SUBJECT/S: Kidman decision; Backpacker Tax; Inland Rail; Budget funding; Budget Reply

LUCY BRENNAN:  Firstly, the Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison is standing by his decision to reject the sale of the Kidman cattle empire to a Chinese-led consortium.  Foreign investment and ownership in our agriculture industry is a hot topic at the moment.  Do you believe the Treasurer has made the right decision here?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY, AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS:  It is not so much about the merit of the decision, because we don’t have all the information, and that is part of the problem.  It is because he has politicised the process, this is purely a pre-Election decision, designed to take the heat out of the issue in the lead up to the Election and as a consequence, it is sending all the wrong messages to potential foreign investors.

BRENNAN:  What would Labor have done differently?

FITZGIBBON:   Well, again from Opposition, we don’t know all of the detail.  But it is clear that this is a political decision, a decision made with an election in mind.  International investors are looking at Australia now and they are saying:  no - I will now go to South America where I won’t get rolled by a political process.

BRENNAN:  The Federal Government is still reviewing the controversial Backpacker Tax which is due to come into effect on July1.  This proposed measure has been met with stiff opposition from regional communities, farmers and the tourism sector; there is a huge unified push at the moment to have this tax scrapped before it results in some devastating labour shortages – where do you stand on this Joel?

FITZGIBBON:  This has been a circus now that has rolled on for twelve months.  It is hurting the sector very, very badly, in particular the horticulture sector.  And the uncertainly continues, what we do know is that the Government has booked the revenue for four years on this tax so it is a bit cute for it now to be running around still saying it is going to try to fix it.  And in doing so it is only adding to the confusion.

BRENNAN:  Can Labor promise it won’t move ahead with a backpacker tax of 32.5 per cent?

FITZGIBBON:  Labor can promise to fix the problem.  This has caused so many problems now it is clear this is no longer just about tax and I will sit down with the sector on day one of a Shorten Government and fix this problem.  I think what we now need is a mixture of tax issues addressed, but also some broader reforms in the Visa system to remove some of the barriers and complexities. 

BRENNAN:  The Federal Budget has also allocated funding for the inland rail project to help connect Melbourne and Brisbane.  It is not as much as people had been hoping for but it is a start.  Does Labor have a plan for inland rail?

FITZGIBBON:  Well we made a big investment in the inland rail project when last in government.  We continue to support the project.  We welcome the money in the Budget, but the fact is the money is only “catch up” on the two years, two Budget cuts over two years the Abbott/ Turnbull Governments had made previously

BRENNAN:  Also in the Budget there is funding for water infrastructure, wine related tourism and promotion, additional Rural Financial Counsellors plus more money for major biosecurity projects.  This is all good news for Australian agriculture but there are concerns that rural health and mobile black spots have been left off the agenda for now – is this going to be a priority for Labor?

FITZGIBBON:  Well what is really important to regional communities is not unlike what is important in the capital cities and that is good health and education systems.  And this Government continues to make huge cuts in both.  And yes, I was surprised they didn’t do more on mobile black spots – it is absolutely critical.  The funding for Rural Counselling services is welcome but there are many western New South Wales’ communities who will still be without financial counselling services because of earlier cuts.

BRENNAN:  Labor Leader Bill Shorten will put his election pitch to voters tonight when he delivers his official Budget Reply.  What will be on offer for regional Australians?

FITZGIBBON:  I think what you will see is a package which talks mainly about sustainable growth in our economy.  Strong growth and therefore strong wages for regional communities with a strong emphasis on the sustainability of that growth, including for example a big shift to renewable energy.


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