Australia’s government loses by-elections, denting re-election prospects

Australian Federal Labor is ecstatic about its four Super Saturday by-election wins – but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the ALP has “nothing to crow about”.

The ALP won Braddon, Longman, Perth and Fremantle, and crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie defeated Liberal Georgina Downer in Mayo.

Labor leader Bill Shorten called the results a sign that Labor would win the next federal election.

But Mr Turnbull was not buying that analysis on Sunday.

“I see that Bill Shorten is punching the air like he’s won the World Cup,” he said.

“There’s not a lot to celebrate for the Labor Party. There’s certainly nothing to crow about.”

Mr Shorten disputed the arrogant tag Mr Turnbull applied to him and argued the result reflected voters’ concerns about the health system.

“Labor did well. I think that’s a fair statement, that’s not being arrogant, Labor did do well,” Mr Shorten said.

“If Malcolm Turnbull thinks that Australians are happy with the healthcare system that he is helping fund, he is even more out of touch than I could have imagined.”

The biggest shock for the Coalition was in the Queensland seat of Longman, where LNP candidate Trevor Ruthenberg’s primary vote was around 28 percent.

Labor figures are suggesting that could mean significant seat losses for the Coalition at a federal poll.

But Mr Turnbull played it down, insisting that the result in Longman was an “average or conventional swing in a by-election”.

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“There is nothing remarkable about it at all.”

Tax cuts for big businesses under fresh scrutiny

The Coalition lost in all three seats it contested in Saturday’s by-elections, and Mr Turnbull pledged to look “seriously, thoughtfully and humbly” at the results.

The dramatic fall in the LNP vote in Longman, as well as the other defeats, has prompted debate about whether the Coalition should drop its plan to cut the corporate tax rate.

Labor campaigned heavily against the cuts and Mr Shorten repeatedly argued his party would spend on health and education instead of giving tax breaks to “the big end of town”.

On Sunday, Mr Turnbull said the government remained committed to ensuring that Australia had a competitive company tax rate.

Mr Shorten signalled Labor would maintain its intense push against the company tax cuts.

“I’ve always thought that giving away billions of dollars of taxpayer money back to the big banks and the multi-nationals is a shocking idea,” he said.

“We have opposed it and we continue to oppose it.”

Senior Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne told insiders the government would try again in coming months to convince the Senate to agree to the company tax cuts.

“We will attempt to pass these company tax cuts in the spring session and we’ll work with the Senate crossbench to make that happen,” Mr Pyne said.

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He argued for the Coalition’s policy to cut tax for big business, but did not discuss whether the Coalition would persist with the plan if the Senate continues to block it.

So far the Upper House has refused to pass legislation to lower the tax rate for businesses with turnover above $A50 million a year.

Tax cuts for smaller businesses have already been passed and Mr Pyne conceded they were more popular.

“Selling company tax cuts for small and medium enterprises is a lot easier than selling them for larger companies,” he said.

Mr Shorten said if the Government dropped the plan because the Senate again refused to pass it, that would not mean the Coalition was abandoning the policy.

“If Mr Turnbull thinks that it is impossible under the current Senate that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want it, it just means he doesn’t think he can do it now,” he said.

Incoming Labor President Wayne Swan attributed the party’s strong win in Longman to the Government’s approach to company tax.

“This is an emphatic rejection of Malcolm Turnbull’s policies of trickledown economics, which basically boil down to huge tax cuts for large corporations and high-income individuals and wage stagnation for everybody else,” Mr Swan said.

“The price of those tax cuts is cuts to health and education.”

– ABC