Malcolm Turnbull

Next election will be a referendum on tax: Shorten

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The prime minister has urged business leaders to keep lobbying senators to support corporate tax cuts, as the government put off a vote until at least May.

Bill Shorten says the next federal election should be a referendum on tax.

The Turnbull government has shelved its draft laws to cut the corporate tax rate to 25 per cent until the May sessions of parliament.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann conceded in parliament on Tuesday the government had only secured seven of the nine crossbench votes needed to pass the laws.

Visiting Canberra Hospital on Wednesday, the opposition leader said it was time to dump the $65 billion business tax cuts.

"I am up for Mr Turnbull turning the next election into a referendum ... you vote (Liberal) to give the banks and multinationals a tax cut, (and) we make sure we will fund our hospitals and schools and look after ordinary working Aussies with tax relief," Mr Shorten said.

Earlier, Labor tried to move a motion in parliament forcing the government to admit its company tax cuts put big business ahead of ordinary Australians.

The stunt was quickly voted down 67 to 72.

A federal government frontbencher accused Labor of taking a "Venezuelan approach" to taxation.

Liberal MP Alex Hawke said the government remains committed to the tax cut because of the dividend it will have for jobs and wages in the future.

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"We are seeing that with some of the (already legislated) small and medium Australian business tax cuts," Mr Hawke told Sky News on Wednesday.

"The Labor Party has adopted this Venezuelan approach that you want to increase tax and have the highest company rate in the world and somehow the economy will still provide the jobs and the income that you really need."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged business leaders to talk to all senators.

"I would encourage you to talk to the opposition and the Greens, but it might be a slog for you. You're not afraid of a challenge," he said at a Business Council of Australia function on Tuesday evening.

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh said the government has fallen short in the Senate on a corporate tax cut it has tried to justify at every turn.

"There is one simple number to illustrate why they have failed and that's four out of five," he told reporters in Canberra, referring to a reported "secret" survey by the Business Council that found four out of five CEOs wouldn't spend the cut on wages.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said that survey "broke the camel's back".

"I believe there isn't the mood in this parliament for tax cuts and I think we've seen the end of them," he told reporters in Canberra.

Oxfam Australia chief executive Dr Helen Szoke hoped the tax cuts would be "buried for good".

"The proposed $65 billion hand-out to big business will only fuel a global race to the bottom on corporate tax rates and undermine attempts to tackle inequality and poverty, both in Australia and around the world," she said in a statement.

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