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Malcolm Turnbull signals tax cuts as he fends off leadership questions

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Malcolm Turnbull has signalled his plan to include personal income tax cuts in the May federal budget while fending off questions over his leadership ahead of a key “deadline” in the opinion polls.

The Prime Minister declared that his job was “the gift of the party room” and could be decided only by his federal Liberal colleagues and not by the deadline of “30 Newspolls in a row” - a standard that he applied to his predecessor Tony Abbott.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull signals his plan to include personal income tax cuts in the May federal budget while fending off questions over his leadership ahead of a key “deadline” in the opinion polls.

The sparring over the leadership question on ABC TV's 7.30 on Monday night came after Mr Turnbull nominated jobs as the key theme of the budget and left no doubt that he wanted to include personal tax cuts in the economic plan.

“That is our goal. As you know, our aim, our focus is to provide tax relief for middle income Australians – further tax relief, we’ve already done that of course,” he told interviewer Leigh Sales.

Asked if that meant personal income tax cuts, he said “obviously”, but added one caveat.

“The timing and the extent of that is dependent, obviously, on the state of the budget. The budget’s eight weeks away so we don’t have long to wait,” he said.

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Mr Turnbull said the government was sticking with the company tax cuts that are blocked in the parliament, would try to get them passed and would keep them as policy at the next election.

“Our aim is to get them passed before the next election, obviously, but we are committed to them,” he said.

Days after sealing an agreement with US President Donald Trump to exempt Australia from steel tariffs, the government is trying to focus attention on trade, the economy and the creation of 403,000 jobs in the past year.

“The economy is powering up, it’s powering along, we’re delivering the incentives and the encouragement that it needs – whether it’s trade, whether it’s business tax cuts, whether it’s personal tax relief, whether it’s infrastructure investment,” Mr Turnbull said.

He conceded that wages growth was only slightly ahead of inflation, but said stronger investment would encourage jobs growth and higher wages over time.

“The big difference between my government and our opponents in the Labor Party is they do not have one policy that would encourage one business to invest one dollar or hire one new employee,” Mr Turnbull said.

On the leadership, he avoided repeating a statement of “regret” last year that he had nominated Mr Abbott’s poor opinion polls as a reason for challenging for the leadership in September 2015.

After a long slump in the polls, Mr Turnbull is only weeks away from matching the “30 Newspolls in a row” that he cited against Mr Abbott.

“The reality is that the party room determines who leads the Liberal Party,” the Prime Minister said.

“Why doesn’t it apply to you, yourself?” Sales asked.

“What should apply to me? What are you suggesting I should do?” Mr Turnbull replied.

Sales asked whether the Prime Minister intended to step down or open a leadership spill or some other course, arguing that he “set the standard” of the polls.

Mr Turnbull fended off the question by saying that he had launched his leadership bid in September 2015 with a call for better economic leadership and better governance.

“I think the strongest jobs growth in our nation’s history probably passes the test,” he said.

“As far as the leadership of the Liberal Party is concerned, it is, as John Howard always said, in the gift of the party room. That is the test.”

Asked if he regretted putting the issue on the table, Mr Turnbull said others were free to refer to his past comments, but said that did not determine what he would do.

“The fact is that the leadership of the Liberal Party is determined by the party room. It’s not determined by Newspoll, it’s not determined by the 7:30 Report, it’s determined by the party room,” Mr Turnbull said.

Sales quipped: “Thank you, because I don’t want that responsibility.”

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