The government has finally lost its bid to give big companies tax cuts, after the Senate rejected a desperate compromise that would have excluded the big banks.
With the Liberals in free fall over the leadership crisis and Peter Dutton admitting he is shaping up for another tilt at Malcolm Turnbull, the Senate defeat of the tax cuts, by 36-30, although long expected, was yet another blow to a reeling government.
Earlier Dutton, on 3AW, said of his campaign for the prime ministership: “I’m speaking to colleagues, I’m not going to beat around the bush with that.”
“If I believe that a majority of colleagues support me then I would consider my position”.
Dutton said he did not think the government should persist with the business tax cuts to the election.
“I would support that money being applied either to households or to a tax cut for small or micro businesses to allow them to grow”.
His stand on the big business tax cuts is part of the highly populist policy pitch he is putting forward, which includes removing the GST from electricity bills and having a royal commission into power companies.
“One of the things that we could do straight away in this next billing cycle is take the GST off electricity bills for families. It would be an automatic reduction of 10% off electricity bills,” he said.
“We could set up a royal commission into the electricity companies and into the fuel companies. I think Australian consumers for way too long have been paying way too much for fuel and for electricity and something just isn’t right with these companies.
“Like we’ve done with the banks, I think the royal commission has the ability to get to the bottom of what is fundamentally wrong in the system, and what could help ease some of that pressure on families and potentially small businesses.”
The Senate defeat ends months of wrangling by Senate leader Mathias Cormann to get the tax measure through. Those against, apart from Labor and the Greens, were crossbenchers from One Nation and Centre Alliance, as well as Derryn Hinch and Tim Storer.
The government has already legislated phased-in cuts for companies with turnovers up to $50 million annually. The defeated legislation would have phased down the corporate rate for the big companies from 30% to 25% by 2026-27.
The proposal to exclude the banks was put by the government as a last roll of the dice. The debate was strung out this week as Cormann tried to swing the critical crossbench votes.
Cormann told the Senate the government understood the politics in relation to the banks, but as for other big companies, it was critical for Australia to have a competitive tax rate. Hinch unsuccessfully promoted a proposal to impose a ceiling of $500 million turnover.
During Wednesday morning’s debate, Labor made merry with the Liberal leadership chaos.
Labor frontbencher Doug Cameron said “The question is when is Senator Cormann going to join his great mate, Peter Dutton? When is he going to join him and when is the end of this government going to actually happen? I hear that it’s on again.” On Tuesday, Cormann declared his backing for Malcolm Turnbull.
The Business Council of Australia said: “The Senate’s failure to support a modest company tax cut over the next decade leaves Australia with the third highest company tax rate in the developed world, and at risk of having the highest.
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“It is extraordinary that Senators representing states where business investment is so vital have walked away from this for pure short-term political reasons.”
The government has dropped its commitment to tax cuts for big businesses, after the legislation was defeated in the Senate on Wednesday.
Malcolm Turnbull said that instead, the government would consider how it could enhance its existing program of tax cuts for small and medium businesses, perhaps bringing forward these, although he gave no detail.
At a joint news conference with Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Turnbull announced the much-anticipated abandonment of the corporate tax cuts soon after Peter Dutton, who is spelling out a number of his policy positions, said they should not be taken to the election.
Turnbull said: “we have to recognise in all of this the iron laws of arithmetic.”
The government is also dropping its attempt to scrap the energy supplement for new welfare entrants.
The policy dates from 2016 when it was estimated to save $1.4 billion over five years. The commitment to the repeal was confirmed this year. But the measure can’t be passed through the Senate.
The supplement was originally compensation for the Labor carbon tax. It is worth $14.10 for a couple and $10.60 for a single.
Turnbull said the funding had already been covered in the contingency reserve so there would be no adverse impact on the budget.
On Dutton’s proposal to take the GST off electricity bills, Morrison said this would cost $7.5 billion over four years.
“That would be a Budget blower, an absolute Budget blower”, Morrison said.
Asked about Dutton continuing to pursue his job, Turnbull said: “Well, we had a ballot earlier this week … The iron laws of arithmetic confirmed my leadership of the Liberal party”.
He said he had had discussions with the multiple frontbenchers who had offered to resign after supporting Dutton in Tuesday’s ballot: “Look, what I’m endeavouring to do is to obviously ensure that the party is stable, to maintain the stability of the government of Australia. That’s critically important.
“The cabinet ministers, apart from Peter Dutton, of course, who came to me and told me that they had voted for Mr Dutton in the leadership ballot, have given me unequivocal assurances of continuing loyalty and support.”
When Cormann was asked to rule out shifting support to Dutton, he said he supported Turnbull and “you’re asking me a hypothetical.”
Pressed, he said he would continue to serve Turnbull “loyally into the future.”
If Cormann shifted support, it would bring a quick end to Turnbull’s position.
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On Tuesday Cormann said, “I disagree with my good friend Peter Dutton. I support Prime Minister Turnbull. I’ve supported him loyally since he was elected leader in September 2015 and I will support him loyally as his representative in this chamber until the next election and – subject to the will of the Australian people – hopefully beyond.”
Immigration has become one of the most divisive issues in Australian politics. It has created open fractures within government ranks and sparked dog whistling; it’s being exploited to nefarious political ends by fringe and not-so-fringe players.
But an appallingly racist diatribe, by a senator who not one in a thousand Australians would have heard of, on Wednesday brought almost all the parliament together to reassert some core values of Australia’s policy.
Delivering his maiden speech on Tuesday, Fraser Anning called for a ban on all further Muslim immigration and invoked the words “final solution” – the term referring to the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews – when calling for a popular vote on immigration.
Anning arrived in parliament by chance, replacing the equally controversial Malcolm Roberts from One Nation, who fell foul of the citizenship crisis. But Anning immediately parted ways with One Nation, and has recently joined Katter’s Australian Party.
Among much else, the Queensland senator told parliament on Tuesday that “the one immigrant group here and in other Western nations that has consistently shown itself to be the least able to assimilate and integrate is Muslims”.
“The first terrorist act on Australian soil occurred in 1915 – when two Muslim immigrants opened fire on a picnic train of innocent women and children in Broken Hill – and Muslim immigrants have been a problem ever since.”
Such are the rituals of first speeches that many Coalition senators and even crossbencher Derryn Hinch (who has been beating up on himself publicly ever since) went over to pay Anning the traditional congratulations afterwards.
But after that reactions were quick, and by Wednesday morning condemnation was raining down on Anning from almost everywhere.
Labor with the support of the government moved a motion in the Senate and the House; the leaders in both houses spoke.
The motion, which did not mention Anning by name, acknowledged “the historic action of the Holt Government, with bipartisan support from the Australian Labor Party, in initiating the dismantling of the White Australia Policy”.
It gave “unambiguous and unqualified commitment to the principle that, whatever criteria are applied by Australian Governments in exercising their sovereign right to determine the composition of the immigration intake, race, faith or ethnic origin shall never, explicitly or implicitly, be among them”.
The motion was the same (except for the addition of the word “faith”) as the one prime minister Bob Hawke moved in 1988 after opposition leader John Howard had suggested a slowing of Asian immigration. Then, the Liberals voted against the motion, though with three defections.
In our frequently depressing and often toxic political climate, Wednesday’s bipartisanship was a small but significant and encouraging moment of unity on what we stand for as a nation.
Mathias Cormann, an immigrant from Belgium, said: “This chamber in many ways is a true reflection of what a great migrant nation we are.”
“We have … representatives of our Indigenous community. We have in this chamber representatives of Australians whose families have been here for generations, who are the descendants of migrants to Australia of more than 100 years ago.
“We have in this chamber first-generation migrants from Kenya, Malaysia, Belgium, Germany and Scotland. What a great country we are. Where first-generation Australians can join First Australians and those Australians whose families have lived here for more than 100 years and all work together to make our great country an even better country.”
While the mainstream had its act together, on the fringe it was a wild ride.
Hanson denounced Anning’s speech. “I have always advocated you do not have to be white to be Australian,” she said. And “to actually hear people say now that, as Senator Hinch said, it is like hearing Pauline Hanson on steroids – I take offence to that”.
Never mind that in her own maiden speech as a senator Hanson had declared that further Muslim immigration should be stopped and the burqa banned. “Now we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own,” she said in September 2016.
Later on Wednesday Hanson introduced her private member’s bill “to give voters a say on whether Australia’s immigration levels are too high by casting a vote at the next general election”.
Then there was that force of nature, Bob Katter, who said he supported his new recruit “1000% … I support everything he said”.
It is never easy to navigate one’s way through Katter speak – on Wednesday it was at times close to impossible.
“Fraser is dead right – we do not want people coming in from the Middle East or North Africa unless they’re the persecuted minorities. Why aren’t you bringing in the Sikhs? Why aren’t you bringing in the Jews?” he told a news conference in Cairns – he could not fly to Canberra and parliament because of a sinus procedure.
As for the “final solution” reference: “Fraser is a knockabout bloke, he’s owned pubs and he’s not stupid – he built his own aeroplane. But he hasn’t read all the history books.
“He didn’t go to university, he was out working building pipelines for the coal and the gas and the oil with a hard hat on. He’s a member of the hard left, not the lily pad left. He didn’t go to university to know the significance of all these words.
“Fraser would have no idea about what that meant. For those of us, like myself that are fascinated by history and have read the history books – it is one of the worst statements in all of human history.”
“He like myself, has had constant meetings and addressed Jewish groups around Australia. We are strongly behind the Jewish people.”
Hanson wasn’t the only one complaining of being insulted. Katter turned on a journalist who referred to his Lebanese grandfather.
“He’s not. He’s an Australian. I resent, strongly, you describing him as Lebanese. That is racist comment and you should take it back and should be ashamed … No prouder Australian than my grandfather.”
If David Leyonhjelm hasn’t apologised to Sarah Hanson-Young by the time parliament resumes next month, the Senate should tell him to do so.
The recalcitrant Liberal Democrat senator might tell his upper house colleagues to go jump, but the Senate needs to take a stand for the sake of its own reputation.
The outraged Greens have already flagged they’ll move a censure over Leyonhjelm’s smearing of their senator.
This matter goes beyond the actual stoush between the two. It raises the issue of when parliament should call out unacceptable behaviour by its members. It has also triggered questions about the media’s role.
Let’s go back to the start. Last Thursday Hanson-Young told the Senate that during a motion relating to violence against women, “senator Leyonhjelm yelled an offensive and sexist slur at me from across the chamber.
“After the vote on the motion was complete, I walked over to the senator and confronted him directly. I asked whether I had heard him correctly. He confirmed that he had yelled, ‘You should stop shagging men, Sarah.’
“Shocked, I told him that he was a creep. His reply was to tell me to ‘f… off’,” she said.
Earlier, Greens leader Richard Di Natale had approached Senate president Scott Ryan about the incident. Ryan spoke to Leyonhjelm. Leyonhjelm wouldn’t apologise.
Subsequently, Leyonhjelm gave his version in a media statement, saying during the debate Hanson-Young had interjected “something along the lines of all men being rapists. [She says her interjection was ‘putting more tasers on the streets would not make women more safe from men’].
“I responded by suggesting that if this were the case she should stop shagging men.”
Adding more provocation, Leyonhjelm said in his statement that while not prepared to apologise “I am prepared to rephrase my comments. I strongly urge senator Hanson-Young to continue shagging men as she pleases.”
The incident has blown up especially because of what followed at the weekend. Leyonhjelm was interviewed on Sky and on 3AW on Sunday morning. On each program he cast a particular slur on Hanson-Young’s reputation.
On 3AW he was challenged by the presenters. On Sky’s Outsiders it was a different story. He fitted the vibe of a program, that stretches to breaking point the limits of the permissible. A strap line was put up of his words, “SARAH HANSON-YOUNG IS KNOWN FOR LIKING MEN THE RUMOURS ABOUT HER IN PARLIAMENT ARE WELL KNOWN”.
Then, all hell broke loose.
Within hours Sky apologised to Hanson-Young for “broadcasting appalling comments … and for highlighting them in an on-screen strap”. It said a producer had been suspended, ahead of an internal investigation.
Multiple Sky presenters distanced themselves in tweets. Hanson-Young announced on Monday that she was seeking legal advice. Letters have been sent to Sky, 3AW and Leyonhjelm. She could only sue in relation to what happened outside parliament.
Ryan – who did his best on the day – has explained that he doesn’t have power to force an apology.
He said on twitter on Friday: “As the comments were not part of the formal proceedings of the Senate, they are not recorded in Hansard and therefore I have no authority to require a withdrawal, nor do I have the power to demand an apology from any senator or apply a sanction such as suspension.”
Leyonhjelm, who is railing against misandry (hatred of men) told Fairfax Media it would be easier to apologise but that would be “insincere… because I don’t think I have anything to apologise for”.
If Leyonhjelm really believes that, he is totally out of touch with reasonable standards of behaviour, let alone how ordinary people think their representatives should conduct themselves, whatever their disagreements.
His conduct is at the extreme end of the discourteous, sometimes boorish, discourse that too often is characterising political exchanges. And politicians then wonder why so many people are angry at them.
As for Sky, its response has been less than convincing – some might say it is hiding behind a petticoat.
Di Natale opined that Sky’s “apology rings hollow when the man who made the offensive comments goes unpunished, the male producers who booked him go unpunished, the male executives who set the tone and pay their salaries go unpunished and the only one held accountable is a junior producer who also happens to be a female member of staff.”
Suspending a producer, over the strap line, is tokenism. The fact the strap line “highlighted” what was said is hardly the point. Leyonhjelm himself said on Monday “the producer was not responsible for my comments” and pointed to Sky fears about losing sponsorship.
Forget the producer – wasn’t it for the the hosts, Rowan Dean and Ross Cameron, to challenge, or stop, Leyonhjelm? Yet Cameron wound up the segment with the words, “senator David Leyonhjelm, we appreciate your advocacy of the individual to be defended against the sludge of the collective”. (Later in the program – presumably after someone twigged – Dean started the damage control, saying Leyonhjelm’s views “are not the views of Sky News”.)
There was not a word about the presenters in the Sky apology – which was not issued in anyone’s name.
As for an internal investigation, is that needed? Aren’t things pretty obvious? Leyonhjelm was invited on to be controversial. He did exactly what was wanted but when it didn’t work out too well, Sky failed to confront the real issue for the network – a low rent program.
Cameron and Dean on Monday night admitted that a line had been crossed and they disassociated “ourselves from the use of unverified rumour and innuendo”. Pity they didn’t see the line when Leyonhjelm crossed it in their plain sight.
The odds were always in the government’s favour in the battle to get its A$144 billion income tax package through parliament.
However much some Senate minnows might have objected to the package’s third stage – taking effect way out in 2024 and favouring the wealthy – they didn’t want to be blamed for denying middle and lower income earners early tax cuts.
Pauline Hanson – of course – attracted the limelight but at no point voted against stage three. But the two Centre Alliance (former Nick Xenophon Team) senators epitomised the dilemma – they voted (successfully) to amend the bill to exclude the last stage, but when the government said it was the whole package or nothing, they folded.
In response, they copped a serve from Tim Storer, the South Australian independent who was on the NXT election-ticket in 2016. Storer was the only crossbencher to hold out.
Clearly the government has had a big victory and Labor has taken a risk in saying that if elected, it will (Senate permitting!) repeal the legislation’s second and third stages, while keeping, and building on, the initial tax cuts.
What’s less clear is the size of the risk for Labor.
If the whole package had been defeated, the ALP would have been exposed as tax-cut spoilers. As it is, middle and lower income voters will know that whoever wins the election, they have a guaranteed tax cut, indeed a rather bigger one under Labor.
From Labor’s point of view, committing to repeal the second stage, which moves the threshold at which the 37% rate cuts in from $90,000 to $120,000, is more of a gamble than saying it will kill the third stage, which flattens the scale, with benefits directed to high earners.
But stage two doesn’t start until mid 2022, so a Labor government would not be taking away a bird in the hand but one that was still on the wing. Some voters might apply a discount to a cut so far in the future, even though it has been legislated.
How voters react to Labor’s position will also depend on whether the government can convincingly sell its arguments that the ALP is dissing “aspiration”, engaging in “class warfare” and, via a range of policies, is the “high tax” party.
Also, the debate over tax cuts can’t be seen in isolation. The opposition has money to use and policies still to unveil. Polls show people have other priorities – fiscal consolidation, spending in certain areas. Voters at the election will look at the full menus before them, as well as the leaders and the government’s record.
Nevertheless, the results in the July 28 byelections will be interpreted as a referendum on the competing tax plans, though other factors will feed into those contests as well. Super Saturday will reset the political landscape in one way or another.
It would have been a huge setback if the government hadn’t secured its income tax package, which was the budget’s centrepiece. Politically, there’s less at stake in its intention to put to a Senate vote next week its tax cuts for big business. On current numbers this legislation is headed for defeat.
More crucial than the fate of the company tax cuts is the government’s long struggle to nail down its national energy guarantee (NEG), with the crunch coming when Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg meets his Council of Australian Government counterparts on August 10.
The tax win has further enhanced the reputation of Senate leader and chief negotiator Mathias Cormann. The outcome of the NEG negotiation will be important for Frydenberg’s reputation.
On tax, the battle was only with the parliament. On energy, Frydenberg has to wrangle state and territory ministers (the ACT is particularly challenging), and also fend off an insurgency from Tony Abbott and other sceptics, who ran interference at this week’s Coalition parties meeting. As well, unease seems to be growing among some Nationals, including frontbencher Keith Pitt.
After an earlier general discussion in the party room, the Abbott band had wanted the NEG plan returned there before the August meeting. This isn’t happening – the next broad party room consideration is due when the legislation comes forward. But that doesn’t prevent ad hoc sorties of Tuesday’s kind.
Abbott also launched public attacks covering not just the energy issue itself but the way Malcolm Turnbull runs the party room.
“I think the government is more interested in reducing emissions than it is in cutting prices,” he told 2GB on Wednesday. And it was “a big mistake for the Coalition to sub-contract out its energy policy to the Labor state governments”.
He left open the option of crossing the floor when legislation comes. It will formalise the emissions reduction target. The critics will cavil at any provision that would facilitate a Labor government moving to a more stringent target. Yet this flexibility might be needed to secure a deal for the package.
Abbott said he hoped things wouldn’t get to the floor-crossing stage but “the executive government needs to understand that you can’t take the party room for granted”.
He complained at Turnbull’s “practice of discussing legislation at enormous length every party room meeting before we actually get to backbenchers’ questions and comments”, declaring this “completely unprecedented”.
While by necessity, “the government spends an enormous amount of time negotiating with the crossbench”, it needed to “spend a bit more time talking to the backbench,” he said.
There are obvious retorts to Abbott’s criticisms. For example, on the “sub-contracting” to the states, it is the states that have the main responsibilities in this area.
As to party processes, while he contrasted Turnbull’s style with his own and that of Howard and others, some colleagues were quick to recall his notorious “captain’s calls”, especially the paid parental leave scheme.
By late Thursday, the pro-NEG forces were mobilised, with an assortment of backbench Liberals (Julia Banks, Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson) and Nationals (Mark Coulton, Andrew Broad) publicly rallying to its defence.
As the Coalition celebrates on tax, the internal heat over the NEG has suddenly been turned up to high, with the disunity going on full display.
Frydenberg’s timetable means he doesn’t have to deliver on the NEG until after the byelections. But when it comes to the main election game, a credible (though inevitably disputed) energy policy is as crucial for the government as having its income tax plan in place.
The Senate on Thursday is set to pass intact the government’s A$144 billion three-stage income tax package – but whether the plan is fully delivered will depend on who wins the election.
On Wednesday the Senate voted 36-32 for an amended package that removed the third stage of the plan. This stage, implemented in 2024, gives tax cuts to higher income earners, flattening the tax scale so the same marginal rate would apply through incomes from $41,000 to $200,000.
But the government has declared the legislation must be passed as a whole, and the House of Representatives on Thursday will reject the amended package.
After intense lobbying of the crossbench, the government is considered to have the required backing to carry the original bill when it is re-presented to the Senate.
Senate leader Mathias Cormann on Wednesday won Senate support for a motion for the bill when it is returned on Thursday to be voted on without further debate. All the crossbenchers except South Australian independent Tim Storer voted for this. Debate on the legislation was also cut short on Wednesday.
Centre Alliance senators Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick voted to strip out stage three, but are now set to vote with the government.
Griff said what while “we are going to make our final decision on the floor”, “we are not going to say no to low and middle income earners getting tax cuts.”
He said stage three was two elections away, and so there was plenty of time to try to knock it out.
Storer lashed out at the Centre Alliance senators. Centre Alliance is the renamed former Nick Xenophon Team – Storer was on its ticket at the election.
“They supported an amendment to remove Stage 3 of the bill … but say they will vote with the government to approve the bill in its entirety when it returns to the Senate,” he said. “We can only conclude Centre Alliance’s initial opposition to Stage 3 was all for show”.
Labor this week committed a Shorten government to repealing the last two stages of the plan if it had been legislated. Instead, Labor would maintain and enhance the first stage, directed to middle and lower income earners.
The first stage starts this year and gives a tax offset to a maximum of $530 for taxpayers earning up to $90,000. Labor would then build this to a maximum offset of $928. The ALP alternative would cost $73 billion over a decade.
An analysis by the progressive think tank The Australia Institute said that almost 95% of the benefits of stage three “go exclusively to top 20%, while 75% of taxpayers get no benefit at all”.
“We’re not splitting the bill,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said. “Our personal tax plan is not about creating winners and losers, setting winners against losers. It is about ensuring that all Australians win.”
Malcolm Turnbull said the government would reject any amendment “because we want all Australians to get the benefit of a comprehensive tax reform. We want to ensure that 94% of Australians don’t have to pay any more than 32.5% for every extra dollar they earn. We want to reward and encourage aspiration”.
“Aspiration is what is driving the Australian economy,” he said.
Bill Shorten said: “Labor is going to support tax reductions for lower paid workers, 10 million of them. …We have a better plan. We’re going to provide a tax refund, a tax cut, of $928 a year … for most people. That means over three years, that’s nearly $3,000.”
Sky News ReachTEL polls, conducted last week in the seats of Longman and Braddon from samples of over 800, gave the LNP a 52-48 lead in Longman and the Liberals a 54-46 lead in Braddon.
These polls represent a three-point swing against Labor in Longman, and a six-point swing in Braddon since the 2016 election. Longman and Braddon are two of the five seats that will be contested at byelections on July 28.
Primary votes in ReachTEL polls do not exclude undecided voters, and thus understate major party vote shares. In Braddon, primary votes provided were 47% Liberals, 33% Labor and 6% Greens. In Longman, primary votes were 38% LNP, 35% Labor, 2% Greens and 14% Others. Strangely, One Nation, which won 9.4% in 2016, does not appear to have been listed.
ReachTEL uses respondent allocated preferences, and this is helping the LNP in Longman. The major party primary votes appear to be about the same as in the 2016 election, but the LNP is benefiting from a stronger flow of preferences.
While the Longman poll is bad for Labor, it is a one-point gain for Labor since a ReachTEL poll for The Australia Institute conducted after the May budget. Individual seat polls have not been accurate in the past. With more than seven weeks left until the election, Labor can reasonably hope to hold Longman.
The March 3 Tasmanian election was a disaster for Labor, and this appears to have flowed into federal Tasmanian polling. Tasmania uses the same electorates for its state elections as the federal Tasmanian electorates. In Braddon, the Liberals won 56% at the state election, to just 27% for Labor and 4% for the Greens.
Analyst Kevin Bonham says that the Tasmanian federal election results have been closer to the state election if the federal election came soon after the state election. In this case, the scheduling of the byelections for July 28 has helped Labor by putting more distance between the state election and the federal byelection for Braddon.
Another problem for Labor in Braddon is that the Liberal candidate is the former MP Brett Whiteley. As Whiteley is well-known in that electorate, Labor’s Justine Keay will not benefit as much from a “sophomore surge” effect.
Sky News also released a national ReachTEL poll, conducted last week from a sample of over 2,000. Labor had a 52-48 lead in this poll, unchanged from early May. Primary votes were 35% Coalition (down one), 34% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 9% One Nation (up three).
This poll was probably taken before Pauline Hanson and Brian Burston had a falling-out. Bonham estimated this poll was 53-47 to Labor by 2016 election preferences.
By 49-43, voters supported reducing the company tax rate to 25% for “all” businesses, a similar result to an Ipsos poll in early April (49-40 support). However, a late March ReachTEL that asked about tax cuts for “big” companies had voters opposed 56-29.
Voters were more favourable to the company tax cuts in Braddon (56-38 support) and Longman (58-33 support) than nationally.
By a narrow 47-45 margin, voters nationally opposed refugees on Nauru and Manus Island being allowed to settle in Australia. Opposition was far stronger in Braddon (60-31) and Longman (66-28). By 59-27, voters nationally agreed that there should be a 90-day limit on refugee detention.
National Essential: 54-46 to Labor
This week’s Essential poll, conducted May 31 to June 3 from a sample of 1,025, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a three-point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up one), 36% Coalition (down four), 10% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (steady).
Essential still uses the 2016 election preference flows, so this poll would be 53-47 by Newspoll’s new methods. Labor’s position in the national polls has improved since late May, when Parliament resumed its sitting.
Turnbull’s net approval was up two points since early May to a net zero. Shorten’s net approval was down nine points to -13. Turnbull led Shorten by 41-27 as better PM (40-26 in May).
37% both approved and disapproved of cutting the “tax rate for businesses from 30% to 25%, estimated to cost $65 billion over the next 10 years”.
50% thought the Newstart payment of $270 per week for a single person with no children was too low, 26% about right and 9% too high. At least 64% agreed with five statements about Newstart that implied it should be increased.
How the Senate has changed since the 2016 election
At the 2016 election, the Coalition won 30 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation four, the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) three and Others four. The four Others were Bob Day, David Leyonhjelm, Derryn Hinch and Jacqui Lambie. 39 votes are required to pass legislation through the Senate.
On a right vs left count, the Coalition, One Nation, Day and Leyonhjelm were right-wing senators, and Labor and the Greens left. If all of the right-wing senators voted for Coalition legislation, they needed three of the five centrists on bills opposed by Labor and the Greens. As the NXT controlled three senators, the Coalition needed to work with them.
Since the election, there have been several changes to party composition.
In April 2017, the High Court disqualified Bob Day, and he was replaced by Lucy Gichuhi, the second candidate on Family First’s South Australian Senate ticket. Gichuhi joined the Liberals in February 2018.
In October 2017, the High Court disqualified One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, and he was replaced by Fraser Anning, who promptly resigned from One Nation. On Monday, Anning joined Katter’s Australian Party.
In November 2017, Lambie resigned owing to the citizenship fiasco, and she was replaced by Steve Martin. Martin joined the Nationals in May 2018.
In November 2017, NXT Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore resigned over the citizenship fiasco, and was replaced in February 2018 by Tim Storer, who had been expelled from the NXT.
Last week, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson and Brian Burston had a falling-out after Burston said he would vote for the company tax cuts, in opposition to current One Nation policy.
As a result of these changes, the Coalition has gained one net seat to have 31 senators, Labor and the Greens are unchanged, One Nation is down two to two, the Centre Alliance (formerly NXT) is down one to two, and Others are up two to six. Others now include Bernardi, Anning, Storer and Burston, but not Day or Lambie.
Bernardi, Anning and Burston are right-wing senators. Including One Nation and Leyonhjelm, there are now 37 right senators. If they all vote the same way, the Coalition requires either the two Centre Alliance senators, or Hinch and Storer, to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.
The changes to the Senate have improved the Coalition’s position, as they now have two options rather than one if Labor and the Greens oppose legislation.
In brief: Spanish conservative government falls, Italian populist government formed, Ontario election June 7
On June 1, the Spanish conservative government lost a confidence vote, and was replaced by a Socialist government. Three months after the March 4 Italian election, a government of two populist parties has been formed. You can read more at my personal website.
Canada’s most populous province of Ontario holds an election on June 7, with polls closing at 11am on Friday Melbourne time. Ontario uses First Past the Post. After 15 years of government by the centre-left Liberals, the Conservatives looked likely to win this election in a landslide.
However, the NDP, the most left-wing major party, surged, and is currently tied with the Conservatives in CBC analyst Éric Grenier’s Poll Tracker, but the Conservatives are shown as winning a majority of seats. The Conservative leader, Doug Ford, has been compared to Donald Trump.
Pauline Hanson has had a spectacular meltdown on live television, sounding near hysterical as she denounced her Senate colleague Brian Burston, who has refused to follow her backflip on the government’s company tax cuts.
In an extraordinary Thursday night interview on Sky Hanson, who accused Burston of trying to defect to the Shooters party, said it was not the first time he had stabbed her in the back.
Tearful and shouting, she said: “For him to turn around and do this to me, it’s hard.”
But “I am not finished, and if you think Brian Burston or anyone else will finish me, they will not. At the end of the day I will win.”
“This hurts me, it hurts me deeply… it means so much to me what I’m trying to do”, she said.
“But I’m going to keep going and I’m going to get good people in that parliament next to me.
“I’m sorry to the Australian people that this has happened again. But it was the same with Rod Culleton and it was the same with Fraser Anning. They haven’t got the intestinal fortitude, it’s all about themselves – self-serving.”
Burston also appeared later in the program, saying Hanson “has her moods” and predicting “she’ll come back down to earth”.
He said they had earlier had a phone conversation. “She was very, very angry and raised her voice. I ended up hanging up on her because I could not make any sense of what she was saying”.
The Hanson-Burston rift has come to a head after a report in Thursday’s Australian in which Burston said he would support the government’s company tax cut. He said he didn’t want to cause angst in One Nation, “but once I make a handshake with somebody – that’s it”.
This defied Hanson’s announcement last week that she was breaking One Nation’s earlier deal with the government.
Hanson’s move was seen as pitching to the coming Longman byelection, which will test the One Nation vote. But this spectacular public falling out and the split over the tax legislation – which comes to a vote within weeks – will undermine Hanson’s attempt to keep the party’s support up in Longman.
Hanson said Burston had approached the Shooters party – a claim that party backed up, while saying it was not interested in picking him up. But Burston said “the claim that I’ve approached the Shooters Party is totally and absolutely false”.
He would still be a member of One Nation, “unless Pauline decides otherwise, of course.”
“I think that there is a way through this. I think that Pauline and I should sit down and have a drink and kiss and make up so to speak if she’s prepared to do that,” he said.
“I have no intentions of destroying One Nation or causing angst – perhaps if I thought the article in today’s Australian was going to do that, perhaps I would have had second thoughts. But I had no idea that this would be the reaction from Pauline.”
Burston was recently sacked as party whip – he told Sky this was “a little bit of a payback I think, it was a little bit of punishment for not supporting her position [on the company tax cuts].”
There has also been a suggestion Hanson does not want Burston as the One Nation lead candidate in NSW at the next election.
Hanson, who started the term with four Senate votes, currently has three – which gives her power to veto government legislation for which crossbench support is required. If she lost Burston she would forfeit that veto power.
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.
The High Court has ruled that Steve Martin, from the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN), is eligible to enter the Senate, dismissing the argument that his mayoral position disqualified him under the Constitution’s Section 44.
After the decision Martin quickly rejected any suggestion he might stand aside to allow Lambie to return to the Senate, despite her clear wish that he do so.
Lambie resigned from parliament last year because she had dual citizenship, inherited via a Scottish father.
Martin said he was excited at the case’s outcome and the prospect of taking up the opportunity to work for Tasmania in the Senate.
Asked whether he might defect to become an independent, as did a One Nation replacement senator, Fraser Anning, Martin said he was entering the Senate as a JLN candidate and there were still a few steps to be gone through. He would not be drawn on anything “hypothetical”.
The issue in the case of Martin, who was number two on the JLN ticket at the election, was whether, as mayor of Devonport, he held an office of profit under the crown.
Former One Nation candidate Kate McCulloch maintained that he did. The full bench decision, which was unanimous, has now clarified the constitutional position in relation to local councillors generally.
Lambie said at the weekend: “My heart is set on coming back to the Senate”.
Martin was “entitled to that second seat. If he wants to run through with it, well he’s entitled to do that. Unfortunately I broke the rules, whether it was intentional or not, and I have to sit on the sidelines and pay the price for that,” she told Sky.
“I’ll be brutally honest, if it was me in his position I would be extremely loyal and I would step down. That’s what I would do, but that is not up to me – that is up to him.”
Next week the court will hear the case concerning the successor to former Nick Xenophon Team senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore, who also resigned in the dual citizenship crisis.
Kakoschke-Moore is arguing the vacancy should not go to the next candidate on the ticket, Tim Storer, who, after a falling out with the party, is no longer a member of it. She maintains the seat should go back to her; she has now freed herself of her British citizenship.
The court also has before it the status of ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher, who did not receive confirmation of her renunciation of British citizenship until after her nomination.
Meanwhile, the Coalition is awaiting the court’s judgment in the case of David Gillespie, an assistant minister.
At issue there is another part of Section 44, which prohibits anyone being chosen for, or sitting in, parliament if they hold a pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Commonwealth.
A tenant in a Port Macquarie shopping centre owned by Gillespie’s family company has an Australia Post franchise. Australia Post is a government business.