SUBJECT/S: Backpacker Tax; Proposed refugee ban

HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, good afternoon.


HOST: You heard Emma Germano there. The Government did settle on 19 per cent with their crucial groups in the sector. Why not agree with them? That’s a path through to solution isn’t it?

FITZGIBBON: I’m not sure that is accurate Raf? They certainly settled on an agreement with the National Farmers Federation, Emma’s Victorian Farmers Federation is a constituent body of that organisation. Emma and I were on Q&A very recently, last Monday night, and she was pushing very hard on 19 per cent. As has the NFF, but of course she is now changing her tune. She is saying she will accept 10.5 and the NFF is saying the same

HOST: They just want any solution now don’t they?

FITZGIBBON: This is the Government’s problem now.  They created it. They proposed the 32.5 and we all know that is ridiculous. We sent it to a Senate Inquiry and they complained about that.  We now know why.  Because it was revealed in that Senate Inquiry that not only haven’t they done any modelling on the impact on farmers or the economy more broadly but growers lined up in that Inquiry to tell the Senators how bad 19 per cent was going to be for the sector. Look, my objective from the beginning of all of this, and this has been going on for 18 months now, is to secure a better deal for farmers and indeed those tourism operators who rely so heavily on backpackers.

HOST:  One way I guess we can test the ALP’s credentials for government is to look at how you balance your budget were you in government you didn’t have a definitive tax level going into the election, yet you had the figure for the money raised in your budget figuring

FITZGIBBON:  Barnaby Joyce and Scott Morrison were playing a little trick and game in the lead up to the election; what they did Raf was, in about a month out from the poll said they were going to review their decision to impose 32.5 –

HOST:  You still accepted the money, they said they were going to receive.

FITZGIBBON:  You can try to argue it that way; what I said at that point was that farmers can’t wait for you to have another review after the election –

HOST:  What you didn’t say was “Hey Chris Bowen, Shadow Treasurer, take that money off the books” did you?

FITZGIBBON:  No what I did say was, very publically, to Barnaby Joyce, if you give up this revenue today, if you announce the abolition of your crazy idea of imposing 32.5, we will match it and then the $540million will come of the bottom line of both parties.  We weren’t going to allow him to feign abolition of the tax after the election but happily spend the $540million during the election campaign.

HOST:  Can I ask if you are proposing 10.5, do you also admit you would be raising less money, you would have less revenue than the Government?

FITZGIBBON:  10.5 will raise less money but they are in government, it will be less money for them and it will be less money that we will be able to book in the lead up to an election.  But remember there is a lot of talk of budget repair here Raf, and we are all for budget repair, we have been proposing many, many savings ourselves there, including in and around negative gearing.  But what they want to do is give big tax cuts to large businesses while also taking money off working mothers, pensioners and of course in this case farmers.  This is not the way we run subsidies in this country, we want to have –

HOST:  I understand that is Labor’s critique of the Government.  I am not disputing your critique for the sake of this conversation – but the problem is this – if you don’t agree, if nothing passes in the Senate, it is the legal case, is it not, that on the first of January all of the backpackers are going to be paying 32.5 cents in every dollar from the first dollar they earn.  So if you don’t agree, you end up with the Government’s original idea?

FITZGIBBON:  Eighteen months ago Raf when the Tax Commissioner started to question whether backpackers should be ticking the box declaring themselves residents for tax purposes, the Government could have immediately acted and said we are going to change that definition or we are going to strike a tax rate that –

HOST:  I understand that you are not happy with the Government Joel Fitzgibbon and that is fair enough and some people might cheer on your critique of the Government.  But isn’t it the case that if you don’t agree we are going to end up backpackers at 32.5 cents, which a lot of the farmers really don’t want at all. Isn’t that the case?

FITZGIBBON:  If the Government doesn’t agree to strike a rate that restores our international competitiveness, then yes it defaults back to their original 32.5.  That is not the Opposition’s fault. That rests with the hands of the Government –

HOST:  Shared isn’t it?  You have got to get stuff through the Senate.  Isn’t it shared?  It is not just their fault?

FITZGIBBON:  Well we all have a responsibility to do the right thing by our farmers, but they could have fixed it 18 months ago. Now they are holding a gun to the head of us all collectively- politicians, farmers tourism operators alike and like a spoilt child, Barnaby Joyce is saying, if you don’t accept my 19 per cent, you’ll get 32.5. What sort of behaviour is that from our Deputy Prime Minister? We know backpackers were already falling away before Joe Hockey announced the 32.5. Why were they falling away? A high Australian dollar, I think rumours about exploitation in this country et cetera. So what did they decide to do? Instead of accept the $540 million, they should have said no, we will deal with the workforce issues in the first instance. Not this idea of backpackers getting a better deal than Australian workers. You made the point that there is a tax free threshold but Barnaby Joyce has admitted, these are jobs being filled where Australian’s aren’t capable of filling them so they are not working alongside Australians. This is just such a mess. We could put this through the Parliament this week at 10.5 per cent. Farmers, growers and tourism operators will be happy. They won’t have the revenue and our future Labor Government won’t have the revenue but we have accepted that. Barnaby Joyce should accept it too.

HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon is with me and he is the Shadow Agriculture Minister. 1300222774, here’s some of your texts- This is another of Joe Hockey’s achievements. He shut down the car industry and he created this fiasco- that’s from Doug. Someone else is saying this is undoubtedly Labor playing political games with the expense of the national interest. No wonder the Trumps of this world are gaining ground. I’m sick of it. Joel Fitzgibbon, you are part of Shadow Cabinet, the other development today is Labor is going to oppose the Government’s proposal for a lifetime ban on refugees given tourist visas or coming here unless they get some sort of Ministerial discretion. I don’t know if you have seen the Essential poll but more than half of Labor voters support that ban.

FITZGIBBON: I haven’t seen the Essential poll

HOST: 52 per cent of Labor voters support it.

FITZGIBBON: That really surprises me. Of course Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton have been out there misrepresenting their plan as some response to hidden intelligence that suggests that boats are about to start flowing once again. We know that’s not the case. It’s simply Malcolm’s attempt to shift the political agenda away from the messiness of his own indecision and challenges in the Senate et cetera. George Brandis, Barnaby Joyce, you name it.

HOST: But do you think that a majority of Labor voters support that idea? It’s the first time we have seen a specific poll on it and the Labor Party doesn’t hate Essential the way they might hate some other polling companies. Do you think there are plenty of Labor people who support it?

FITZGIBBON: I think a majority of Labor voters don’t want the boats to start again and don’t want women, men and children dying at sea. I have no doubt about that, but again, this policy came from nowhere. This Government has been crowing for months about stopping the boats, then suddenly they need to go a step further in a most draconian way and again it’s all about shifting the public debate away from Malcolm’s’ very significant challenges and problems and into an area he thinks there is political capital to be gained.

HOST: The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton did hint in Question Time, I think he almost said dismissively, that if this doesn’t go through, there are negotiations at play that will be sabotaged.

FITZGIBBON: Well I don’t believe that for a moment. This is a desperate Government.

HOST: He would have to be lying in Parliament if you didn’t’ believe that.

FITZGIBBON: We caught Barnaby Joyce out very recently doing just that and when the secretary of his Department, his Departmental head challenged him on his integrity, Barnaby Joyce had him sacked, so most of your listeners know the persona of Peter Dutton pretty well and I don’t’ think too many of them would be surprised.

HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you for your time.


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