SUBJECT/S: Queensland Tree Clearing Laws; Backpacker Tax.

ROBIN MCCONCHIE: Well, Federal Labor is supporting the Palaszczuk Government when it comes to toughing up the laws. ALP spokesperson for Agriculture is Joel Fitzgibbon. Good afternoon Mr Fitzgibbon. How committed is Federal Labor, if you get into Government, in tightening tree clearing laws, repealing the Newman Government laws in Queensland?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Nice to be with you, Robin. Well, I’m glad we are having a conversation about long term planning and that for me is what agriculture is all about. Not just about what we are doing today and tomorrow, but how we make our food security sustainable and how we take up the opportunities that are available to us with demand in Asia, for example. So that takes long term strategies from government and land clearing and environmental laws and productivity, profitability, sustainable profitability will all be part of that equation -

MCCONCHIE:  So you want tougher tree clearing laws in Queensland, you want tougher tree clearing laws in Queensland -

FITZGIBBON:  Well, what Federal Labor has said or the Federal Labor Party has said quite clearly is that the Commonwealth Government - if we’re given the privilege of serving after July 2 - we will make sure that the Commonwealth maintains its commitments to its various international obligations. We signed treaties at the Commonwealth level and not just the Labor Party. John Howard was also very much an architect of all this - because we do recognize we need to be part of a global movement in terms of making our agricultural product more sustainable. So what we’ve said at the Federal level - as a Labor Party - is that if State Governments want to introduce land clearing laws that are inconsistent with our international treaty obligations - signed by both colours of government - both political parties, then the Commonwealth Government will move to redress that. It’s no more complex than that. Barnab y Joyce just runs around the country making out we are going to have Federal Police on farms etc. No we are not. We are not creating any new laws, any new bodies, any new police forces, we are simply saying that we will use the Commonwealth power to override State laws where they are inconsistent with our international treaty obligations. And can I say again, not just obligations entered into by a Labor Government, but obligations entered into by Coalition Governments -

MCCONCHIE: Yes, but is it clear the Newman legislation is inconsistent with those laws, would you be looking at enacting your position in terms of Queensland?

FITZGIBBON: Robin, a future Shorten Labor Government will test any legislation at any State level to determine whether it is consistent with what we’ve decided as a community. What both Coalition and Labor Governments have decided in the past, in the best interest of Australia, and in the best interest of the global community.

MCCONCHIE:  Ok, you still haven’t answered my question – would you repeal the Queensland laws, would you put tougher tree clearing laws to take force into Queensland?

FITZGIBBON: Well, I think I have answered your question Robin -

MCCONCHIE:  Yes you would -

FITZGIBBON: No, I did not say that. I did not say that. I mean the State is still going through its own processes, as has been indicated by the conversation you just had with Agforce. So there is a committee process to go through, that’s why Agforce is lobbying. Now we don’t know where the Queensland Government will fall on these questions. I’m not here to say that we will be repealing Queensland legislation. What I am here to say is that if legislation emerges which is inconsistent with our international treaty obligations, and indeed is inconsistent with best sustainable management and profitability practices for Australian agriculture, then yes a future Labor Government will have a view about that.

MCCONCHIE: Joel Fitzgibbon, can I just take you to the Backpacker Tax, ‘cause I’m going to play you something that you said on the country hour last Friday and I want you to clear up what Labor’s position on the Backpacker Tax is.
“The Opposition can absolutely offer certainty.  Barnaby Joyce can announce today that he’s abolishing the Backpacker Tax and he will have opposition support.  We haven’t seen any justification for this tax because the reality is if the backpackers don’t come here they don’t pay any tax and it’s clear that the specter of this tax looming has already been enough in itself to stop backpackers coming, so we support the abolition of this ill-conceived tax...”
So Joel Fitzgibbon, if the ALP - if Labor gets into Government on July the 2nd, would you scrap the Backpacker Tax?

FITZGIBBON:  Well I meant what I said Robin, they are in Government. If they announce today and, I wish they’d announced it last week, that they are abolishing the Backpacker Tax they’ll have bipartisan support. Here’s the play on their part Robin, they introduced this tax then they say they are going to review it after the election, but they’re booking the $540 million they intend to raise over the next four years. They are walking both sides of the street. But here’s the trick Robin, they want me to say unilaterally that I’ll abolish the tax, you know what will happen then, they will spend the next two weeks still spending the $540 million, which we don’t think exists, because as I said backpackers who don’t come here, and they’re already falling off in considerable numbers, don’t pay the tax. So they get to spend the $540 million pre-election, we don&rsq uo;t, and the money’s not even real. What is the problem with Barnaby Joyce saying today that he'll give up the $540 million and the tax and us agreeing with that? We could do that today. But Barnaby Joyce won’t because they won’t give up the false $540 million they’re going to use to pork barrel around the country between now and election day.

MCCONCHIE:  Mr Fitzgibbon, that’s all very well about the politics but what about the poor old farmers who are trying to get backpackers and the backpackers who want to know whether a third of their income is going to go in tax, if they decide – if the policy is endorsed?

FITZGIBBON: 2 points Robin: this was announced, not in the 2016 budget, it was announced in the 2015 budget-

MCCONCHIE:  Not due to come in till July 1st, 2016 -

FITZGIBBON: No, backpackers have been dropping off since the day after the 2015 budget, the uncertainty is not one of my making. But I can promise to do something by the time we are elected 3 weeks away, then another month or so after that, when the Parliament first meets, and that will leave uncertainty in place for a least a couple of months. Now Barnaby Joyce and I can fix this today, together and just say no matter who is elected on July 2 there will be no tax. But he won’t do it, Robin, because he’s not serious about backing down on this tax. He wants to pretend pre-election he’s going to review it but he’s going to book all the money and he’s never going to make any changes after the election.

MCCONCHIE:  And so you won’t actually say that you’re going to rescind this tax, that you will not go ahead with it. You’ll have a review later on and see if the money’s coming through.

FITZGIBBON: I’m determined it won’t be a question for a Labor Government because I’m determined in turn to make sure I force this Government into fessing up on this tax and abolishing it prior to the election. They will have our bipartisan support and everyone will be happy, Robin.

MCCONCHIE: And if Labor gets in?

FITZGIBBON: Well, I hope there will be no tax when Labor gets in. I hope this Government wakes up to itself before polling day and abolishes this ill-conceived tax.

MCCONCHIE: Ok, thanks very much for your time Joel Fitzgibbon, and Joel Fitzgibbon is of course the Labor spokesperson for Agriculture.


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