The government’s pursuit of Bill Shorten over a 2005 donation to GetUp has again come back to bite it, as Jobs Minister Michaelia Cash seeks to avoid a court appearance about last year’s police raids on Australian Workers Union offices.
Cash has been subpoenaed to appear in the AWU’s case against the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) on August 1, as well as to produce documents earlier. But she told a news conference on Wednesday she had instructed lawyers to have the subpoena set aside.
Last year Cash wrote to the ROC about the A$100,000 donation to GetUp from the Australian Workers Union, made when Bill Shorten was union secretary. Shorten was one of the founding directors of the activist group.
The ROC commenced an investigation into whether the donation had been made with proper authority from the union.
Subsequently a member of Cash’s staff tipped off media that the Australian Federal Police were about to raid the AWU offices. Cash denied any knowledge of the alert given by her staffer, who quit over the incident.
The AWU launched court action claiming the warrants and the investigation were invalid.
This week Cash – who refused to say whether she has been interviewed by the AFP – declined on Tuesday evening and Wednesday to appear at the Senate hearings into the workplace portfolio, sending an assistant minister – even though she represents workplace minister Craig Laundy in the Senate.
Labor’s workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor accused Cash of being in hiding.
“She should have taken responsibility for the conduct of her office seven months ago and resigned, which would have been consistent with the Westminster principles of ministerial responsibility,” O’Connor said.
Cash accused Labor and the unions of “a stunt”. “The subpoena was issued at the request of the Australian Workers Union – Bill Shorten’s former union. This is, in fact, the third subpoena at the AWU’s request,” she told news conference.
She said she was not a party to the court proceedings, which were between the AWU and the ROC.
It was Shorten who had questions to answer, Cash said, “Did he donate $100,000 of union members’ money to GetUp, of which he was a director at the time, without proper approval of the union’s executive?”
Cash said she would attend estimates “where I am the responsible minister” but in this case “Craig Laundy is the relevant minister”.
She had “issued instructions to the lawyers to have the subpoenas set aside”.
“This is a protection racket to protect Bill Shorten. Way back last year, if the AWU had produced the evidence that those donations were properly authorised, the matter would have ended there and then”.
The AWU has said the support for GetUp was approved by the union’s executive at the time.
In question time Malcolm Turnbull declared he had “complete confidence in the minister”.
He told parliament: “On the application of the union, the court has issued the subpoena. This is the third subpoena. One was substantially set aside; the other was completely set aside. Senator Cash is entitled to seek to set aside a subpoena if it’s judged not relevant.”
Turnbull said the “central issue was whether Shorten had paid the $100,000 to GetUp without authority, which would be very serious misconduct, “misappropriating other people’s money”.
He questioned why minutes of the relevant meeting hadn’t been produced. “No wonder people increasingly believe they cannot trust the Leader of the Opposition with other people’s money, let alone with the management of our economy”.
The government will put both its company tax legislation and its income tax package to the Senate before parliament rises in late June, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has confirmed.
Cormann also sought to scotch suggestions that the tax cuts for big businesses might be dropped if they were defeated then, saying “we are totally committed to the reform”.
He told reporters on Monday the corporate tax cuts were “even more important and more urgent now” than when the government took its package to the election as its central policy in 2016.
Within Coalition ranks there are doubts about persisting with the company tax measure if it can’t be legislated. The chances of the legislation passing the Senate plummeted last week when Pauline Hanson went back on her commitment to back it. But on Monday she appeared to be sounding a little less adamantly opposed, and invited people to contact her office with their views.
With three Senate votes Hanson has a veto.
Cormann committed the government to take the plan to the Super Saturday July 28 byelections if it was defeated in parliament.
He again ruled out a compromise that set a $500 million annual turnover threshold, which would give the package a greater chance of success. That would exclude the highly unpopular banks, as well as other big companies, from the cut.
Cormann said such a threshold “would be a barrier to growth. If you put an artificial ceiling on the growth that a business can aim for by essentially providing a disincentive to further growth beyond that threshold, you are putting a brake on jobs growth”.
The government has already legislated for tax cuts for firms of up to $50 million turnover. That limit was a deal with Senate crossbenchers.
The company tax cuts as well as the competing government and opposition income tax packages are set to be core battlegrounds in the byelections.
The government is also holding firm on not dividing up its three-stage income tax legislation. “We will not split the package”, Cormann said.
“Bill Shorten has to make a decision whether he wants to stand in the way of personal income tax relief for low and middle income earners.
“He has to make a decision whether his anti-aspiration, politics of envy vendetta is more important to him than providing cost-of-living pressure relief to low and middle income earners.”
Stage three of the government’s income tax package is the most controversial part because it flattens the tax scale. The benefits for low and middle incomes earners are in stage one, which the opposition supports. Labor, while highly critical of the third stage, has not said what it would do in the Senate if the government refuses to have at least that stage split off.
The government this week will continue talking with crossbenchers over the two tax packages.
Campaigning in Braddon, one of the byelection seats, Shorten said Malcolm Turnbull’s “corporate tax cuts are dead, buried and cremated – he is just too silly and arrogant to realise that.”
“‘Every extra dollar that goes to the Commonwealth Bank, or Westpac or ANZ or NAB, is a dollar less we have got in our in our kids’ schools, it’s a dollar less we’ve got to help the pensioners with their power bills, it’s a dollar less to help people when they are sick,” the opposition leader said.
Newspoll, published in Monday’s Australian, asked people whether the proposed changes to company tax rates should come into effect as soon as possible, in stages over the next 10 years, or not at all. More than a third (36%) said as soon as possible, 27% said in stages and 29% said not at all.
The poll had Labor back with a 52-48% two-party lead, compared with 51-49% in the last two polls.
It also saw Anthony Albanese heading Shorten as better Labor leader, 26% to 23%. Tanya Plibersek was also on 23%. The prospect of the byelection has stirred some leadership muttering in the ALP.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted May 24-27 from a sample of 1,590, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (down one), 38% Labor (steady), 9% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up two).
This is Malcolm Turnbull’s 33rd consecutive Newspoll loss as PM, three more than Tony Abbott. While Turnbull’s last two losses were both by a narrow 51-49 margin, Labor extended its lead in this poll.
The total vote for Labor and the Greens was steady at 47%, while the total vote for the Coalition and One Nation was up one to 46%. One Nation’s two-point gain is probably due to its reversal on the company tax cuts.
By 49-39, voters were dissatisfied with Turnbull’s performance (50-39 last fortnight). Turnbull’s net approval of -10 is a new high for this term. Bill Shorten’s net approval was -21, up one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 47-30 as better PM (46-32 last fortnight); this is Turnbull’s best better PM lead since September 2017.
26% (up three since early April) preferred Anthony Albanese as Labor leader, with 23% for both Shorten (down one) and Tanya Plibersek (steady). Albanese is benefiting from stronger support from Coalition and One Nation voters, who are unlikely to vote Labor. He is in third place with Labor and Greens voters.
By 39-37, voters thought Shorten and Labor would be better at maintaining energy supply and keeping power prices lower than Turnbull and the Coalition.
Last week there was a parliamentary sitting. The Coalition tends to do better when Parliament is not sitting. During parliamentary sittings, there is more focus on the Coalition’s policies, and these policies have been attacked by Labor.
In previous cases where Turnbull’s ratings have spiked, they have fallen back quickly. This time, Turnbull’s net approval increased by one point following a post-budget spike. If these ratings are sustained, they are likely to assist the Coalition.
On May 16, the ABS reported that wages grew at just a 0.5% pace in the March quarter, and 2.1% in the year to March. As I said in my first Newspoll article this year, wage growth is likely to be crucial at the next election.
Newspoll’s skewed company tax cuts question
The full wording of Newspoll’s company tax cut question can be seen here. Rather than asking a simple support/oppose type question, Newspoll asked whether voters wanted the company tax cuts as soon as possible, over the next ten years, or not at all. This is a skewed question, as two of the possible responses were favourable to the tax cuts, with only one unfavourable.
The question also suggested a “when”, not an “if”. That is, voters were asked when the tax cuts should be introduced, rather than if they are a good idea.
In addition, the current debate is not over whether “all” Australian businesses receive a tax cut. Companies with a turnover of up to $50 million received a tax cut in March 2017. The debate is whether larger companies should receive the tax cut. The only pollster that has asked explicitly about big companies, ReachTEL in late March, showed voters were opposed by an emphatic 56-29.
In last week’s Essential, not providing company tax cuts for large business was the most popular option when voters were asked to assess measures to cut government spending (60-22 support).
According to this Newspoll question, 36% wanted company tax cuts as soon as possible, 27% over the next ten years, and 29% not at all. The Australian’s Simon Benson claimed that the 63% who supported the company tax cuts is higher than for the same-sex marriage plebiscite (61.6%) – a very dubious claim.
Essential: 51-49 to Labor
Last week’s Essential poll, conducted May 17-20 from a sample of 1,025, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the post-budget Essential. Primary votes were 40% Coalition (up two), 36% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up one).
With a Coalition primary vote at 40%, this poll would have been a 50-50 tie using Newspoll’s new methods. Essential continues to use the 2016 preference flows for its two party results. This poll was taken before Parliament resumed.
After a detailed question, 45% supported Labor’s tax plan proposal, while 33% supported the government’s. Most voters are not familiar with this much detail on policies. Similarly, voters supported Labor’s plan for the economy by 44-38 after much detail on Labor and Coalition proposals.
32% (up six since March) would trust Labor to manage a fair tax system, while 32% (up four) would trust the Coalition, and 22% (down nine) say there would be no difference between the major parties.
Just 34% correctly named the Queen of Great Britain as Australia’s Head of State, with 30% selecting the Governor-General and 24% the PM. By 48-30, voters would support Australia becoming a republic with its own Head of State (44-29 in January). 65% thought an Australian Head of State should be directly elected, 12% appointed by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, and 9% appointed by the PM.
Tasmanian Senator Steve Martin joins the Nationals
As a result of the citizenship fiasco, Jacqui Lambie resigned from the Senate, and her place was taken by the second candidate on her ticket, Steve Martin. Martin refused to resign, which would have allowed Lambie to retake her seat, and was expelled from the Lambie Network.
On Monday, Martin joined the Nationals. While Lambie was conservative on immigration issues, she was a reliable vote for the left on economic issues. Martin’s replacement of Lambie is a clear loss for the left. The Coalition will have a slightly easier path for its legislation, with 31 seats, up from 30. 39 votes are required for legislation to pass the Senate.
Super Saturday: July 28
Last week, the Speaker of the House announced that the byelections for the five lower house seats of Braddon, Longman, Mayo, Perth and Fremantle would not be held until July 28. Labor’s conference had been scheduled for that weekend, and has had to be postponed.
While Labor is very unhappy with the byelection timing, it may be a favour. The rights of asylum seekers are important to Labor’s left, but not to the general public. Public division within Labor over the treatment of asylum seekers could damage them. Policy on asylum seekers is an issue where the public backs the right.
In brief: Tasmanian polling, Ireland abortion repeal referendum
An early May Tasmanian EMRS poll gave the Liberals 47%, Labor 30% and the Greens 14%. The upper house seat of Prosser held an election on May 5, and the Liberals won it on May 15 after preferences were distributed. You can read more about this at my personal website.
On Friday, Ireland repealed the eighth constitutional amendment by an unexpectedly large 66.4-33.6 margin. The eighth amendment, passed in 1983, had greatly restricted abortion rights. The effect of repeal is that Parliament can legislate on abortion. You can read my preview for The Poll Bludger here, and my results report here.
The government has picked up another Senate crossbencher to add to its numbers, with Tasmanian independent Steve Martin announcing he has joined the Nationals.
It is the first time the party has had representation in that state since the early 1920s, when William McWilliams was briefly leader of the Country Party.
Although it is to the Coalition’s advantage to have an additional senator locked in, and one less independent with whom to negotiate, in practice the change does not affect things significantly.
Martin’s move takes the Coalition to 31 in the Senate, out of a 76-member chamber. It means the government has to get eight of ten crossbenchers to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens. Previously it was nine of 11. Martin has mostly voted with the Coalition and was already committed to supporting the government’s company tax cuts for big business.
He was elevated to Parliament on a countback, following the resignation of Jacqui Lambie in the citizenship crisis, but he never sat as a representative of the Jacqui Lambie Network, becoming an independent.
Earlier, Senator Lucy Gichuhi moved from the crossbench to the Liberals. She has come under threat for a winnable place on the South Australian Liberal ticket.
Martin said on Monday that what drew him to the Nationals was “their focus on key issues such as natural resources, teamwork and, of course, people”. He said the Nationals had a record of looking after rural and regional communities and Tasmania was rural and regional.
Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said Martin’s joining was “reinvigorating the National Party in Tasmania”.
Recalling the long period since the party had had representation there – before the Tasmanian tiger was last seen in the 1930s – McCormack said: “I liken Steve a bit to the Tasmanian tiger, inasmuch as he will be a tiger for regional development, an absolute tiger in there fighting for the interests of Tasmanians.”
Martin said he had no “deal” with the Nationals although “I hope I get the number one on their election paper”.
It is not clear how Martin, who is up for election at the next poll, would fit with the Liberals’ ticket. Although only Liberal Richard Colbeck is up for re-election next time, sources say Martin’s joining the Nationals does not mean there would necessarily be a joint Coalition ticket. There could be separate tickets.
Lambie, meanwhile, responded to the news with her own tweet on Monday: “I will be running to return the Senate seat to the people of Tasmania who want a truly independent voice in Canberra. Trust me, I am biting at the bit, looking forward to taking the Nats out!”
Malcolm Farnsworth on his blog, AustralianPolitics.com has corrected Michael McCormack, and The Conversation. McCormack (and we) said that before new recruit Steve Martin, the last federal representative of his party from Tasmania was William McWilliams. Farnsworth says it was Llewellyn Atkinson, who was the Country Party member for Wilmot from 1921 until 1928.
There’s one logical reason why ambitious young Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie didn’t tell Malcolm Turnbull he was about to drop a bombshell, with a parliamentary speech accusing a Chinese-Australian figure of involvement in the bribery of a United Nations official.
If he had forewarned Turnbull, Hastie – who is head of the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security – would have been firmly ordered to button his lips.
Remember, Turnbull was angry when a backbencher defiantly produced a private member’s bill on the live sheep trade. That was a tame gesture of independence compared with Hastie’s action.
The fact that Tuesday night’s speech was delivered has shocked the government, and it will add to China’s ongoing angst towards Australia.
The speech contained much context and detail but in summary, Hastie told parliament that Chau Chak Wing, an Australian citizen whom he described as having “extensive contacts in the Chinese Communist Party”, had “co-conspired to bribe the president of the United Nations General Assembly, John Ashe” in 2013.
“For reasons that are best undisclosed, the United States government did not seek to charge [Chau] for his involvement in the bribery of John Ashe,” Hastie said.
Chau had “been a very significant donor to both of our major political parties. He has given more than $4 million since 2004. He has also donated $45 million to universities in Australia,” Hastie said.
The claims against Chau had previously been reported in the Australian media; there are now defamation proceedings underway.
For his speech, Hastie drew on a briefing he received when he recently led a delegation to the United States to discuss the federal government’s espionage and foreign interference legislation – legislation that has particularly aggravated China. In the course of his speech Hastie tabled US documents.
In explaining his motives, Hastie cited national interest and democratic traditions, including press freedom. He said that “in Australia it is clear that the Chinese Communist Party is working to covertly interfere with our media and universities and also to influence our political processes and public debates.”
Turnbull, saying he only heard about the speech after it was delivered, told parliament that the US briefing – which he said was attended by at least one Labor MP – wasn’t classified. Asked whether he had “sought information from our intelligence agencies about the implications of publicly sharing the details of an FBI investigation which has been provided by our ally,” Turnbull said he had.
Labor is critical of Hastie. Frontbencher Anthony Albanese accused him of “probably rogue actions” and questioned his release of information received in the US briefing.
The speech flushed out Chau. His lawyer on Wednesday issued a statement saying Chau was “very disappointed that an elected representative would use the cover of parliamentary privilege to repeat old claims and attack his reputation just weeks before some of these matters are tested in court.
“Mr Hastie purports to be acting in the interest of Australians. It seems he has forgotten or disregarded the right all Australian citizens have to a presumption of innocence unless proven otherwise. Our client has not been charged with any offence which makes Mr Hastie’s attack all the more extraordinary,” the statement said.
Hastie’s action was highly unusual as well as controversial. Members, and especially the chair, of this bipartisan parliamentary committee, which considers legislation relating to security and receives a good deal of confidential information, have usually been very discreet in their public comments.
Even apart from the Hastie affair, this has been a testing week in the Australia-China relationship.
After Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the margins of a G20 gathering in Argentina (they actually had two sessions, one informal, the other formal) the tone from the two sides was very different.
Bishop’s take was all about how “very warm and candid and constructive” the discussions had been. The Chinese version was blunter: Wang Yi had said Australia needed to “take off its tinted glasses to look at China’s development from a more positive angle.”
An extreme version of China’s state of mind came in an editorial in the Global Times, a state-owned fiercely nationalistic publication.
It was a rant, suggesting actions against Australia on the trade front, and indicating Turnbull could usefully stay away from visiting China for “a few years”.
“Since the beginning of this year, Australia has revealed a friendly attitude on a few occasions in apparent attempts to soothe China relations. However, it is necessary for China to leave Australia hanging for a while, instead of being too quick to bury the hatchet whenever China tries to put a smile on its face,” the editorial said.
That was written before the Hastie speech.
In an address on Wednesday titled “Australia’s Deepening Economic Relationship with China: Opportunities and Risks”, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe had a message about getting on.
Lowe reiterated that the deepening of our economic relationship with China had greatly benefited Australia – and also benefited China. “This means that both countries have a strong interest in managing this important relationship well. It is in our mutual interests to do this.
“Together, we can also be a strong voice for the importance of an open international trading system and for effective regional cooperation,” Lowe told the Australia-China Relations Institute in Sydney.
“We will, of course, have differences from time to time, but we will surely be better placed to deal with these if we understand one another well.
“Building strong connections across business, finance, politics, academia and the community more generally is important to deepening this understanding,” he said.
But in an increasingly complex relationship, understanding one another well can involve all sorts of challenges.
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.
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.
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.
Particularly 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.
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.
“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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He 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.
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.
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.
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.
By 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.