HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES SPEECH, MONDAY 17 OCTOBER 2016 EXCERPTS
BACKPACKER TAX BACKGROUND
“Let's just go through a little bit of history here so that we know what we are talking about. For a number of reasons, the ATO commissioner had concerns about the validity of those ticking the box which declares them residents for tax purposes and therefore providing them with a tax-free threshold. He took it to the AAT and had a ruling and decided that he would deny that significant number of people. The government at the time, the Abbott government, could have said: 'We reject that. We'll fix this. This is going to be too bad for the tourism and agriculture sectors. We will quickly move to legislate to make the tax zero or to somehow reinstate the threshold for these backpackers'—but, no. That was not the plan for the coalition. They saw an opportunity to rake in $540 million over four years out of this decision—and, make no mistake about it, they made their choice. They took the money and ran, without any concern for those in the agriculture sector and the tourism sector that were going to be adversely affected.”
BARNABY JOYCE’S TACTICS
“We have a divided parliament and a divided community over this issue. Yes, the NFF (National Farmers Federation) are saying, 'We're happy with 19 per cent.' And why wouldn't they? It is because every day Barnaby Joyce rings them and says, with a gun to their head, 'You back 19 or you'll get 32.5.' Remember, if we do not legislate, it goes back to 32.5. He has a got a gun to the head of the NFF and other groups. This is the disrespect with which he treats farmers in this country. It is disrespect. This is a hopeless situation.”
LABOR’S CLEAR POSITION
“We have a very clear position. Like on so many matters brought to this place in this era in which budget repair is important, we have said we will work with the government. We have only one condition and that is: whatever the government does, it restores the international competitiveness of Australia. We must be able to compete. We were losing backpackers before this tax came into effect, and what did the government do? Did it address the labour market issues? Did it address employer exploitation so that potential backpackers in Europe and elsewhere were not getting the wrong messages about what it is like to be a backpacker in Australia? No. Rather than address the decline in backpacker numbers, it made it worse by putting a tax on it. What sort of genius would decide that you would address the fall-off in backpacker numbers by taxing them? It takes a particular sort of genius to come up with that solution.”
GOVERNMENT’S COMPLAINT OF DELAYING TACTICS
“Again on Labor's position, the government is accusing us of delaying this bill. Excuse me? We made a sound commitment to give this bill expeditious passage through the House of Representatives. What was their response? They introduced it last week and parked it. They could have had this debated in this House last week and this bill could be with the Senate committee as we speak. They did not bring it on for debate. It was so urgent that they decided to leave it until this week, and if we had not said something I suspect it would not have been this week either. We have also said that, whatever the outcome here, this bill will pass the parliament by Christmas, making sure that it meets the deadline of 1 January, which the government has now set.”
BACKPACKER TAX CASH GRAB
“It was not the Labor Party that decided to tie the backpacker tax to an increase in the passenger movement charge—a very substantial increase which has the tourism sector nothing less than ropable—or to tie it to a cash grab, which is the increase in the taxation on the employer superannuation contribution. To be sure people understand that, the employer will now pay nine per cent of salary and the government will immediately take 95 per cent of it back. For backpackers who do not claim the remaining five per cent, that will go into government coffers as well. This is partly, with the passenger movement charge, how they are offsetting the loss between 32.5 per cent and 19 per cent. They are reducing the backpacker tax and slugging other people, including employers—hardworking farmers in this country and tourism operators. That is the scandal of this proposition.
IT’S NOT LABOR’S BACKPACKER’S TAX
“It was not Labor's idea to introduce a backpacker tax. It was not Labor's idea to reduce it to 19 per cent, even though that will make no difference. It was not Labor's idea to tie it to a superannuation tax charge and a hefty increase in the passenger movement charge. This is a problem of the government's making and we stand ready to help fix it. I do not know what the good rate is, if we have to have a backpacker tax. I do not have the Treasury machine to grind through the numbers. We know it is not 19 per cent. I do not know whether it is 10.5 per cent. It could be seven per cent, it could be five per cent or it could be two per cent. They do not know either. This is one of the important points we will make in the understandable committee process in the Senate. What bill of this nature does not go to a Senate committee? The mob over the other side know every bill like this goes to a Senate committee. To suggest that we are delaying is just ridiculous. This is one of the questions we will be asking Treasury: is there a sweet spot; is there a point at which Australia can restore its international competitiveness, notwithstanding having a backpacker tax? It will be an interesting exercise.”
BACKPACKER TAX’S BIGGEST SUPPORTER: JOYCE
“Who was its greatest supporter? The answer is Minister Joyce. In Senate estimates—and I will table the transcript—officials told us that Barnaby Joyce wanted this money, the backpacker tax revenue, to pay for some of his more interesting white paper initiatives—failed white paper initiatives, I say—let me be in no doubt about that.
He loves the backpacker tax. It is his backpacker tax, and here is introducing it notwithstanding the fact that it is going to hurt the agricultural sector.”
"The dysfunction of this government, the division within this government and the failure of leadership in this government is becoming palpable. There could be no better example than this backpacker tax. We see it with the APVMA, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. The Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources wants to move it to ArmIdale, in his own electorate. You will recall he was under considerable pressure in the last election campaign for putting his own political interests ahead of the interests of Australia's farmers. In case people do not understand, the chemicals regulator approves crop sprays and the like and veterinary medicines for our farmers. If farmers cannot get those in a timely manner, productivity falls and the farmers go down with it."