SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull, Backpacker tax, Government dysfunction, APVMA relocation 


JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: This morning the Prime Minister has done a couple of interviews on the backpacker tax and in those interviews he looked unhinged, he looked confused and looked desperate. But more importantly, this morning the Prime Minister on a number of occasions lied to the Australian community. Possibly even worse, the Prime Minister this morning, in an act of desperation, sent a clear message from his Point Piper mansion to European backpackers that they are not welcome here in Australia. His clear message to so-called rich, European backpackers was you’re not welcome here. This is going to be very bad news both for our farmers and for our tourism operators. The Prime Minister can fix the backpacker tax today and can do so by instructing his troops to back in 10.5 per cent, the only rate that makes sense and the only rate in which Australia can hope to compete with countries like New Zealand.

JOURNALIST: Are you just grabbing at numbers now? Pick a number and we just seem to be talking about it. When is this going to end?

FITZGIBBON: The Labor Party has been lobbied by many and some very significant growers in this country to push for a 10.5 per cent rate. Why? Because 10.5 per cent is the New Zealand rate. Backpackers don’t do too much research. They look at the headline rate. Malcolm Turnbull said this morning he is reducing the backpacker tax to 15. He is not. He is increasing it from zero to 15 and at that rate we believe and all the growers I speak with believe we cannot compete with countries like New Zealand. At a headline rate of 10.5 we believe we can.

JOURNALIST: The growers are saying there is a stupid amount of brinkmanship going on in Parliament right now. How do you respond to that and the incredible amount of anger about the state we are in now?

FITZGIBBON: I understand that farmers and growers are angry and angry at the Government for introducing a 32.5 per cent tax, they are angry at the Government for then introducing a 19 per cent tax and they remain angry at the Government for introducing a 15 per cent tax and they are very angry this Government isn’t prepared to swallow its pride and just take the 10.5 and put this through the Parliament today. Now I have heard many people say, the National Farmers Federation supports 15 per cent. Well, It does and I find that very sad. If I had listened to the National Farmers Federation, we would now have a 19 per cent backpacker tax. The National Farmers Federation does not represent the many growers I’m speaking with. This morning I can say that overnight and this morning I have had conversations with the President of the Queensland Farmers Federation who supports 10.5 per cent. He rang me to send that message. I have had talks with Mr Glynn Williams, the President of the Primary Employers of Tasmania, they support a lower tax rate than 15 per cent. I have spoken to Keith Rice, the CEO of Poppy Growers Tasmania and he supports a lower rate than 15 per cent. These people are ringing me, these are big players, ringing me to say we cannot compete at 15 per cent. They say 15 per cent is not that much different to 19 and it doesn’t make any sense. It needs to be a headline which can be easily compared with New Zealand and that’s the only hope we have to bringing backpackers back here. Backpackers which have been falling off since the day the Government announced it’s 32.5 per cent and again this morning the Prime Minister looked out of touch. He doesn’t understand the farm sector, he doesn’t understand the tourism sector. He needs to get out of Point Piper, out onto the farms and talk to the growers I am talking to.

JOURNALIST: The NFF accuse you of just cherry picking and grabbing people who support your view and you’re playing politics. They want this off the table this week.

FITZGIBBON: I think if a Labor Government had introduced a 32.5 per cent, the National Farmers Federation would be attacking us with great volume. Instead they are trying to make this about politicians. The only people playing politics with this now are those members of the Government. The difference between 10.5 and 15 by the way is $85 million over four years. That is just over $20 million a year. Less than Barnaby Joyce’s spending on his pork barrelling exercise to move the APVMA from Canberra to his own electorate. If we go home with a 32.5 per cent rate today, this backpacker tax debacle will become Barnaby Joyce’s greyhound ban.

JOURNALIST: Would you and Barnaby Joyce be willing to pick the fruit that will not be picked this season as a result of 32 per cent tax coming in?

FITZGIBBON: I can’t  afford to be distracted by any stunts and I stand today to fight for our farmers and the Government and in particular, Members of the National Party, Member for Flynn, Member for Capricornia, Member for Page, the Member for Gilmore, the Member for Dawson, the Member for Mallee. The list is very long. They have deserted their farmers.
I have farmers from Mildura in the Member for Mallee’s electorate ringing me and saying, Joel, stand your ground, Andrew Broad either doesn’t understand our predicament or doesn’t understand the farming community. Just like his Prime Minister. Andrew Broad is out of  touch with his farmers and he needs to come with me to come with Labor and support a competitive tax rate.

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