Subjects: Passenger Movement Charge; Backpacker Tax           

CHRISTOPHER BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER, MEMBER FOR MCMAHON: Well thanks for coming everybody. Just when you thought the chaos at the heart of the Turnbull Government couldn’t get any worse. It was only on Monday that the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, stood before you and told you that the Backpacker Tax rolling farce had been fixed. In that petulant press conference on Monday, the Treasurer said he had reached a deal with the cross-benchers to see a 15 per cent Backpacker Tax be passed.
This was after of course, they tried 32.5 per cent, after they tried 19 per cent. Just a couple of days ago, they told you, the media and the Australian People and the Parliament that 15 per cent was the answer. A few moments ago the Senate voted against a Backpacker Tax rate of 15 per cent and voted for, a Backpacker Tax rate of 10.5 per cent.
It’s also important to remember how we got here. We got here because of the Government’s lack of consultation. We got here because of the Government’s arrogance. Again on Monday Scott Morrison said, and I quote, in a very immature contribution: “The Labor party can go jump.”
He wasn’t interested in talking to the Labor Party about a sensible solution, he wasn’t interested in a sensible bipartisan consensus, he said the Labor party can go jump, we don’t need the Labor party to get this sorted.
Well, that has been shown now to be utterly untrue. The solution here is very simple Scott Morrison should swallow his pride. He should walk into the House of Representatives this afternoon and accept the will of the Parliament that the Backpacker Tax rate should be 10.5 per cent, to make it competitive with New Zealand.
Now I don’t think he will do that, I don’t hold up much hope. He is going to engage in bravado and bluff and bluster and say it will be 32.5 per cent in January 1 and he will blame everybody else but himself.
I have a message for the Treasurer, when you are sworn in as Treasurer you have the responsibility to work with the Parliament to find solutions. The solution is right there before the Government. If they could put aside their arrogance and incompetence for a moment and accept the solution of 10.5 per cent, then Australia’s farmers, horticulturalists, growers and the tourism sector could get the certainty they need. I’ll ask Anthony and Joel to add briefly to my remarks and then we will take your questions.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT, CITIES AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TOURISM, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER: Thanks very much. The Senate has also just adopted the five dollar increase in the Passenger Movement Charge, but they’ve done it in a fashion which is a con. They [The Coalition] only got the additional extra vote that they needed to get across the line, by promising a freeze of five years. A commitment not worth a thing, as confirmed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, on the floor yesterday when he made a ruling and indicated of course that parliaments are sovereign. And that it is simply not the case that any parliament can bind future parliaments.
Scott Morrison in one of his acts of petulance said that if the backpacker tax was lowered, he'd double the passenger movement charge to $10. This is the sort of consultation that we've seen from this Government so we'll wait and see whether he tries that on.
What we know is the Government said it had a working majority. What we also see every day is that it is incompetent and incapable even with 76 seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate that they asked for through a double dissolution election, they simply aren't capable of running the Parliament and if you can't run the Parliament, you can't run the country.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Well there'll be a bit of a blue in Parliament House now this afternoon, a bit of a Mexican stand-off, between the Labor Party and the Government. They will attempt to blame the Labor Party for this chaos. They will say that this tax will go back to 32.5 per cent and they will attempt to blame us.
Well, yesterday I read into the Hansard in the House of Representatives part of Joe Hockey's 2015 budget speech, when he boasted that they were going to change the arrangements on backpackers and in doing so level the playing field for Australian workers and earn themselves $540 million. The 32.5 per cent tax rate is this Government's rate. It's obvious we can't compete with other countries at 32.5, it's clear now by the Government's own admission that we can't compete at 19 and it was also clear to us that 15 was also too high. That's what many, many growers were telling us.
The Government should, as Chris Bowen said, set its pride aside and come with us in the House of Representatives, when they give us an opportunity, and vote with us for a ten and a half per cent backpacker tax. That's from zero to ten and a half. This is a tax increase from zero to ten and a half.
Now if Scott Morrison isn't prepared to swallow his pride, I call upon the members for Page, the members for Gilmore, Dawson, Flynn, Capricornia, O'Connor, Mallee and many others to do the right thing by their farming communities and come with us. If the National Party can cross the floor and, or, abstain on the Adler shotgun then surely they can do the same for our farmers.
Is it their priority that the Adler shotgun or how many bullets it fires, or cartridges it fires, is a more important issue than this? An issue, the backpacker tax, which is going to decimate so many horticultural communities in regional and rural Australia. It's time to come with us and vote for the ten and a half per cent rate, they need to do the same.

JOURNALIST: Are you prepared to move from ten and a half to somewhere between that and 15?

FITZGIBBON: No it's very clear to us that ten and a half makes sense because it's the same headline rate as New Zealand. Backpackers don't spend all that much time thinking about this, they look at headline rates. They look at New Zealand at about 10, they look at Australia at about 10 and they see we are equal. Remember by the way, this is not the only change this Government has made.  We have got the superannuation changes, the tax grab, the 95 per cent of backpacker’s superannuation taken from them; and while Albo won’t oppose it and neither will I, the Government have also expanded the second year visa to other sectors.  So backpackers can choose, if they want the extension, they can choose to work on a farm, a remote farm in the heat, or they can go and work in a restaurant.  Now that will be a good thing for the tourism sector, but there is no doubt that is going to be putting more pressure on our farmers because it is going to be harder to get backpackers.  We are already losing backpackers at zero for a range of reasons, including the strength of the Australian dollar, at one per cent, two per cent, three per cent, Three per cent it’s harder to get backpackers. At 15 or 12 it’s very hard. I think at a headline rate of 10.5 we have a very good chance.

JOURNALIST: You are criticising the Government for being chaotic but you have unexpectedly moved this 10.5 per cent amendment this morning. If you are serious about backing your farmers, why not just get this sorted instead of seeing this ping pong back and forward?
FITZGIBBON: I don’t know how you can say it was unexpected? Are you serious, really?

ALBANESE: Where have you been?

FITZGIBBON: We have been talking about this for a long, long time. Right throughout the election campaign included, I said this needed to be fixed and offered during the election campaign to fix it then so that our farmers and growers would have had immediately relief and the Government turned down that offer.

BOWEN: The other point on that is - I moved amendments in the House of Representatives yesterday for 10.5, of course we move the same amendments in the Senate. If the Government was surprised by the Labor Party moving the same amendments in the Senate as we did in the House of Representatives, then they are even worse than we thought they were in managing this Parliament.

JOURNALIST: The point being, it is going to continue that uncertainty for farmers while this goes on for another two days.

BOWEN: Hence the Government should accept reality and the will of the Parliament and accept 10.5 per cent and they should do so today.

JOURNALIST: The surprise was you peeled away Rod Culleton from One Nation to get his vote on your side. What can you tell us about what went on behind the scenes?

BOWEN: That’s a matter for Senator Culleton.

JOURNALIST: Labor didn’t talk to him?

BOWEN: I certainly didn’t have any conversations with Senator Culleton and he can explain his change of heart. I’m sure Senators can talk more about the processes in the Senate. The fact of the matter is the Senate has voted and they can’t recommit a vote which has been resolved.

JOURNALIST: So when did you know you had this?

BOWEN: A few minutes ago.

JOURNALIST: You gagged the debate to bring on the vote (inaudible).

BOWEN: Obviously Senators talk to each other but it was clear to us that this was going to be resolved this way when the President announced the result on the floor of the Senate.

JOURNALIST: At the end of the day, farmers watching this, whichever side did it, they feel stuffed by the Parliament.

FITZGIBBON: Can I just send a very important message to farm groups today? This afternoon we can have a backpacker tax at 10.5 per cent, but we need the farm groups to show some leadership. The NFF needs to come on board. In fact this week they have been saying - oh well, actually we weren’t saying 19, we were saying 15 to 19 - well I missed that bit. Today presents an opportunity for the NFF, Victorian Farmers, NSW Farmers, Growcom in Queensland, Queensland Farmers to say - enough is enough and we need this thing put to bed a lower tax rate is always a better outcome for us - and back us in. If those farm groups back us in, we will win today. If those farm groups don’t back us in, well, we will remain concerned about how long this will go on and what the final outcome will be.

JOURNALIST: This is the Labor Party telling farmers what is good for them rather than you accepting their position which is 15 per cent to 19 per cent. Isn’t this the thing the Australian public has had enough of?

FITZGIBBON: Colin, you come around to our office this morning and I will show you all the videos I have of horticulturalists pleading for all of us to deliver a lower 10.5 per cent rate. I am standing up for the very many, and I won’t put a number on it, the many growers who have been in contact with me and calling me, emailing me and walking through my door begging me to strike a 10.5 rate. They keep reminding me the National Farmers Federation doesn’t represent them. It does not represent them but the National Farmers Federation can fix this today and can fix this by picking the phone up and calling Scott Morrison and saying - enough is enough, we need this fixed and a lower tax rate is better for us and that’s what we want.

JOURNALIST: You seem to point out the petulance within the Coalition on this issue, but aren’t you in fact displaying petulance by refusing to move on bit from 10.5?

BOWEN: On the contrary, we made it clear through you and I think you might have even been the journalist who asked me the question, amongst others- if the Government comes to you with a proposal, will you consider it? Of course we said we would. And then Scott Morrison chose to say - The Labor Party can go jump in the lake. They are his words, a direct quote. He was not interested in a  proper discussion about this and he is now paying a price for that. And more importantly as you say, Australian farmers are paying a price for his petulance. This is not about what we say, the Senate has spoken, not once, but now twice. It has been from the Senate to the House of Representatives and has been back to the Senate. The Senate has spoken and made its views clear. The Senate has voted twice for a 10.5 per cent tax rate. The Labor Party and others. The fact of the matter is the Government can’t get 19 or 15 through the Parliament so they should accept 10.5 per cent.

ALBANESE: Can I just say this too on that point, that if you want as signal as to why the Government has problems with the crossbench, go back and have a look at the debate form the Parliament last Thursday after the Passenger Movement Charge went through and what the response of the One Nation Senators were, including Senator Culleton, where they went onto the floor before that division they were handed an amendment by the Government that said they could move a 5 year freeze as an amendment to that legislation. They then didn’t do so. They couldn’t keep their word on the floor of the Parliament for 15 minutes. They then knew that was a con because it has been said by everyone, including the Speaker of the House that that is not actually binding. Now I managed a Parliament with 70 votes out of 150 without losing a vote on a piece of legislation and I did it by treating crossbenchers with respect, by not lying to them and not conning them and engaging in proper, good faith discussions. This Government thinks it’s smart when they try to con crossbenchers and then they wonder why it comes back to bite them.

BOWEN: This is going to have to be last question.

JOURNALIST: Senator Hinch stood here at a press conference a couple of days ago and said he supported 15-19 per cent and today he has voted the other way. What are we expected to believe, and the general public, when they behave that way?

FITZGIBBON: We will let Senator Hinch speak for himself, but maybe that’s a question to be rightly put to the Government.

BOWEN: The Government has lost control of this debate, they have lost control of the Parliament and it’s Australia’ s farmers and the tourism sector that are paying the price for this chaos, this dysfunction and this incompetence which lands squarely at the feet of one person and that is Scott Morrison, not very ably assisted by Barnaby Joyce.

FITZGIBBON: Barnaby Joyce has by the way supported with great enthusiasm, the 32.5 per cent rate. I can show you the Hansard and media interviews. Then he supported with great enthusiasm the 19 per cent then the 15 per cent. Barnaby Joyce needs to get behind his farmers today and back 10.5 per cent.

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