Coalition fails to get post-budget boost predicted by commentariat


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

After the release of the Federal budget on Tuesday night, much of the political commentariat thought that the budget would be popular, and predicted a lift for the Coalition in the post-budget polls. Graham Richardson in The Australian said the government would “no doubt get a sugar hit from the budget”. The Conversation

All the regular post-budget polls are instead at least 53-47 to Labor, with little change apparent from the pre-budget situation. In Newspoll Labor gained a point, while in Ipsos the Coalition gained two points, leading to different commentary from Fairfax, which sponsors Ipsos, than The Australian, which sponsors Newspoll.

The last Ipsos was 55-45 to Labor in late March; this seemed an outlier at the time. The last Newspoll was 52-48 to Labor three weeks ago, and was probably influenced by the announcements on the citizenship test and 457 visas.

Here is the post-budget poll table. Two separate ReachTEL polls were conducted on 11 May, one for Sky News and one for Channel 7. They are the first public ReachTEL Federal polls since before the 2016 election. Only half of the Essential sample is post-budget, though this week’s additional questions are based on the post-budget sample.

post budget.

The Sky News ReachTEL was reported as 53-47 to Labor, and the Channel 7 ReachTEL as 54-46. However, both these results were based on respondent allocated preferences. To match polls that only give the previous election preferences, I am using Kevin Bonham’s calculated two party vote from the decimal primaries of both ReachTELs. Since the rise of One Nation, ReachTEL’s state polls have leaned to the Coalition, and this lean appears to be happening federally.

While individual budget measures, such as the bank levy and additional Medicare levy, are popular, the budget as a whole gets only a middling rating on a range of measures. Commentary suggesting that the overall budget would be very popular has been shown to be wrong.

While the budget allocated much spending to health and education, voters trust Labor more on these issues. A government that has tried to cut spending for three years, but suddenly has a poll-driven about-face strains credibility. Labor’s fairness criticisms of the termination of the 2% deficit levy for high-income earners, and the now $65 billion for company tax cuts, are likely to be accepted by a large portion of the population.

Kevin Bonham’s poll aggregate is at 52.7% two party preferred to Labor, a gain for Labor of 0.2 points since last fortnight.

Perceptions of this budget

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

45% thought they would be worse off and 19% better off, for a net of -26. 36% thought the economy would be better with this budget, and 27% worse, for a net of +9. Compared with previous budgets, neither of these scores are very bad nor very good.

Coalition governments do better than Labor ones on whether the opposition would have delivered a better budget. In this Newspoll, by a 47-33 margin, voters thought Labor would not have delivered a better budget. This 14-point margin is about the same as the last two budgets, but better for Labor than any budget in the Howard era, except the 2007 13-point margin, which came shortly before Rudd ousted Howard at the November 2007 election.

In other Newspoll questions, 45% said they would be prepared to see a reduction in taxpayer funded entitlements to pay down debt, while 41% thought otherwise. By 39-36, voters thought this budget was fairer than others under this government. As one of those budgets was the widely hated 2014 budget, this is not saying much. By 71-19, voters thought the banks would not be justified in passing on costs from the bank levy.

In Ipsos, by 45-44 voters approved of the budget, and by 42-39 they thought it was fair; these measure are much better for the government than following the 2014 budget. 50% thought they would be worse off with the budget, while 20% expected to benefit. By 58-37, voters supported increasing national debt to build infrastructure.

The Sky News ReachTEL found that 52% thought their family would be worse off with this budget, with just 11% for better off. 36% thought the government had done a good or very good job explaining its budget, 37% an average job and 27% poor or very poor. 34% of non-home owners thought the budget made it harder to buy a home, 13% easier, and the rest said there was no change.

The Channel 7 ReachTEL found that the budget was rated average by 38%, poor or very poor by 33% and good or very good by 29%.

In Essential, voters approved of the budget by 41-33, though 29% said it made them less confident in the government’s handling of the economy, with 27% for more confident. On both questions, the strongest disagreement with the budget came from Other voters, not Labor and Greens voters.

Explaining why Shorten did not mention punitive measures against the unemployed in his budget reply speech, a crushing 76-14 supported payment reductions for jobseekers who fail to attend appointments, and 69-22 supported a drug trial for jobseekers. The second airport in Sydney was supported by 54-18.

By 51-27, voters agreed with the statement that the budget was more about improving the government’s popularity than the economy. 56% thought higher income earners should bear a greater share of the cost of funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme, while 27% thought applying the Medicare levy for all taxpayers is the right approach. Scott Morrison was favoured over Chris Bowen as preferred Treasurer by 26-22 with 52% undecided.

There was strong support for the bank levy (68-21 in Newspoll, 62-16 in the Sky News ReachTEL, 60-18 in the Channel 7 ReachTEL, 68-29 in Ipsos and 66-19 in Essential). The additional Medicare levy was also well supported (54-36 in Newspoll, 48-34 in the Sky News ReachTEL, 51-28 in the Channel 7 ReachTEL and 49-39 in Essential).

Primary votes, leaders’ ratings and other polling

Primary votes in Newspoll were 36% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (up 1), 10% Greens (up 1) and 9% One Nation (down 1). 33% (up 1) were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance and 53% (down 4) were dissatisfied, for a net rating of -20, up five points. Shorten’s net rating was -22, down two points.

In Ipsos, primary votes were 37% Coalition (up 4), 35% Labor (up 1) and 13% Greens (downs 3 from an unrealistic 16%). 45% approved of Turnbull’s performance (up 5) and 44% disapproved (down 4), for a net rating of +1, up nine points. Shorten’s net approval increased a sizable 13 points to -5. Turnbull’s ratings in Ipsos have been much better than in other polls. Ipsos skews to the Greens, but less this time than in their first two polls of the new parliamentary term.

The Sky News ReachTEL had primary votes of 37.8% Coalition, 34.2% Labor, 10.3% Greens and 10.2% One Nation. In the Channel 7 ReachTEL, assuming the 9.2% undecided are excluded, primary votes are 37.1% Coalition, 35.0% Labor and 10.8% for both the Greens and One Nation.

Primary votes in Essential were unchanged on last week at 38% Labor, 37% Coalition, 10% Greens, 6% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team.

In the Channel 7 ReachTEL, both leaders’ ratings tanked from the final survey prior to the 2016 election. Turnbull’s (total good) minus (total poor) score fell 18 points to -24, his record lowest, just ahead of Tony Abbott’s ratings before Abbott was replaced. Shorten’s rating was down 17 points to -21, his lowest since March 2016.

38% preferred Turnbull as Coalition leader, followed by 29% for Julie Bishop, 17% for Abbott, 11% for Peter Dutton and 6% for Scott Morrison. Among Coalition voters, it was 61% Turnbull, 18% Bishop and 14% Abbott.

For preferred Labor leader, Tanya Plibersek had 31% with Shorten and Anthony Albanese tied on 26%. Labor voters had Shorten leading with 40%, Plibersek on 33% and Albanese on 20%. Plibersek was strongly favoured by the Greens, with 51% support from them.

Turnbull led Shorten as better PM by 47-35 in Ipsos and 44-31 in Newspoll, but only 52-48 in the Channel 7 ReachTEL. ReachTEL uses a forced choice question, and this method usually benefits opposition leaders.

ReachTEL’s respondent allocation problem

As noted at the beginning of this article, ReachTEL’s respondent allocated preferences are over a point more favourable to Labor than using the previous election method. It appears that some of this difference is explained by ReachTEL asking National voters which of Labor or Liberal they prefer.

This is a mistake, as in most cases the Nationals are not opposed by a Liberal, and so their preferences are not distributed. In the few cases where National votes were distributed, 22% leaked to Labor at the 2016 election. Applying this rate to the 3.5% National vote in the Sky News ReachTEL would mean that Coalition leakage would increase Labor’s two party vote by 0.8 points; the actual Coalition leakage is worth only about 0.1 points to Labor.

Ipsos also asked for respondent allocated preferences, and had Labor ahead by 53-47 on this measure, the same as when using the previous election method.

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

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

Coalition two-party vote slips in post-budget Newspoll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Coalition has slipped further behind in Newspoll, trailing Labor 47-53% in two-party terms, despite a pragmatic budget that moved the government onto ALP ground in a bid to win back voters. The Conversation

Labor slightly widened the gap compared with three weeks ago when it led 52-48%. This makes a dozen Newspolls in a row that have seen the government behind the opposition.

The post-budget Fairfax-Ipsos poll also has Labor ahead 53-47%.

The previous Ipsos poll was in late March, when the ALP led 55-45%.

Both polls show majority support for the budget’s tax increases – the new bank tax and the proposed hike in the Medicare levy. The bank tax was backed by 68% in each poll; the Medicare levy rise was supported by 54% in Newspoll and 61% in Ipsos.

In the Ipsos poll, one in two people said they would be worse off from the budget; only one in five believed they would be better off. In Newspoll 45% thought they would be worse off and 19% said they would be better off. In both polls, Coalition voters were more likely than Labor voters to think they would be better off.

In Ipsos people were evenly split on whether they were satisfied with the budget – 44% were and 43% were not, a net plus one. This is better than the response to last year’s budget (minus seven) but not as good as the reception for the 2015 Hockey budget (plus 17).

Ipsos found 42% thought the budget fair, compared with 39% who did not, a net plus three. Last year’s budget rated a net minus six on fairness. Coalition voters were more likely than Labor voters to rate the budget as fair – 63% to 25%.

Newspoll asked whether it was fairer than previous budgets delivered by this government: 39% thought it was, while 36% did not.

Labor’s primary vote in Newspoll, published in The Australian, is up a point to 36%; the Coalition is static on 36%. The Greens rose a point to 10% and One Nation fell a point to 9%. The poll was taken from Thursday to Sunday.

When budgets do not normally bring a bounce for a government – ministers will argue it will take time for positives to show up in the polls – the result will be a disappointment for Malcolm Turnbull, although his personal ratings have improved.

In Newspoll, his net satisfaction went from minus 25 points to minus 20 points in three weeks, while satisfaction with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declined from minus 20 to minus 22. Turnbull has also widened his lead as better prime minister from nine to 13 points – he is now ahead 44-31%.

In the Ipsos poll, taken Wednesday to Saturday, Labor’s primary vote is 35%, and the Coalition’s is 37%. The Greens are on 13%. Turnbull’s net approval is plus one, up nine points since March; Bill Shorten’s net approval is minus five, up 13 points since March. Turnbull leads Shorten as preferred prime minister 47-35%

The Ipsos poll found the government’s promised A$18.6 billion boost to spending on schools was supported overwhelmingly – by 86%. Some 58% backed increasing national debt to build infrastructure, but 37% opposed.

Treasurer Scott Morrison on Sunday continued his tough language on the big banks, which are furious about the new tax imposed on them.

When it was put to him that he could not stop them hitting customers with it he said: “In the same way that banks have put up interest rates even when there hasn’t been a move in the Reserve Bank cash rate. I mean, banks will find any way they can to charge their customers more.”

He reiterated that the government would pressure the banks through the regulator not to pass on the tax to customers. “But the best thing you can do is if you are unhappy with how a bank is seeking to fleece you – that’s what they would be doing if they pass this on – go to another bank.”

The tax was just six basis points, he said on the ABC. “Reserve Bank cash rates move by 25 basis points at a time and to suggest that this is the end of financial civilisation as we know it is one of the biggest overreaches in a whinge about a tax I’ve ever seen.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Government out of touch on housing policies ahead of budget: poll


Ben Phillips, Australian National University

Australians are concerned about housing affordability, so much so that 45.4% say they would be willing to see the value of their home stop growing to improve the situation, only 31.8% of those polled wouldn’t. An ANU poll shows 51.7% of Australians are also in favour of removing tax concessions like negative gearing. The Conversation

The poll surveyed 2,513 people (representative of the population) and found 63.6% were willing to see an increase in supply of public housing. Only 32.3% are opposed to relaxing planning restrictions.

With these numbers in mind, it is perhaps surprising that state and federal governments have done so little of any substance in housing policy for decades, if anything they’ve contributed to the problem rather than improved the situation.

Potential policy changes that many believe will improve housing affordability, including removing or reducing tax incentives such as the capital gains tax discount or removing supply impediments, have all been considered too politically difficult by the current government.

The government has justified this by playing to the fear that the value of people’s home may decline or that more liberal planning arrangements may mean that new buildings may spoil the look and feel of local neighbourhoods.

The latest ANUpoll shows Australians are very concerned that future generations may be locked out of home ownership. Three quarters believe home ownership is part of the Australian way of life.

In terms of their own investments we found that nearly 68% of homeowners cite emotional security, stability and belonging as a reason for becoming a homeowner. In terms of security factors, 51% cite financial security, 42% refer to “renting is dead money” and 41% cite security of tenure and being able to “bang nails in the wall”.

Of those families who have an investment property (17% in this poll) the primary motivation for the investment was a “secure place to store money” (27.4%) closely followed by rental income (24.3%). Only 11.9% cited negative gearing as the primary motivator and 13.7% were motivated primarily by the capital gains discount.

Housing remains easily the most popular investment vehicle, with 30% saying their preferred investment for spare cash would be an investment property, followed by 18.5% preferring to upgrade their own home. Only 12.6% preferred shares as an investment.

In spite of recent talk of a housing bubble the general population is not particularly concerned with immediate price drops, with 85% expecting house prices to rise over the coming five years. Only 5.4% expect prices to fall and just 1.7% expect prices to decrease a lot.

If interest rates were to increase by 2 percentage points, 6.4% of mortgage holders expected to be in “a lot” of financial difficulty and 16.7% in “quite a bit”. Only 27.9% would be in no difficulty. While financial difficulty does not mean default, in mortgage markets it may not take a large share of loans to default to cause financial problems for an economy.

As pointed out earlier negative gearing was the least cited reason for property investment which suggests removing the incentive would at least not make a dramatic difference to the level of housing investment in Australia.

The ANUpoll shows that the public are concerned about housing affordability and where policy is directed at improving affordability they are likely to be supportive. The policy options, be they demand side – reducing tax incentives, or supply side – building more dwellings and/or relaxing planning restrictions, are available, but greater political nerve may be required to undertake such options.

Ben Phillips, Associate professor, Centre for Social Research and Methods (CSRM), Australian National University

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

How the politics of the budget might play out for a government in trouble



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This budget, led by Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull, will form part of the government’s repositioning as an advocate of equal opportunity and fairness.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Carol Johnson, University of Adelaide

Given months of polls that show Labor ahead and damaging internal disunity, the politics of this budget are extremely tricky for the government to manage. The Conversation

It is not just that Tony Abbott’s sniping is causing political headaches for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Some of the government’s budget problems go back to the 2013 election.

In that campaign, Abbott suggested the budget deficit problems would be easily fixed by simply getting rid of Labor, and the government could somehow do so painlessly without cutting health, education or pensions.

However, as then-treasurer Wayne Swan had noted, Australian budget deficit problems were very complex and included substantial falls in government revenue due to the global financial crisis and the end of the mining boom. They weren’t just due to government spending.

Opponents criticised the size of the Rudd government’s expenditure, including its economic stimulus package designed to counter the GFC. Nonetheless, Kevin Rudd argued that Australian government debt was in fact relatively small compared with many other Western countries in a post-GFC world.

Once he won office, Abbott had to face the difficult realities involved in reducing the deficit. The substantial 2014 budget cuts, including to areas Abbott said would be protected, infuriated many voters and contributed to his poor polls and political demise.

The Abbott government’s woes went beyond the failure to fix a difficult budget situation. Other than attacking Labor, it wasn’t clear what its positive vision for the Australian economy was in terms of how to transition after the mining boom, and how to develop new jobs and new industries at a time of rapid economic and technological change.

Tony Abbott’s sniping continues to cause headaches for Malcolm Turnbull.
AAP/Sam Mooy

Replacing Abbott with Turnbull was meant to provide us with such a positive economic vision. However, Turnbull’s mantra of living in innovative and “exciting times” failed to convince many voters. As one anonymous Liberal MP noted, it actually made some voters highly nervous about what was going to happen to their jobs.

Hence Turnbull turned to promising “jobs and growth” during the 2016 election campaign.

However, the Coalition’s narrow win suggested many voters still weren’t convinced the government knew how to ensure job security and a good standard of living in challenging times. In particular, many voters remained unconvinced that substantial business tax cuts would drive the economic growth and improved government revenues that were promised.

Given current levels of underemployment, unusually low wages growth and with inequality increasing, they had reason to be concerned. There is also international research suggesting that corporate tax cuts don’t have the beneficial results claimed.

Fast forward to the 2017 budget, and the Liberals are desperately trying to develop a more convincing economic narrative around good economic management, nation-building, and fairness.

Despite their attempts to blame past Labor policy and more recent Labor intransigence at passing budget cuts in the Senate, Liberal ministers are still having trouble explaining how government debt has increased from A$270 billion under Labor to some $480 billion under the Coalition.

Fortunately for them, Treasurer Scott Morrison now argues there is “good debt” and “bad debt”. Good debt covers areas such as infrastructure that assists economic growth. Bad debt apparently covers areas such as welfare.

Morrison is partly belatedly accepting advice on infrastructure-funding debt from bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, while trying to argue that the government’s new debt policies will be very different from past Labor economic stimulus ones.

Needless to say, these areas of “good” and “bad” debt aren’t quite as simple to define as Morrison suggests. Furthermore, so called nation-building infrastructure spending is sometimes more electoral pork barrelling than economic necessity. Doubts have already been raised over the economic, rather than political, benefits of a second Sydney airport and inter-capital city rail links.

The NBN: ‘good debt’ or ‘bad debt’?
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Meanwhile, Turnbull struggled to explain whether Labor’s National Broadband Network was good or bad debt in terms of building necessary infrastructure.

Australian businesses that are struggling with Turnbull’s cheaper version, with its continuing use of 19th century derived copper wire technology or 1990s pay-TV-derived hybrid fibre coaxial cable technology may be wondering whether the Coalition should have discovered “good” infrastructure debt earlier and supported Labor’s more expensive fibre-optic to-the-premises model.

After all, under Rudd, the NBN was meant to be the nation-building 21st century equivalent of 19th-century government infrastructural expenditure on building railways.

Consequently, the government faces questions about whether its economic policy positions have been consistent, particularly given past Coalition rhetoric about debts and deficits.

Furthermore, while Morrison apparently characterises it as bad debt, providing temporary welfare benefits for those who lose their jobs because of economic downturns or restructuring helps keep up consumption levels. This in turn means it potentially has flow-on benefits for the private sector, as well as the individuals concerned.

It is a central lesson of the Keynesian economics that Robert Menzies’ Liberal Party embraced at its foundation, but was rejected under John Howard in the 1980s.

Does all of this mean that Turnbull is now acknowledging a lesson of the 2016 election: that neoliberalism is harder to sell than it used to be? Are his backdowns on “small-l” liberal values now being combined with back-downs on some of his long-held free-market values?

That seems to be going too far at present, especially given the government’s continued belief in the “trickle-down” benefits of corporate tax cuts and attacks on welfare expenditure.

However, there is some nuancing taking place as Turnbull tries to throw off the image of “Mr Harbourside Mansion” who loves hobnobbing with bright young technology entrepreneurs, and instead stress he is in touch with the concerns of ordinary voters.

Consequently, and much to Labor’s outrage, the government has now repositioned itself as an advocate of equal opportunity and fairness that supports a Gonski-lite needs-based education funding model.

While the government’s cuts to higher education will still have a negative impact on universities, and particularly students, the measures are less harsh than those in the 2014 budget.

It seems likely there will be some attempt in the budget to assist first home buyers. Various options have been canvassed.

Turnbull has already tried to position himself as taking action on household energy costs by criticising renewable energy costs and ensuring gas reserves. Meanwhile, there are suggestions the government will improve Medicare benefits in an attempt to counter Labor’s controversial “Mediscare” campaign at the last election.

All budgets are about politics, not just economics. But this budget will be even more so. Not all the measures are working out politically. Abbott is already threatening dissension over the impact of the education measures on Catholic schools.

This is a government in trouble. On one side it faces internal disunity and pressure from Labor’s emphasis on reducing inequality and fostering “inclusive growth”. On the other it has One Nation’s mobilisation of race and protectionism to appeal to the economically marginalised.

Then there is Cory Bernardi, the Greens, Nick Xenophon and a host of independents and other groups to consider.

After all, the budget is only the beginning. The next test is getting key measures through the Senate, perhaps even wedging Labor by deals with the Greens, so that the Coalition is in a stronger position to face the next election.

Carol Johnson, Professor of Politics, University of Adelaide

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

Turnbull government aims to distance itself from its predecessor with the 2017-18 budget


Saul Eslake, University of Tasmania

One of the primary objectives of the 2017-18 budget is likely to be to put some distance – politically and in terms of economic policy – between the Turnbull government and its predecessor, that of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The Conversation

The Abbott government came to office with a view that any and all public debt was “bad”, and that returning the budget to surplus as quickly as possible was a political and economic imperative. Hence, its first budget emphasised cuts in government spending, including in areas where it had previously promised there would be no cuts.

And it increased taxes, despite having previously promised there would be no tax increases under a Coalition government. The political legacy of those broken promises – and the widespread (and largely justified) perception that those measures were manifestly unfair – contributed to Malcolm Turnbull’s near-death experience at last July’s federal election.

The first budget of the returned Turnbull government will be largely about burying the legacy of its predecessor.

Treasurer Scott Morrison will pronounce the death rites for the so-called “zombie” spending cuts left over from the 2014 budget, which the Senate has refused to pass. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, these are still contributing almost A$8.5 billion to the improvement in the budget bottom line over the four years to 2019-20 (forecast in last year’s MYEFO). It’s also contributing almost A$43 billion of projected savings over the ten years to 2026-27.

The government will of course be seeking savings from the same areas as were to be affected by these zombie measures. But, as we have seen with the announcements last week regarding universities and schools, the savings sought will be smaller.

In addition, greater attention will be paid to perceptions of “fairness” than was the case with the “zombie” measures. The same is likely to be the case with regard to the health measures to be announced in the budget itself.

The budget will also confirm that the so-called “temporary deficit repair levy” will lapse on 1 July. This was the 2% surcharge on the top marginal personal income tax rate which was the only significant taxation measure actually implemented by the Abbott government.

The foreshadowed distinction between “good” and “bad” debt is another element of the budget’s effort to distance the Turnbull government from its predecessor. For all of Tony Abbott’s efforts to portray himself as the infrastructure prime minister, public infrastructure spending actually declined on his watch.

That partly reflected the Abbott government’s unwillingness to accept the advice of then RBA governor Glenn Stevens, the IMF, the OECD and others, that government borrowing, especially at record low interest rates, to fund well-targeted infrastructure investment was a good thing.

In this year’s budget, the government will foreshadow additional borrowing in order to finance additional infrastructure spending. Some of this will be on projects that would clearly meet Glenn Stevens’ criteria of “appropriate governance” and “appropriate pricing” – such as a second Sydney Airport. Some of it will be on projects which, more likely than not, would not pass those tests.

But the government will seek to quarantine this “good” debt from detracting from its policy and political goal of returning the budget to surplus. It will do this by focusing attention on the net operating balance or difference between revenues and operating expenses – as state and territory governments and the New Zealand government have done in their budgets for decades.

Indeed, by focusing on this measure, the budget might be able to proclaim a return to surplus in 2019-20, a year earlier than projected for the underlying cash balance.

Such an achievement would perhaps allow the government to gloss over the fact that the budget will do far less to address the on-going deterioration in housing affordability, than it had foreshadowed earlier this year.

The proposed bond aggregator will provide a vehicle for community and not-for-profit providers of affordable rental housing to borrow larger sums, for longer terms and at lower interest rates, from the bond markets. This is a welcome initiative for a sector of the housing market that has for too long received too little attention from governments.

But the government is clearly unwilling to contemplate any measures that might reduce the competition which low-income renters increasingly face from middle-income households who are no longer able to afford to become home-owners. That’s in no small part because of the competition which they in turn face from investors who enjoy tax concessions more favourable than in almost any other “advanced” economy.

This competition has seen the share of housing loans going to investors rise from less than 20% twenty-five years ago to almost 50% in recent years.

The only measure which the budget is likely to include as a form of purported assistance to would-be home-buyers – a mooted plan to allow prospective first-time buyers to make pre-tax contributions to a dedicated savings account from which they could later withdraw in order to fund a deposit. It’s only marginally less worse than the idea of allowing would-be home-buyers to draw down their superannuation savings in order to enhance their deposits.

This was a proposal which Prime Minister Turnbull rightly described as “thoroughly bad”. But as a piece of product differentiation from the Abbott government, which did absolutely nothing in the housing arena, it fits with what is likely to be the most important theme of this week’s budget.

Saul Eslake, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, University of Tasmania

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

Merged minor parties chase votes on the right as identity crisis grips Coalition



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Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives party has amalgamated with Family First, which shares similar social conservative values.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Zareh Ghazarian, Monash University

Cory Bernardi entered a new phase of his political career by announcing this week that his nascent Australian Conservatives party was to merge with Family First. The Conversation

The merger makes sense. Both parties advance a socially conservative agenda; both have origins in South Australia. And the merger is a savvy response to the changes to the Senate voting system that were introduced in 2016.

Benefits of minor parties merging

The changes to the Senate voting system abolished the group voting ticket. So, parties can no longer make the same preference deals they had in the past.

Merging, however, will provide like-minded minor parties with benefits.

First, they will be able to consolidate their human and financial resources for election campaigns and the party’s day-to-day operations.

Second, by merging into a “super” minor party, they maximise their chances of winning Senate representation: they pool their electoral support.

This sense of electoral fragmentation has been a greater problem for minor parties on the right of the political spectrum. The Greens, after decades of evolution, appear to have consolidated their role as the lightning rod for voters from the left who are unhappy with the choices provided by the major parties.

No such party, however, exists on the right, where myriad minor parties with competing agendas are clamouring for attention.

Social conservatism

The Australian Conservatives and Family First shared similar policies on a range of issues. In particular, they opposed same-sex marriage and abortion, and expressed deep suspicion about the role humans have played in climate change.

Both parties also sought to advance “traditional” family values and have been sceptical of the socially progressive policies promoted by the likes of the Greens.

But their opposition to same-sex marriage contrasts with others on the right of political spectrum – such as Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm, who supports it.

In 2016, Family First won a national primary vote in the Senate of 1.38%. Its best performance was in South Australia, where Bob Day – who is to be replaced in the Senate by Lucy Gichuhi – won a seat after polling 2.87% of the statewide primary vote. Gichuhi, however, will sit as an independent – not as an Australian Conservatives senator.

Race and immigration

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation made a remarkable return to the Senate in 2016, almost 20 years after it first emerged. Reflecting an approach common to right-populist parties in other liberal democracies, One Nation was deeply concerned about race, migration and religion.

Led by the charismatic Hanson, the party sought to advance the interests of “ordinary” Australians in a political system that it believed was over-run by professional politicians and political elites.

At the 2016 election, One Nation won a national primary vote in the Senate of 4.29%. Its best performance was in Queensland, where 9.2% of the statewide vote garnered it two Senate seats. It holds four seats in the Senate.

Libertarian

In 2013, Leyonhjelm led the Liberal Democrats to an unexpected triumph when he won the party’s first seat in the Senate. Since then, he has built a high public profile by advancing his party’s agenda, which focuses on individual liberties and freedoms.

The Liberal Democrats advance free trade, freedom of choice, and winding back the welfare state. The party supports euthanasia, the use of cannabis, and same-sex marriage.

It is also in favour of citizens having the right to own firearms as well as ending prosecutions for victimless crimes, which it describes as illegal but not threatening the rights of anyone else. These include “crimes” such as abortion, public nudity and the consumption of pornography.

However, Leyonhjelm differs from One Nation’s positions on some economic issues. For example, he supports cuts to weekend penalty rates and the privatisation of state assets – in contrast to One Nation’s opposition to both of these measures.

In 2016, the Liberal Democrats won 2.17% of the national vote in the Senate. Leyonhjelm held onto his seat after winning 3.1% of the statewide vote in New South Wales.

Liberal-National Coalition

While the minor parties mentioned above are advancing specific policy agendas, the major right-of-centre force appears to be grappling with internal divisions about the direction of its policies.

The belief that One Nation, Family First and the Liberal Democrats are chipping support off the Coalition has prompted some MPs to agitate for the party to promote more socially conservative policies. Former prime minister Tony Abbott has continued to advocate for the Liberal Party to shift to the right.

As a major right-of-centre force, however, the Liberal Party risks alienating socially progressive voters who have supported the party in the past. And the sense of a growing threat from minor parties on the right may be overstated.

As the electoral performances demonstrate, these minor parties were successful in 2016 thanks primarily to the double-dissolution election making it easier to win seats in the Senate. These parties would struggle to have as much success under the new electoral system at an ordinary half-Senate election.

Notwithstanding these elements, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s recent announcements of changes to citizenship laws suggest the Coalition leadership is responding to demands of the right from within the partyroom. Whether these will be enough to placate those seeking greater shifts to the right remains to be seen.

Zareh Ghazarian, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Monash University

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

Labor gains in Newspoll to move to 53-47 lead


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1710, had Labor leading by 53-47, a one point gain for Labor since last fortnight’s Newspoll that looked like an outlier. Primary votes were 36% for the Coalition (down 1), 36% for Labor (up 1), 10% for the Greens (up 1) and 10% for One Nation (steady). The Conversation

30% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (steady) and 59% were dissatisfied (up 2), for a net approval of -29. Turnbull’s ratings since the election have tended to be worse than voting intentions would imply, probably due to discontent from the hard right, who will nevertheless preference the Coalition ahead of Labor. Shorten’s net approval was up six points to -22.

The deal to pass company tax cuts for businesses with an annual turnover of up to $50 million was announced late Friday afternoon, two days into Newspoll’s fieldwork period. Thus this poll does not tell us about public reaction to the deal. I expect next week’s Essential will have questions on the deal.

The tax cut deal is a possible danger for Nick Xenophon. Minor parties that are perceived to have compromised on their principles in dealing with major parties can be wiped out. This happened to the Australian Democrats in the years following Meg Lees’ GST deal with John Howard, and the UK Liberal Democrats were reduced to just eight seats out of 650 at the 2015 UK general election, following five years of coalition government with the Conservatives.

60% of Nick Xenophon Team preferences went to Labor at the last Federal election, and 40% to the Coalition. If Xenophon continues to make deals with an unpopular Coalition government, his left-wing supporters could desert.

Essential at 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1800, has Labor ahead by 53-47, a 2 point gain for the Coalition since a blowout 55-45 Labor lead a fortnight ago. Primary votes are 37% Coalition, 36% Labor, 10% Greens, 8% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team. Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

28% strongly supported the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act that were defeated in the Senate last week, 27% were strongly opposed and the rest either did not have strong opinions or did not know. 51% supported a carbon emissions trading scheme in the electricity sector, with 21% opposed.

Most organisations to whom money given is tax deductible had at least majority support to remain that way, with the exception of churches and religious groups (34% support these being tax deductible, 51% oppose) and groups that campaign on social issues (34% support, 44% oppose).

Asked whether political parties should be able to receive donations from various entities, individual Australian voters were the only supported source (47-39). All other sources of donations were opposed by at least 55-30, with casinos and foreign companies at the bottom (over 70% opposed). 41% thought activist groups, such as GetUp, should not be allowed to accept foreign donations, with 31% in favour.

50% said it was never justified to break the law, while 37% thought it was sometimes justified.

High Court rules that Bob Day was invalidly elected in 2016

Today the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, ruled that Family First Senator Bob Day was ineligible to be elected at the 2016 election, as he had a financial interest in Commonwealth property.

The Court has ordered that a recount be held to fill Day’s seat. Such a recount will very probably elect Family First’s No. 2, Lucy Gichuhi. Since October 2016, when Day resigned from the Senate, the Senate has had 75 members, with 38 votes required to pass legislation. Gichuhi’s election will bring the Senate back to its normal 76 members, with 39 votes required to pass legislation.

Bob Day was the Coalition’s most reliable crossbench supporter, but it is wrong to say his vote has been missed because the requirement to pass legislation was reduced by one in his absence. A key question now is whether Gichuhi will be a Bob Day clone on legislation, or whether she is more left wing. Gichuhi will not be able to take her seat until the Senate next sits on 9 May.

Had the High Court ruled that Day was validly elected, his replacement would have been selected by Family First. Day’s former chief of staff, Rikki Lambert, would have been the favourite. Lambert is now Cory Bernardi’s chief of staff, and would have probably been a Bob Day clone.

A final twist could occur if the Kenyan-born Gichuhi did not renounce her Kenyan citizenship prior to the 2016 election. In that case, following another High Court challenge, the seat would go to Labor’s Anne McEwen. Fairfax commentator Adam Gartrell tweeted that Family First is confident that Gichuhi is a valid candidate.

Tasmania: Shane Broad defeats Brenton Best to replace Bryan Green

Following former Labor leader Bryan Green’s resignation from Parliament on 17 March, a recount was held Monday in his electorate of Braddon to determine who would replace him using Green’s votes at the 2014 election. While both Broad and Best were Labor candidates at the last election, Best had been a troublemaker in the last Parliament; he was strongly opposed to the Labor/Greens coalition government.

After exclusion of other candidates, Broad defeated Best by 60-40. This will be a relief to Labor, which absolutely did not want Best back in Parliament.

French Presidential election update

The French Presidential election will be held in two rounds. All candidates will compete in the first round on 23 April, with the top two proceeding to a runoff election on 7 May.

Current polls give the centrist Emmanuel Macron about 26% of the first round vote, followed by the far right’s Marine Le Pen on 25%, conservative Francois Fillon on 18%, the hard left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon on 15% and Socialist Benoit Hamon on 10%.

In the last fortnight, the standings of the top three candidates are little changed, with Macron just ahead of Le Pen now after being narrowly behind. However, Melenchon has surged at the expense of Hamon. This probably reflects prominent Socialist politicians backing Macron instead of Hamon, causing Hamon to lose votes on both his left and right flanks.

In the second round, Macron continues to lead Le Pen by about 60-40. However, Fillon’s second round lead over Le Pen is down to 53-47 in one survey, which gives Le Pen a chance in the unlikely event that Fillon rather than Macron makes the runoff.

I will be doing an article on this election for the University of Melbourne’s Election Watch in the days before the first round.

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

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

The government’s company tax cut win a triumph of politics over economics


Brett Govendir, University of Technology Sydney and Roman Lanis, University of Technology Sydney

Now that the first stage of a cut to the corporate tax rate has been passed by the Senate it’s clear the benefits are more political than economic. The cut may signal to the world that Australia wants to be competitive on corporate tax, but it won’t make much of a difference to our largest businesses and multinationals. The Conversation

Company tax cuts have been on the government’s agenda since the 2016 budget, when the cuts were announced. Ultimately, the plan was to reduce the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25% by the 2026-27 financial year for all companies.

The government has secured a cut to businesses with a turnover of under A$50 million, with companies with a turnover of less than A$10 million receiving a reduction in their tax rate (to 27.5%) this financial year. But the second stage of the tax cut is still to be passed, that would give a cut to businesses with a turnover of A$100 million in 2019-20.

The impact is all in Australia’s image

Arms of multinational companies often pay a much lower effective tax rate when compared to their parent company. Until politicians across the globe can agree how to ensure companies pay tax on local earnings, which appears unlikely in the near future, tax rates will remain a signal to multinationals on where to base their business.

The tax cuts have been strongly supported by big companies and even more so by the Business Council of Australia. A major reason put forward by the business community is the need to stay competitive in a global environment.

Our major trading partners such as the United Kingdom and United States are planning to drastically reduce their corporate tax rates and countries such as Ireland (12.5% on corporate trading profit) and Singapore (by 2018 20% capped at $20,000) already have very low corporate tax rates in place. Multinational corporations have the ability to profit shift to lower taxing jurisdictions.

For instance, a multinational can employ tax accountants to structure ownership of intellectual property in a low taxing jurisdiction and reduce gross income by license fees, or via debt loading to a parent company. Tax avoidance is often siphoned through a non-reporting subsidiary, so these accounting tricks occur without the glare of public scrutiny. In other instances multinationals have been able to completely bypass Australian tax by booking revenues overseas.

How it will affect accounting for Australian companies

When you look at what a tax cut might mean to Australian companies, it’s not hard to envisage how a tax cut tied to a specific revenue level creates incentives for accountants and lawyers to exploit new thresholds.

Accounting research from the United States shows companies do take into account tax when considering how to report their profits. For example, a typical strategy is to delay recognising an expense that belongs in the current year, until the next year.

This is usually to make it seem like the company has increased its profits, making it appear better to shareholders. However there have been no studies specifically relating to how companies might do this in relation to revenue (what the Australian government is considering for the tax cut).

At any rate, the net rate of tax on Australian company profits is considerably lower than the current 30% (or the new 27.5%) company tax rate. According to our calculations it should be around 11.3%. This is lower than the company tax rate in other similar economies.

There’s also something unique to Australia which means private companies pay less tax and that’s dividend imputation. This is designed to eliminate the double taxation of dividends in the hands of Australian shareholders.

Since it’s introduction in 1987, dividend imputation has provided strong incentives for firms to pay the full statutory tax rate on all reported profits. The tax paid on dividends flowing to Australian shareholders of Australian companies is reduced by an amount equal to the tax already paid by the corporation, this is known as imputation credits. A shareholder’s marginal tax rate, and the tax rate for the company issuing the dividend, both affect how much tax an individual shareholder owes on what is called a fully franked dividend.

Companies that pay fully franked dividends in Australia, pay on average over 10% additional tax on the same level of earnings than companies not paying franked dividends. Approximately 62.3% of imputation credits are utilised by resident shareholders.

The average effective tax rate of Australia’s largest private companies are much lower than that of the largest public companies (most of which pay fully franked dividends). You can see this in the table below which shows the effective tax rates calculated by two separate studies.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/3Hvfs/2/

One of the studies by the union United Voice looked at the ASX200 companies and the otherby lobby group GetUp examined the largest private companies operated by foreign multinationals.

The corporate tax rate does figure in investment decisions of Australian companies and foreign companies wanting to do business in Australia. However, the rate of corporate tax is at best a second order effect in influencing the decisions of foreign companies. Therefore, the gains from the government win in the Senate appear to be more political than economic.

At best the tax cut may somewhat reduce the burden on smaller Australian companies, albeit at a significant cost to the budget, without impacting the largest Australian and foreign multinationals. Although prospects for further tax cuts for the big end of town (which has a greater impact on the economy) are unlikely in the next five to 10 years without Senate crossbencher support.

Brett Govendir, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney and Roman Lanis, Associate Professor, Accounting, University of Technology Sydney

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

Labor seizes 55-45 lead in Ipsos with the Greens at an unrealistic 16%


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Ipsos, conducted Wednesday to Saturday from a sample of 1400, had Labor leading 55-45, a 4 point gain for Labor since late November. Primary votes were 34% for Labor (up 4), 33% for the Coalition (down 3) and 16% for the Greens (steady). The headline figure in Ipsos uses the last election preferences method; by respondent allocated preferences, it is 56-44 to Labor, a 5 point gain for Labor. The Conversation

Ipsos’ two polls since the last election have both had the Greens on 16%, while no other poll during that period has had the Greens on more than 11%. In the lead-up to the last election, Ipsos had a strong skew towards the Greens. If anything, that skew appears to have increased.

40% approved of Turnbull’s performance (down 5) and 48% disapproved (up 3), for a net approval of -8. Ipsos has given Turnbull far better ratings than Newspoll. Shorten’s net approval was -18, down 2 points.

Surprisingly, 44% supported reducing company tax rates to 25% over the next ten years, with 39% opposed. Two weeks ago, Essential found that 46% disapproved of the $50 billion in cuts to medium and large business, with 24% approving. Presumably, Ipsos did not mention the cost, or which companies would benefit.

63% thought that more businesses would not open on Sundays and public holidays following the reduction in penalty rates, while 29% thought more businesses would open. A Newspoll question from last week found that 59% thought penalty rates should be higher on Sunday, 29% wanted Sunday penalty rates reduced to Saturday rates, and 10% wanted penalty rates for weekend work abolished.

In Ipsos, 78% thought it should be unlawful to “offend, insult or humiliate” someone on the basis of race or ethnicity, with just 17% for lawful. However, Essential this week found 45% approving of the proposed change to replace “insult, offend or humiliate” with “harass”, with 34% disapproving. Question wording can make a large difference.

With Ipsos at 55-45 to Labor, and Essential at 54-46, it looks as if last week’s Newspoll that showed a 3-point recovery for the Coalition to close to 52-48 may have been an outlier. The next Newspoll will be interesting.

Essential at 54-46 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1810, was at 54-46 to Labor, a one point gain for the Coalition since last week. Primary votes were 37% Labor, 35% Coalition, 10% Greens, 8% One Nation and 4% Nick Xenophon Team – this is the lowest One Nation support recorded in Essential since January. Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

40% thought racial discrimination laws were about right, 26% too weak and 16% too strict; these figures are little changed from November.

A question on priorities for the government had 46% nominating health, followed by “ensuring big businesses pay their fair share of tax” at 30% and unemployment at 26%. Cutting company tax was at the bottom, with only 3% nominating it as a priority. Since July 2016, health is down 9 points, education and deficit reduction both down 7 points, renewable energy up 6 and same sex marriage up 4.

41% thought Australia’s relationship with the US was becoming worse, with just 6% for better, presumably due to President Trump. 59% approved of the proposal to expand the Snowy Hydro scheme, with just 12% disapproving.

Newspoll’s additional questions are sometimes skewed to the right

While voting intentions and leaders’ ratings questions are asked in the same format every Newspoll survey, additional questions on the public’s attitude to various issues have sometimes been skewed towards the viewpoint of Newspoll’s publisher, The Australian.

In this article, Kevin Bonham was critical of Newspoll’s question last week on Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Yesterday, we were told that 47% were in favour of a new coal-fired power station, with 40% opposed (paywalled link).

The question is, “Would you be in favour or opposed to the Federal government helping fund the construction of a new coal-fired power station to improve energy security?” It is not established that a new coal-fired power station, which would take years to construct, would improve energy security. Those four last words should have been omitted from the question.

A February Essential found 45% opposed to new coal-fired power stations in Australia, and 31% in favour.

Rebecca White replaces Bryan Green as Tasmania’s Labor leader

Even though the party vote shares indicated a Labor/Greens parliamentary majority, the last EMRS Tasmanian poll had Premier Will Hodgman crushing Labor leader Bryan Green as better Premier 52-20. Partly as a result of this poll, Green resigned from Parliament on 17 March, and Rebecca White was elected unopposed by the Labor caucus. The next Tasmanian election is due early next year.

A November 2016 ReachTEL poll had 31.5% preferring White as Labor leader, followed by Scott Bacon on 19%, Lara Giddings on 15% and the incumbent Green on just 14%. White was ahead in all five electorates, including Green’s electorate of Braddon.

A countback using Green’s votes will be held to decide his parliamentary replacement. Shane Broad and Brenton Best are the contenders, although only Broad has so far announced he will contest. A Best win would be bad for Labor, as he was rebellious in the last Parliament.

Donald Trump’s Obamacare repeal attempt flops

At the 2016 election, Republicans won a 241-194 majority in the US House, and a 52-48 Senate majority. Despite the large House majority, Republicans were unable to pass a bill in that chamber to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was forced to withdraw the repeal bill, and said afterwards that Obamacare would be the law for the “foreseeable future”.

The repeal bill failed because it lost the support of both hard right and more moderate Republicans. Appeasing the hard right Freedom caucus would have lost more support from the more moderate Republicans, and vice versa. Of course, Republicans could have made their bill centrist enough to attract some Democrats, but that would have been unthinkable!

It did not help Republicans that the public was strongly opposed to their Obamacare replacement plan. Midterm elections will be held in November 2018, and some Republicans were afraid that supporting this bill could cost their party many seats.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website has Trump at 42% approval, 52% disapproval using a poll aggregation method. Over the last few weeks, Trump’s ratings have dropped a net six points, likely due to the health care debate.

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

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

Government behind 45-55% in Ipsos poll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Turnbull government trails Labor 45-55% on the two-party vote in the Fairfax Ipsos poll, as the Senate prepares to drastically restrict the proposed company tax cuts and reject changes to Section 18C in parliament’s last week before the pre-budget break. The Conversation

The Ipsos poll has found 44% support the government’s ten-year plan to reduce the company tax rate to 25%, while 39% oppose.

But the Senate is set to back the cuts only for smaller businesses. Malcolm Turnbull on Friday flagged the government would continue to push the full plan, even after a Senate defeat.

The Nick Xenophon Team has indicated it will shoot down the government’s proposed changes to the wording of 18C, which is being rushed to a vote.

Meanwhile, the government is stepping up its moves on energy policy by directing the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to review retail energy prices.

Announcing the review, Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison said it would examine electricity retailer behaviour, as well as contracts offered to residential and business customers, to ensure consumers benefit from competition in the National Electricity Market.

The government is behind in the polls generally, with some differences in the degree. In Newspoll last week, the Coalition trailed Labor 48-52%, while Essential had the two-party vote at 45-55%.

Taken between Wednesday and Saturday, the Ipsos poll found Labor’s primary vote on 34% and the Coalition’s at 33%. The Greens were on 16%, and the “other” vote was 17%. The two-party vote is on the basis of preferences at the 2016 election.

Turnbull’s approval is 40%; his disapproval is 48%. Bill Shorten’s approval is 35%, while 53% disapprove of his performance. Turnbull leads 45-33% as preferred prime minister. Fairfax has not polled since November, when Labor had a 51-49% two-party lead.

The latest move on energy policy follows Turnbull recently seeking guarantees of domestic supply from the gas producers and announcing the government will expand the Snowy Hydro. There is an inquiry into the future security of the national energy market underway chaired by the chief scientist, Alan Finkel.

In their statement Turnbull and Morrison said that competition in retail energy markets should mean lower prices for householders and businesses. But “retail electricity markets don’t appear to be operating as effectively as they could”. The government was “determined to ensure Australians get a better deal for their energy”.

They said that recent work, including by the Australian Energy Market Commission, Energy Consumers Australia and the Grattan Institute, had highlighted significant concern about the causes of recent electricity price increases on the east coast. Submissions to the Finkel review had also raised concerns.

The ACCC inquiry would identify cost components of electricity retail pricing and how they affect the retail offers made to customers. It would look at whether electricity retailers’ margins and profitability are in line with their costs and risks, as well as considering impediments to consumer choice, such as the clarity of contracts.

It would also examine the competitiveness of offers available to larger business customers, taking into account the conduct of the wholesale electricity market.

The inquiry will have until June 30 next year to report, with the ACCC producing a paper on its “preliminary insights” within six months.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/egvg5-68f11e?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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