by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government says it is “absolutely critical” that Bill Shorten sticks to his promise to support some $650 billion worth of budget cuts.
But, speaking in a television interview, the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly O’Dwyer, also hinted at the possibility of further adjustments to a superannuation policy that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, once described as ironclad.
Ms O’Dwyer said it is for the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, not the government, to explain why Labor is no longer saying that it will support the budget repair measures that it promised to back, before the July 2 elections.
She said Mr Shorten would have: “…no economic credibility if he is prepared to walk back from the commitment that he made to the Australian people prior to the election.
“ Now they banked on over $6.5 billion worth of savings, they banked that in their bottom line, in their Budget figures.
“If they are saying now, ‘no we didn’t really mean it,” that would show that Labor cannot be trusted.
“ We absolutely believe it is important for Bill Shorten to honour his commitments,” Ms O’Dwyer said.
Several Liberal MPs, particularly in the Senate, have been pressing the government for bigger tax breaks on super, than it was prepared to concede before the election.
And Ms O’Dwyer’s reply, when questioned on the subject today, suggests that they may have been making some progress.
She said : “What we have said on superannuation is that as the fiscal pressures increase and as our demographics change we need to make sure that superannuation is fit for purpose going forward.
“That it is affordable, that it is sustainable and that it is flexible and that it allows Australians to be able to save for their retirement.
“We’re going to be legislating an objective for superannuation that says that it is for the retirement incomes of Australians that will either supplement or substitute for the Age Pension.
“What we’re doing at the moment is we are having discussions with stakeholders, we’re having discussions with colleagues as we would ordinarily do…”
She said that is being done with an open mind.
“ We’re encouraging people to put money into their spouse’s superannuation if they’ve got a lower income spouse.
“And we’re giving them a tax offset to do that.
“ We’re making it a level playing field for people who want to be able to have tax deductions for their superannuation contributions so that if they’re employed by a small business that doesn’t actually offer this, they’re not put at a disadvantage.
“ We’re creating a level playing field for people to be able to contribute to their superannuation because at the end of the day, it’s their retirement income and we want them to be able to have a good and strong retirement,” Ms O’Dwyer said.
by Alan Thornhill
Young travellers will avoid Australia if the Federal government does not scrap its planned backpacker tax, tourism and transport operators warned today.
Margy Osmond, CEO of the Tourism and Transport Forum, said Australia would see an even bigger exodus of young backpackers from Australia if the government persists with the tax..
The backpacker tax, introduced in the last Federal budget, would have seen backpackers paying 32.5 cents in the dollar in tax, from the first dollar they earnt in Australia.
At present working holidaymakers only pay tax on earnings above the $18,200 tax threshold.
However the government announced before the July 2 election that it would review working holiday visas and postpone any changes to the current tax system until January next year.
The delay, in implementing the new backpacker tax will cost the Federal government an estimated $40 million.
However the tourism and transport operators want it scrapped altogether, not just suspended.
Ms Osmond warned that the most likely result of keeping the proposed tax would be an exodus of working holiday makers to other countries.
She described it as as “ill-considered cash grab.”
Ms Osmond said her Federation had welcomed the commencement of the review.
And she said it would be “… making the strongest case on behalf of the tourism industry for the Government to abandon the backpacker tax.”
Ms Osmond recalled that the Federation had been “…one of the first industry groups to sound the alarm on the impact of the backpacker tax.”
“…and we will continue to campaign for the Federal Government to abandon this ill-considered cash grab,” she added.
She said the tourist: “…industry wants to work in a positive and supportive manner with the Federal Government to grow the sector.”
“But a 32.5 per cent tax on backpackers on every single dollar they earn while working in Australia is simply absurd,” she added.
by Alan Thornhill
Tony Abbott has missed out on a place in Malcolm Turnbull’s new ministry and Christopher Pyne is to become Australia’s new minister for defence industry.
The Prime Minister has also named Josh Frydenberg Australia’s new environment minister.
This has angered environmentalists who say Mr Frydenberg has always favoured the coal industry over the Great Barrier Reef.
Mr Turnbull’s new ministry and cabinet are to be sworn in next week.
The Prime Minister’s decision to leave his predecessor, Mr Abbott, off his front bench comes as no surprise, even though hard right MPs, within the Liberal Party, would have welcomed such a move.
As he promised do before the election, Mr Turnbull generally avoided unecssary changes changes when he announced his new team today.
But Mr Frydenberg will become minister for the environment and energy.
Mr Turnbull said all his previous cabinet ministers had been reappointed although there had been some changes and expansions in their duties.
He said: “Senator Fiona Nash will add Local Government and Territories to her Regional Development and Regional Communications roles.
“Christopher Pyne will be appointed to the new role of Minister for Defence Industry, within the Defence portfolio.
“Mr Pyne will be responsible for overseeing our new Defence Industry Plan that came out of the Defence White Paper.
“This includes the most significant naval shipbuilding program since the Second World War.
“This is a key national economic development role. This program is vitally important for the future of Australian industry and especially advanced manufacturing.
“The Minister for Defence Industry will oversee the Naval Shipbuilding Plan which will itself create 3,600 new direct jobs and thousands more across the supply chain across Australia.
“Beyond shipbuilding, there is a massive Defence Industry Investment and Acquisition Program on land, in the air and inside cyberspace.
“This is a massive step change set out in the Defence White Paper. This investment in Defence Industry, as you know, is a key part of our economic plan.
“It will drive the jobs and the growth in advanced manufacturing, in technology, right across the country. And I’m appointing Christopher to be the Minister to oversee that and ensure that those projects are delivered.
“As I said at the outset, this is a term of government for delivery.
“We will be judged in 2019 by the Australian people as to whether we have delivered on the plans and the programs and the investments that we have promised and set out and described in the lead-up to the election.
Greg Hunt will move from Environment to become the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, where he will drive the National Innovation and Science Agenda.
“Can I say that Mr Hunt has been an outstanding Environment Minister and he served in that portfolio in Government and indeed, in opposition.
“He has a keen understanding of innovation, he has a keen understanding of science and technology and he will give new leadership to that important portfolio and those important agendas so central to our economic plan.
“Josh Frydenberg will move to the expanded Environment and Energy portfolio combining all the key energy policy areas.
“These include energy security and domestic energy markets for which he has been previously responsible in the current portfolio. Renewable energy targets, clean energy development and financing and emission reduction mechanisms which are part of Environment.
“Senator Matt Canavan will be promoted to Cabinet as the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and I welcome Senator Canavan to the Cabinet in this key economic development role,” Mr Turnbull said.
by Alan Thornhill
By late tomorrow (Monday), we should know what the new Turnbull government will look like, but not what it will do about its proposed changes to superannuation.
The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, signalled yesterday that a decision on that matter is still some way off.
Labor called that a “humiliating back down.”
Its superannuation spokesman, Jim Chalmers noted that Mr Turnbull had had said before the July 2 election that the government’s proposed changes to superannuation were “absolutely ironclad”.
There are many critics, including some critical ones within the Liberal party, who don’t like the caps the government is proposing to put on tax free contributions to super.
Mr Turnbull, though, insists that they are needed, to make the system fairer.
But he warned reporters in Sydney today not to expect a quick resolution of this issue.
That’s good advice, as those internal critics, in particular, are very powerful.
And they would seriously embarrass the Prime Minister if they forced him to back down, from a position that he, himself, has described as “fair,” so soon after an election.
Mr Turnbull told reporters today that he is listening “very carefully” to the concerns that “my colleagues and others” have raised at the proposed superannuation tax reforms.
“And they will go through the normal Cabinet and party room process.
“We are listening very keenly, I am listening very keenly and carefully to concerns that have been raised by my colleagues, and of course by other people in the community as well,” he said.
But Mr Turnbull added that he would not say more at a press conference.
Mr Chalmers ridiculed Mr Turnbull’s new stance.
“Well, it will be champagne flutes at twenty paces tonight at The Lodge as the members of the Turnbull Government gather to brawl about their superannuation changes,” he said.
“ No amount of taxpayer-funded champagne and prawns will fix the deep divisions in the Liberal Party, in the Turnbull Government, over the mess they’ve made of superannuation,” Mr Chalmers added.
Mr Turnbull also coonfirmed today that there would be some changes between his old ministry cabinet and cabinet and his new ones.
His junior Coalition partner, the Nationals, for example, are expected to get at least one extra seat, because they polled well in the July 2 elections.
by Alan Thornhill
Confidence in Australia’s property market has eased since the Reserve Bank cut the nation’s interest rates in May.
A survey that the National Australia Bank published today shows that the easing is particularly pronounced among property professionals.
In the first NAB Residential Property Survey since the RBA cut the official cash rate in May this year, housing market sentiment amongst property professionals softened.
The bank said its residential Property Index fell to +3, from +6 in Q1 2016, to remain below its long term average of +13.
“Sentiment moderated in all states except SA/NT, which rose 19 points,” it added.
New South Wales joined Victoria as the best performing state, followed by Queensland, the bank said.
“Confidence has however improved, with the national index rising to +29 next year, and +36 in two years’ time,” it added.
The bank said its residential Property Survey for Q2 2016 also found that respondents expect Victoria and Queensland to provide the best capital returns over the next one to two years.
“It’s still a mixed picture across Australia, with house price expectations for the next 12 months holding up well in the eastern states whilst staying flat in SA/NT and continuing to fall sharply in WA,” the bank’s Chief Economist Alan Oster said.
The bank said it had also revised its national house price forecasts for 2016 upwards to 5.1 per cent (from 1.5 per cent). Unit price forecasts were revised up to 3.6 per cent for 2016.
“Our upwards revisions in price forecasts reflects the strength in prices to date.
Over the last six months, Sydney and Melbourne prices have increased by an annualised rate of nearly 19 per cent and 12 per cent respectively,” Mr Oster said.
“However, while there is significant amount of uncertainty over the outlook for prices, we expect that this renewed momentum in the housing market is unlikely to be sustained over the longer term.”
Looking out to 2017, NAB forecasts prices to be flat across most capital cities, with falls particularly in Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane.
While the declines in Perth largely reflect economic conditions, the falls in Melbourne and Brisbane can be partly attributed to added supply and weaker investor demand.
“NAB is forecasting a much softer residential property market, with 0.5 per cent growth in house prices and nearly 2 per cent decline in unit prices in 2017,” Mr Oster said.
NAB Economics continues to hold the view that residential property prices are unlikely to experience a sharp ‘correction’ without a trigger from a shock that leaves unemployment or interest rates sharply higher.
The Residential Property Survey series also measures foreign buyer activity in the Australian housing market.
Market share of foreign buyers in new Australian housing markets fell for the third straight quarter in a row – to 10.4 per cent.
A sharp fall in foreign buyer activity in Queensland was offset by growth in Victoria and a modest rise in NSW.
Market share of foreign buyers in established markets was unchanged at 7.2 per cent.
About 230 property professional participated in the Q2 Survey, the bank said.
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by Alan Thornhill
What happens now that Malcolm Turnbull has at least the 76 lower house seats that he needs to form majority government?
We can expect to see tight government, as the Prime Minister takes up the reins, to start his fresh three year term.
Not quite as tight, though, as the independent Bob Katter has suggested.
Mr Katter warned, not altogether seriously, that a government with a majority of one, might lose a critical vote, if he left Parliament to attend his mother’s funeral, or to respond to a call of nature.
That’s not a worry
Australian parliaments, thankfully, have civilised arrangements called “pairing” to deal with exigencies like these.
The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, though, did raise as serious matter, when he warned of divisions in the Liberal party, particularly those involving the hard right, which supported Tony Abbott against Malcolm Turnbull, last September.
They have not forgotten or forgiven.
That became clear this week, when one member, Cory Bernardi, sent e-mails to supporters, urging them not to “… allow the political left to keep eroding our values, undermining our culture and diminishing our important institutions.”
The ratings agency, Standard and Poors, delivered the biggest challenge Mr Turnbull will face late last week, though, when it put Australia’s triple A credit rating on “negative watch.”
It cited both uncertainties which then existed about the July 2 election results and high levels of both domestic and international debt.
This means that the agency might well downgrade Australia’s presently excellent credit rating, if we don’t get those issues under control, over the next two years.
An astute Prime Minister might see it as more than that, too.
A “get out of jail free card” in fact.
Even governments which want to keep their pre-election promises often find it very difficult to do so.
So what could Mr Turnbull do, if he finds himself in that all-too-likely position?
Mr Shorten warned, during that eight week election campaign, that this is no time to be giving big companies $50 billion worth of tax cuts, over 5 years, even if they are to be phased in slowly.
And a report funded by Getup and published just days before the election said big miners and cigarette companies would be among the main winners, from that policy, which Mr Turnbull repeatedly said would create more “jobs and growth.
The miners, perhaps.
The cigarette companies.
So some adjustments can be expected there.
Nick Xenophon might also be in for some disappointment when he comes to Canberra, seeking more money, to protect the jobs of steel workers, in his home State of South Australia.
Mr Turnbull might even be able to convince voters that some restraint in these areas is virtuous, as well as necessary, to avoid extra interest rate pain, for home buyers and others.
If he is astute enough.
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by Alan Thornhill
Australia’s political leaders will be hitting their phones this week, trying to scrape together enough support to give the country stable government for the next three years.
The main rivals, Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who heads a conservative coalition and Bill Shorten, who leads the Labor party both found themselves short of the 76 seats they would need, in the House of Representatives, to govern in their own right, at the end of the initial, but still incomplete, count.
Late yesterday, Labor had 67 seats, the Coalition 65, others 5 and 13 were still in doubt.
The Australian Electoral Commission had counted 78.2 per cent of the votes cast, at that point.
It will not resume the count until Tuesday, and the final result, for the House, will probably not be known until some time next week.
Mr Turnbull had made much of the need he saw for stability, during the late stages of the eight week election campaign, particularly after Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
However the swing to Labor, evident in Saturday’s election, showed that voters were more impressed with Mr Shorten’s warning that only Labor could be trusted to protect Australia’s health insurance system, Medicare.
Mr Turnbull had sought support for a plan centred on tax cuts for big companies and high income earners.
He had warned that a big spending Labor government could not be trusted to manage Australia’s economy responsibly.
And, at a news conference today, he welcomed a question from a reporter who asked him if the election result could threaten Australia’s TripleA credit rating.
He thanked the reporter and said: “This is why it is very important … for me to explain what is happening at the moment.”
“We are simply going through a process of completing a count,” Mr Turnbull said.
The Prime Minister also said that he could still form a new government, for the next three years.
However Bill Shorten greeted the initial count with a triumphal declaration.
He conceded that the public might not know the outcome of Saturday’s election : “…for some days to come.”
“But there is one thing for sure – the Labor Party is back.” he said.
But which of these two men is likely to be Australia’s Prime Minister over the next three years?
The answer to that question will depend, very much, on their relative telephone skills.
by Alan Thornhill
The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, set out his objectives for a Labor government after July 2, in his final speech of the current campaign to the National Press Club in Canberra today.
He said: “We are setting our markers for the Australia of 2030.”
- Strong, universal, affordable Medicare
- A school system back in the top 5 in the world
- 50 per cent renewable energy
- A first-rate, fibre NBN, putting us at the centre of the Asian Century
- Revitalising advanced manufacturing and apprenticeships
- Building the nation building, productive infrastructure unclogging our cities and joining our economic operations
- 3 per cent of our GDP dedicated to science, research and technology
- 300,000 more women in work
- Halving the national suicide rate, and
- Reducing the rates of ovarian cancer.
He said all of this would be matched with an economic and fiscal plan for the next decade, ” to fully-fund our investments in the future.”
This would mean: “Delivering the needed structural savings and tax reforms that will bring the budget back to balance in the same year as our opponents forecast, and build stronger, more sustainable surpluses in the years that follow.
“Achieving these goals over the next decade means starting work next week.
“My team and I have a clear set of priorities for our first 100 days.
“A new Labor government will hit the ground running:
– Offering certainty to Arrium in South Australia – and protecting jobs in Laverton, Rooty Hill and Acacia Ridge
– Setting up our transition fund to support 200,000 automotive supply chain jobs
– Developing the Financing Mandate for our new $10 billion Concrete Bank, so we can get private investment flowing into public infrastructure
– Drawing up the terms of reference and appointing a Royal Commissioner to investigate the rip-offs, scams and credit card interest rate rorts in the banking sector
– And convening a National Crisis Summit on Family Violence, an assembly of the frontline: counsellors, law enforcement, community legal centres, state governments and – most importantly – survivors.
These are the people who know, better than anyone, what is wrong with our system and what we need to do to end family violence.
“Underpinning all of this – our long-term objectives and our immediate plans for action – will be an old-fashioned focus on good public policy.
“A careful and considered approach – recognising that government is a most serious business, a long-term policy institution.
He said a Labor government would be “Dealing honestly with the challenges we face and being upfront about our plans.”
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
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