury forecasts are almost always overly optimistic. In the last 20 years of budgets, from both sides of politics, they are almost always wrong.

From Wayne Swan’s “the four years of surpluses I announce tonight” to Joe Hockey’s hockey-stick GDP growth numbers and Scott Morrison’s fantastic forecasts, the federal budget makes Disney movies look pessimistic.

Yet this forward-estimate timing window, a media that goes along with it, and a public that is starved for time, mean that politicians can get away with pulling good news forward and pushing bad news back; gaming the system.

Indeed, since future parliaments are not bound by today’s legislation, I wonder whether there is any use at all for a government to announce what they plan to do 10 years hence. If history is any judge, then the political party in question probably won’t be in office. Prime ministers and treasurers have a tough enough time surviving to the next election, let alone making it through a decade.




Read more:
Infographic: Budget 2018 at a glance


But there is a purpose to this long-term planning with legislative force. It creates a default that a future government needs to reverse. And we know from the Nobel-prize-winning work of Danny Kahneman and Dick Thaler that defaults can have a powerful psychological and behavioural effect — it can change the choices people make, and how they feel about those choices.

Speaking of defaults and timing, perhaps the most natural thing that could be done with regard to the federal budget would be to index tax brackets to wages growth. This would instantly do away with “bracket creep”, where wages growth and fixed tax thresholds lead middle Australia to pay an ever-increasing average tax rate. Governments of all stripes hate this because it forces them to actually raise taxes rather than get a free kick every year which folks tend not to notice very much. In fact, 80% of deficit reduction in recent years has come from such bracket creep.

Timing is likely to be a constant theme in the run-up to the next federal election. We can expect Labor to emphasise their $200 billion “war chest” that they plan to spend over the next decade. Equally, the government looks set to keep pushing the line that the big banks are paying more tax now and won’t get a tax cut until close to 2030.

The ConversationTiming tricks help politicians avoid dealing with the substance of their policies. That isn’t going to change any time soon.

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

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