Mungo MacCallum: Coalition's corporate tax cuts collide with One Nation fall-out

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Senator Pauline Hanson and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann (snapshots via YouTube).

Like the leaves of a diseased and dying tree, the One Nation senators continue to fall. 

After the 2016 double dissolution election – the one Malcolm Turnbull called to clean fringe dwellers like One Nation out of the Senate – Senator Pauline Hanson emerged with four followers.  

Two of them – Malcolm Roberts in Queensland and Rod Culleton in Western Australia – were promptly rubbed out by the High Court and Federal Court, respectively.

Roberts’s replacement, Fraser Anning, jumped ship as soon as he arrived and Culleton’s replacement, Peter Georgiou, arrived blinking in the sunlight with his leader last week, looking as if he was not sure where he was but wished it wasn’t there.

Which leaves Senator Brian Burston from New South Wales — but inevitably, not for much longer. Burston is (or perhaps was) probably the sanest of all past and present One Nation Senators, but that’s not saying much.

Presumably, he is just as deluded as his leader (or perhaps former leader) about climate change, Asians, Muslims and the ABC, and he is certainly a real patsy when it comes to negotiating on tax reform. He tells us proudly that he had a handshake agreement with Mathias Cormann to deliver the corporate tax cuts the Finance Minister so desperately wants legislated and, as a man of his word, he will honour his commitment.

This is all very worthy, but it does not excuse his naiveté in negotiating another of Pauline Hanson’s wish lists on the basis of Cormann’s robotic assurances that the fabled Enterprise Tax Plan would actually deliver jobs, growth and wage rises.

As a small businessman himself, Burston should know the ugly reality: far from increasing employment, the tax cuts for small businesses – those under $150 million – have now been in place for more than two years and the outcome has been a paltry 0.9% increase in jobs, compared to the rate of 2.3% across all businesses — the ones that did not get the cut.

So despite all the triumphalism over Malcolm Turnbull’s million jobs, including the 400,000 in the last financial year, the corporate tax cuts had nothing to do with it, if they were not actually counter-productive. Yet again, trickle-down economics was exposed as a failure, as it has been so many times around the world.

If Burston ever goes back to being a small businessman, he should be very careful about Cormann bursting through the door offering unmissable bargains in gold bricks, snake oil and the deeds to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And while he is at it, he should surround the place with razor wire and savage guard dogs to prevent the hucksters of Newspoll setting him up for another pratfall.

According to The Australian (where else?), Burston’s desertion of Hanson’s decision to reject Cormann’s deal was driven at least partly by the Newspoll of the preceding Monday, which announced breathlessly that 63% of all voters wanted all the company tax cuts implemented in one form or another and 60% of One Nation voters agreed with them.

This result seemed simply unbelievable and, on closer inspection, it was simply unbelievable because the polling question was deliberately and deceptively skewed to produce a positive result. Newspoll did not ask: Do you support the Government’s plan for a further $36 billion corporate tax cuts for businesses larger than $50 million? The answer, as has been repeatedly shown by more straightforward surveys, would almost certainly have been No, which was not what Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda unit required.

So, the question became not whether, but when: would you like the tax cuts implemented immediately, or in stages? Of course, you may say: not at all, but that is very much the last option. What you really have to decide is whether you want them rammed home at once or eased in gradually. Unsurprisingly most said, in effect, if it has to happen, let’s get it over with.

Given the phrasing of the question, it is also likely that some respondents misunderstood it to include the personal tax cuts, which they may well favour. The question assumes its answer; if pollsters wanted a different result, we might ask, did you want the Government to give $36 billion of tax cuts to big business, including the bastard banks, or would you prefer it spent on schools, hospitals and reducing the budget?

This Newspoll was not only worthless, but consciously misleading, but our national daily trumpeted it as yet another exclusive by the Liberal Party’s stenographer, Simon Benson. And, in the process, he managed to bury the real news that not only had Malcolm Turnbull lost his 33rd successive Newspoll, but the Coalition had once again gone backwards.

Even by the abysmal standards of The Australian, this is bias and dishonesty on an extraordinary level. But, apparently, it helped sway Brian Burston — one more Senate vote for Cormann, but at the expense of irrevocably offending Pauline Hanson, who still has two of them. And, in any case, Cormann is still four short of the magic 39 he needs.

Obviously, he wants all the help Murdoch is prepared to provide, which is apparently whatever it takes, given the blitzkrieg of last week. But it may not have helped much. In Parliament, Turnbull and his troops remained adamant that the key to success is to scream ever more loudly and incoherently about the horrors of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

But the media was more interested in, successively, Member for New England Barnaby Joyce, Senator Michaelia Cash and Health Minister Greg Hunt — all of whom provided the usual distractions and diversions for which the Turnbull Government has become justly renowned. What the Newspoll actually showed was that the voters may cordially dislike Shorten but they continue to despair of Turnbull’s dysfunctional Coalition. And the events of last week are unlikely to make them change their minds.

Mungo MacCallum is a veteran journalist who worked for many years in the Canberra Press Gallery. This article was published on 'Pearls and Irritations' and is republished with permission.

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