Australians have sliced their support for the $254 billion stage three tax cuts in a sign of concern about the scale of the changes, amid early indications that people could accept smaller tax breaks on superannuation in the May budget.
Backing for the sweeping cuts to personal income tax has fallen from 57 per cent to 41 per cent over the past four months at a time of rising anxiety about the cost of living and warnings about the hit to the federal budget from a tax law that delivers the greatest gains to wealthier workers.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers has spoken about the need to target help to low and middle-income workers.Credit:Oscar Colman, Louie Douvis
An exclusive survey reveals a sharp increase in the number of voters who are unsure about the change – up from 20 per cent to 38 per cent – since an intense debate last October when Treasurer Jim Chalmers spoke about the need to target help to low and middle-income workers.
However, results over three surveys reveal a volatile mood in the community on the divisive stage three cuts. Support was only 38 per cent in the weeks before the October budget but surged to 57 per cent when the government confirmed the package.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese ended the debate over stage three on October 9 by standing by his promise at last year’s election to keep the legislated tax cuts in place. The issue has been a central dispute in national politics given Labor went to the 2019 election with a plan to scrap them.
The new survey, conducted by Resolve Strategic for this masthead, also shows 34 per cent of voters support a reduction in tax concessions on superannuation. The government is caught in a difficult political debate about whether to change rules on super in the May budget.
Under the stage three tax cuts, which are due to take effect from July next year, the 37 per cent marginal tax rate for those earning over $120,000 will be axed and the 32.5 per cent tax rate will be cut to 30 per cent for people earning between $45,000 and $200,000.
Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley warned the government against changing the stage three cuts because voters were promised them at the election and expected them next year.
“This is tax relief that millions of Australians were promised, millions of Australians deserve, and millions of Australians are expecting. These tax cuts are in law. They passed the parliament,” she said.
“Labor voted for them, and Anthony Albanese vowed that he wouldn’t change them.”
But dozens of the nation’s top economists have called for changes to the package – including the option of dropping it entirely – because of the cost to the budget and the fear that the boost to households would push up inflation.
“There is a case for change if you’re dealing with broad tax reform, but on their own they are unfair,” former competition regulator Allan Fels said last December.
The Resolve Political Monitor found that 38 per cent of voters supported the stage three tax cuts in the first week of October when Chalmers aired concern about the cost of the tax relief. Another 20 per cent opposed them.
The next survey, conducted at the end of that month after the cuts were cemented in the October 25 budget, found support for stage three had soared to 57 per cent, while 23 per cent were against it.
But this month’s survey found support had tumbled to 41 per cent on the same question. Opposition was relatively unchanged at 21 per cent.
Resolve director Jim Reed said the fall in support was somewhat surprising when the cost of living was so prominent in people’s minds, but he noted that voters were concerned about the impact on the budget and were responding to the government’s messages.
“Support for the cuts can clearly be influenced either way by political action and events, which is logical given they remain hypothetical and most people are not across the detail at this stage,” he said.
“You can always take people with you on a policy journey, but you must be committed. You cannot fly a kite for change and then waver and retreat. You must state your case, stake your reputation, invest time and effort.”
The question was: “The stage three tax cuts are already legislated to happen in 2024 but can be repealed before then if the government chooses to do so. These tax cuts would mean everyone earning between $45,000 and $200,000 a year would pay a single 30 per cent tax rate on that part of their income. Do you support or oppose this tax cut coming into effect in 2024?“
In the latest survey, voters were also asked about the option of modifying rather than dropping the tax cuts, given debate within the government about whether to allow benefits to flow to workers at the lower end of the income scale while stopping or minimising the benefits for those earning more than $200,000.
Asked if they supported a modification of the tax cuts to limit the benefits to people earning less than $200,000, 46 per cent were in favour and 19 per cent were against, with the others unsure.
Support for this modification was higher among Labor voters, at 52 per cent, compared with Coalition voters, at 38 per cent.
The question was: “Some people have suggested that the stage three tax cuts should be modified so that only those earning between $45,000 and $200,000 benefit from them, and those earning over $200,000 do not have a reduction in that part of their income. If they were to go ahead, do you support or oppose this change to the stage three tax cuts.”
Asked about a reduction in tax concessions on superannuation, 34 per cent supported this in the February survey compared with 31 per cent on the same question in late October. But the issue remains divisive and 28 per cent said they opposed such a change in the latest survey, up from 26 per cent in October. The number of undecided voters fell.
The question was: “If the federal government were to increase tax revenue to cover spending and reduce debt, which of the following options would you support or oppose?” It then offered the option of “a reduction in tax concessions for superannuation”.
“This is tricky territory for Labor,” said Reed of the superannuation findings. “You can argue that change is needed, but being seen to break promises and make people’s money situation worse are territories that have a political cost.
“Even if people don’t think they will be affected now, our research shows that aspirational voters can object to them anyway.”
The Resolve Political Monitor surveyed 1604 eligible voters from February 15 to 19, producing results with a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.
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