June 19, 2019 / 3:39 AM / a month ago

Australian government boosts Senate numbers ahead of tax cut bill

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will need to secure just three votes in the country’s upper house to pass legislation after election results on Wednesday showed his government picked up four additional Senate seats.

FILE PHOTO: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at the Istana in Singapore, June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Feline Lim

Morrison’s position will be tested when he seeks to pass his major re-election policy of A$158 billion in tax cuts when lawmakers return to parliament for the first time since the election — expected to be in the first week of July.

Morrison secured re-election in May when his coalition won a majority of seats in Australia’s lower house - a result he declared as a political miracle.

Confirming the final results for the Senate, the Australian Electoral Commission said Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition won 19 of the 40 seats contested.

These lawmakers will now sit alongside 16 government Senators who were not up for re-election this year, giving Morrison 35 of the 76-seats in Australia’s Senate.

The government previously held 31 seats, leaving them dependent on the support of independents to pass legislation.

While Morrison remains shy of an outright majority, several right-wing independents are expected to support the bulk of his legislation.

“The government has struggled for years to pass legislation. This Senate will be much friendlier, and the bulk of Morrison’s agenda will become law,” said Haydon Manning, a professor of political science at Flinders University, told Reuters.

The conservative government in April proposed A$158 billion in tax cuts over the next decade, primarily aimed at middle-income earners.

While Australia’s opposition Labor party has promised to support the tax cuts for the lower income earners, it has said it will oppose the third stage of the fiscal plan that delivers tax cuts that favor higher earners.

Morrison has said the tax cuts will not be split, setting the stage for a political fight amid calls for urgent fiscal stimulus to boost a flagging economy.

Australia’s central bank earlier this month cut interest rates for the first time in nearly three years, though it warned the economy needed additional support.

Should Morrison win enough support for his tax plan, about 10 million middle- and low-income earners - will receive up to A$1,080 ($742.72) per person.

Economists have estimated the tax breaks would inject about A$7.5 billion into the economy over 2019/20.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry

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