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Turnbull unfazed by tax, marriage blocks

AAP logoAAP 11/10/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

Labor's rejection of the same-sex marriage plebiscite and business tax cuts have failed to dent Malcolm Turnbull's belief his government is delivering on its election agenda.

The Labor caucus on Tuesday unanimously voted to reject the coalition's plebiscite bill, which Attorney-General George Brandis described as "driving a stake through the heart of marriage equality".

Asked whether he would allow a free vote in parliament if the bill failed, the prime minister told reporters his focus was getting the numbers in the Senate to pass it.

However he was bluntly told during a discussion in the coalition joint party room on Tuesday the election commitment was a plebiscite, not a parliamentary vote.

Speaking outside the party room, Nationals MP Andrew Broad signalled he would withdraw his support for the government - which governs by a single seat in the lower house - if Mr Turnbull changed tack and allowed a vote in parliament.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said having a few conservatives threaten to bring down the government was Mr Turnbull's problem.

"He signed up to Tony Abbott's agenda, he signed up to Tony Abbott's plebiscite, he has to live with his conscience," Mr Shorten said.

The Labor rejection came as it received advice from mental health experts and families of gay and lesbian children that the plebiscite would be expensive, divisive and harmful.

The prime minister told coalition colleagues at a meeting they must remain united if the government is to deliver on its election agenda.

"We are here to lay the foundations of prosperity and we are giving effect to our election commitments," he said.

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop urged colleagues in the meeting to focus on issues voters were most concerned, citing jobs, urban crime and roads.

"They do not care about peripheral issues," she said.

Labor also confirmed it would not support the government's plan to cut taxes for businesses turning over less than $10 million a year, as part of a broader package to reduce all company tax.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the opposition was standing in the way of what Treasury had modelled as a one point rise in GDP and wages and a three per cent hike in investment.

Labor senators on a committee which scrutinised the tax break bill said the $50 billion could be better spent on infrastructure, health and education.

Mr Shorten sought to return the debate to health, challenging the prime minister in parliament to repeat his election promise that no Australian would pay more to see a doctor because of his six-year Medicare schedule freeze.

Mr Turnbull said the freeze had been introduced by Labor as a "cost measure" and maintained by the coalition for the same reason.

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