March 28, 2018 / 5:01 AM / 3 months ago

Embattled Australian PM Turnbull forced to delay tax cut

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been forced to delay introducing a bill to cut corporate tax due to a lack of Senate support, denying him a much-needed political victory as he struggles with poor polling a year from an election.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, March 27, 2018. AAP/Lukas Coch/via REUTERS

The conservative leader wanted to cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 30 percent this week to shore up his white-collar base, after back-to-back scandals left him without several members of his ministry.

But Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the upper house late on Tuesday he would now introduce the tax cut bill in the next week of parliament, which is scheduled for May, after failing to get the necessary votes from two independent Senators.

The delay leaves Turnbull without an upbeat message as he approaches a 30th straight Newspoll, a wide-watched opinion poll which has for the last 29 surveys had him trailing the Labour opposition.

Losing 30 Newspolls would be a symbolic blow for Turnbull since he used that benchmark to justify ousting former leader Tony Abbott in 2015. The next Newspoll is due out on April 8.

“The government’s failure to pass the tax cuts means it has nothing to change the narrative that it is a government stuck in a rut,” said Haydon Manning, a political science professor at Flinders University in South Australia.

“Turnbull desperately needs some good news after several months of negative headlines.”

Turnbull has struggled for months against a tide of long-running scandals over which he has seemed to have limited control.

The second half of 2017 was dominated by a string of politician resignations amid questions about whether they held dual citizenship, a status which is banned for elected officials in Australia.

The start of 2018 was then consumed by then deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce’s admission that he was expecting a child with a former employee. Joyce stood down in February after media reports he was the subject of an unrelated misconduct complaint.

Lobby group the Business Council of Australia (BCA) has been on a publicity offensive for corporate tax cuts in exchange for employing more people and higher wages.

The BCA and 10 chief executive officers wrote to all senators with this promise, but an internal BCA survey of its member CEOs found just one in five planned to use company tax cuts to pay higher wages or employ more people, the Australian Financial Review reported.

“I remain to be convinced that... I should support this bill in its current form,” independent Senator Tim Storer, who joined parliament in January, told the upper house on Wednesday.

“This bill is a narrowly cast proposition of change (and) I have doubts that the decision to reduce company tax for all companies is prudent to undertake in the face of Australia’s budget deficit”, Storer added.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Michael Perry

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