SUBJECT/S: Backpacker tax, APVMA relocation, IR reforms
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: This week and hopefully today, the House of Representatives will debate the ill-conceived backpacker tax, something we should have been doing last week and if we had, the Bill would have been in the Senate and the Senate Committee. This debacle has now been going on for 16 months first we had a 32.5 per cent backpacker tax, now we have had the backflip of 19 but by the Government’s own admission, on its own treasury modelling, 19 per cent is no better than 32.5 per cent. In other words, just as many backpackers will be driven away by a 19 per cent tax than was going to be the case under the 32.5 per cent. I call on the Government, a divided Government on this issue, to work with the opposition and all stakeholders to produce an outcome which allows Australia to be internationally competitive. Backpackers started falling away the day the tax was announced. The problem continues. Nineteen per cent obviously isn’t going to fix the problem. I want all stakeholders in the industry to speak with one voice. The industry itself appears divided. Some are accepting the threats of the Government going with 19 just as a way of getting it over and done with and securing some certainty. Others of course are ringing the alarm bells saying they can’t possibly get the workforce they require if the tax is introduced at 19 per cent. So I want the industry to speak as one and I want those on the backbench in the Government privately saying 19 per cent is a bad idea to speak out against their own Government. Today I want to say something also about the relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority. Last week Barnaby Joyce defied a Senate order to release this report. This is a report that no doubt says that moving the chemicals regulator to Armidale, Barnaby Joyce’s own electorate, is a very bad idea. Barnaby Joyce invested $272,000 of taxpayers’ money in this cost benefit analysis and on that basis, he should release it. There could not possibly be anything in this document that could be classified as confidential. Barnaby Joyce needs to release that reports so we can clearly see this relocation, which is going to be so harmful to the agriculture sector, is no more than a pork barrelling exercise on his behalf.
JOURNALIST: If 19 per cent is just as bad as 32 per cent in your words, should the backpacker tax be zero?
FITZGIBBON: The backpacker tax of course was a cash grab and we know thanks to the Senate estimates process that it is something Barnaby Joyce welcomed at the time. He welcomed it on two fronts. He welcomed it because it allowed him to fund some of his more interesting ideas in his now failed agriculture white paper and he welcomed it because he said at the time, and I will quote almost exactly, it will restore fairness between Australia and international workers. Now that is just an ill-conceived concept. Barnaby Joyce got that wrong. Now we don’t know what renders Australia competitive or what would restore Australia’s competitiveness. Only treasury’s modelling can tell us that but what we do know is treasury has modelled 19 per cent and by the Government’s own admission, that modelling shows backpackers will continue to fall away. Think about this, Barnaby Joyce is going to proceed with a tax which he knows is going to be harmful to Australia’s agriculture sector. He is introducing a tax that is going to leave fruit rotting on trees in places like Tasmania and elsewhere so he needs to be held to account, he needs to work with the opposition, he needs to work with the sector to produce an outcome which is not so harmful to the sector.
JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull is putting the spotlight again on IR reforms, is Labor going to budge in any way on those two bills?
FITZGIBBON: Malcom Turnbull always wants the spotlight on IR because he is losing on just about every other front. He is leading a divided Government, a divided party room, his party leads him, he doesn’t lead it and of course he’s trying to reflect from the very real issues that are front and centre in health and education. Of course the plebiscite has been a debacle for him so it’s no surprise to see him trying to sidestep the important issues.
JOURNALIST: Would it be an idea from Labor to support Ms Kitchener given the Government is putting the spotlight on unions and people with union connections?
FITZGIBBON: I think it is demonstrable that the Government is working so hard to block her path to the Senate, she must be the very best choice.