MONDAY, 23 MAY 2016

SUBJECT/S: Dairy Crisis; Backpacker Tax

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: Can I say that it is wonderful to be back in Page with Janelle. We look forward to her returning to Canberra, she was an outstanding Member of Parliament. We worked very closely together as Government Whips and I think that Page has been worse off since her departure from Canberra, we really look forward to having her back.

It’s great to be here for Beef Week. We’ll be spending much of our time in Casino talking to producers in particular and I’ll be participating in the Beef Forum tonight where we’ll be addressing some of the ongoing concerns of producers here locally. They have been frustrated. Barnaby Joyce more than  3 years ago now promised them something different. Then after a number of Senate Committees and a number of promises he’s done absolutely nothing to address their concerns about industry representation, advocacy and of course the value return they receive from the levies they pay to Canberra. Backpackers is obviously-

JOURNALIST: Can we just talk about Barnaby Joyce first though because you’re talking about him. You’ve been in communication with him about a dairy farmer assistance package, how’s that talk going?

FITZGIBBON: You might call it communication. Last Thursday at around 3pm; 3 weeks after the crisis first began, Barnaby Joyce announced publicly that he was going to make contact with me declaring for the first time 3 weeks after the event that he believed that he couldn’t do anything because of the caretaker conventions. Of course that is not necessary technically true but I accepted that on face value. The more than 24 hours later he wrote to me - 4pm last Friday. I found that letter very disappointing. It spent most of its time claiming or embellishing what he has already done in response to the crisis which is not much basically. But the he asked for my support without clearly spelling out what it is he intended to do.

I wrote back immediately and said that of course Labor stands ready to work with the Government and will support any appropriate and meaningful package but I expressed disappointment that he had failed to outline exactly what it was that he was asking support for and I said if you were acting in the true spirit of the caretaker conventions you’d be clearly outlining exactly what you’re asking me to support. But in any case I told him that Labor will do nothing to in any way to further delay a Government response to this dairy crisis. I have not heard from him since.

JOURNALIST: So you are saying that you will assist the Government, work in a bipartisan way by but you are not really sure how the Government is going to work to alleviate their situation.

FITZGIBBON: We are absolutely determined after an already too long delay to not do anything that would further delay assistance to these affected dairy farming families. But Barnaby Joyce is asking me to support something non-defined, undefined now –

JOURNALIST: There must be some detail there what is he saying -

FITZGIBBON: Well Barnaby Joyce said look, I want to do something here I want to do something there he used all sorts of vague and  - you know - loose words about this is our emphasis and this is where we want to go, that sort of thing. He did mention Concessional Loans, wanting to do something there but it’s a bit difficult to be asking me to sign up absolutely to something when he is not prepared to define the detail.

JOURNALIST: Ok let’s talk backpacker tax. The North Coast is pretty interested in this there are a lot of backpackers here. So will Labor scrap the 32.5 percent backpacker tax if it wins office?

FITZGIBBON: Well if Labor wins office - I suppose you could say come into power on July 3 - we are absolutely determined that there will be no backpacker tax on July 3, that’s my main aim. This Government is misleading the community. It says it’s going to review the backpacker tax. Now this will be the third review but it means that the spectre of this tax still hangs over the sector for another 8 months at least by the time they do another review. But the critical point is that in PEFO the Pre-Election Economic Financial Outlook they are booking all the revenue from the backpackers tax over 4 years.  So it’s clear their intention is to take this revenue and run.

JOURNALIST: I’m a bit unclear on Labor’s intention thou you said it won’t be coming in on the 3rd but will it come in after? Can Labor categorically rule out a 32.5 percent backpacker tax?

FITZGIBBON: Labor is determined to force this Government into backing off this tax prior to the election. This is not fair, this is too hypothetical. According to PEFO it appears in PEFO that they are not even giving up the tax from July 1. There is nothing in PEFO to suggest that they’re not accepting that revenue. It’s no good of me talking about what’s going to happen after July 2 because the tax will be already operating-

JOURNALIST: But it is because voters want to know what will happen, what is Labor’s plans?

FITZGIBBON: Labor’s plan is to force the Government into killing this tax before July 2 because after 12 months of dysfunction backpackers have already fallen away substantially. We cannot wait another 6 weeks. The Government should deal with this tax now, give up the revenue. When it gives up the revenue we’ll take it at its word that they are not going to implement this tax.

JOURNALIST: But you are avoiding the question. What will Labor do about a backpacker tax?

FITZGIBBON: I’m not avoiding the question I’m saying to you I’m determined that it won’t be an issue on July 3 because we’ll have killed it before then.

JOURNALIST: And will Labor resuscitate it?

FITZGIBBON: This could be resolved today. Kevin Hogan, Barnaby Joyce, any of his colleagues, Scott Morrison, Malcolm Turnbull can stand up today and say we’re revising PEFO again, "there won’t be any revenue coming into our coffers from this tax for the next 4 years and certainly not after July 2 this year", July 1 actually.

SAFFIN: Can I just say about Mr Hogan, he supported the backpacker tax. The he said he supported a review. He allowed people to believe that there would be change in the budget, there wasn’t a change in the budget and then a few days after the budget he was in the Daily Examiner defending the backpacker tax. Then sometime later when the farmers were still upset he says a review -and then you have the Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook which shows that it’s clearly on track and the tax will be collected. So I’m calling on Mr Hogan to come clean with the electorate and the National Party, you know where are they people are bitterly disappointed in them –

FITZGIBBON:   Sorry on the question -

JOURNALIST: It is all available but what’s not -

FITZGIBBON: On the question on the National Party can I say this, Barnaby Joyce is not only not fighting to get rid of this tax he was the key advocate of the tax within the Government. We know - thanks to Senate Estimates - that he had sought successfully to use the revenue from the backpacker tax to fund some of his less then wonderful thought bubbles in his Agriculture White Paper.  So Barnaby Joyce is tied to this tax at the hip. That's why he won’t give it up and that’s why Kevin Hogan won’t give it up.

JOURNALIST: And that’s all on the record but what’s not on the record is will Labor introduce a similar backpacker tax, what does Labor feel is an appropriate level of tax for backpackers?

FITZGIBBON: Why would we let the Government walk around with half a billion dollars in revenue from this industry and let it off the hook like that. We are determined to force this Government; Barnaby Joyce can fix this today, standup and say the backpacker tax will not be implemented and he’ll have Labor’s full and unqualified support.

JOURNALIST: But if Labor does win the election-

FITZGIBBON: Barnaby Joyce-

JOURNALIST: People want to be clear on what Labor is going to do

FITZGIBBON: I’m not letting Barnaby Joyce and Kevin Hogan off the hook. Kevin Hogan –

JOURNALIST: And I’m not letting Labor off the hook. What is Labor going to do about a backpacker tax?

FITZGIBBON: Kevin Hogan is in Lismore today he can come and join us and stand with us and announce from today we are all giving up the backpack tax, the half a billion dollars in revenue, he can do that now and I invite him to do so.

JOURNALIST: So when you say we are all giving up the backpack tax does that mean that Labor will not proceed with the backpacker tax?

FITZGIBBON: Labor is absolutely determined that by July 1 when this Government still intends to proceed with this tax it seems, there won’t be a backpack tax. That’s my job from opposition to continue to put the sufficient pressure on this Government to kill this thing before July 1. Let’s not worry about after July 1 –

JOURNALIST: But people are interested about after July 1 because people want to know what a Labor Government would do –

FITZGIBBON: They don’t need to have interest in what Labor is doing after July 1 because this thing should be dead before then. Thank you.

SAFFIN: Thank you.

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