SUBJECT/S: Backpacker tax; Migration laws; superannuation


HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Rural and Regional Australia. Welcome to RN Drive.

FITZGIBBON: Great to be with you Patricia.

HOST: Now Bill Shorten said in his press conference today, that the briefing the Government gave Labor on the proposed changes to migration laws did not include any details of third party settlement. If the Government tells you which country it wants to use for resettlement, would you support the Bill? Because they are arguing they need these changes to ensure that can happen.

FITZGIBBON: First of all Patricia, we had a proposal ourselves in Government, you will recall the Malaysian Solution. Tony Abbott has now expressed regret that the Opposition he led voted that proposition down. I think Labor has shown consistently since we lost in 2013 that we are prepared to back any sensible proposal to stop people dying at sea and to ensure people are treated in a humane way.

HOST: So what's the sticking point here? Because high moral ground is a bit of a tough one to claim when Kevin Rudd was the one who came up with this idea in the first place. He is the architect of this policy.

FITZGIBBON: No that's not true. What Kevin Rudd said in the lead up to the 2013 election was that people who arrive by paying people smugglers cannot expect to settle in Australia. What Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton are proposing now is that if you made your way to Manus or Nauru, not only would you not settle in Australia or be given the opportunity to settle in Australia, you would never in your lifetime be allowed to visit Australia. So it's a lifetime sentence having the audacity to do what you can or could to escape persecution or civil war.

HOST: Would Labor allow an amendment to restore business visas to those who had been previously been banned if the Government would accept it?

FITZGIBBON: I wouldn't think so because we don't believe in lifetime punishment for those who were doing no more than what was available to them to escape persecution.

HOST: But wouldn't that assist them? Wouldn't that be consistent with what Kevin Rudd said, that they will never resettle in Australia and will never resettle in Australia if they were allowed to come as tourists but would have to go out again?

FITZGIBBON: No it's not consistent. In addition to some very good examples Bill Shorten and Shayne Neumann had provided about future highly respected professionals and even politicians being barred from coming to Australia. Think about someone's father or grandfather, we are looking well down the track now, who arrived on Manus or Nauru in a period before and who had since made their way to a third country. Now someone living in Australia could have a grandfather or a father or could be an Australian citizen unable to visit them for a funeral or the birth of their child.

HOST: But the Minister will have discretion, so you think that mostly wouldn't happen?

FITZGIBBON: As I said on ABC's Q &A that would certainly restore confidence in the community the idea that Peter Dutton would have that discretion.

HOST: Well let's move on to another issue, the introduction of the backpacker tax. Labor wants the rate to be 10.5 per cent. Barnaby Joyce says 19 per cent is as low as the Government will go on this tax and if this is not agreed to by the Senate then the tax rate will default to 32.5 percent on January 1. Have you in effect pushed the Government to a higher rate because that is what it looks like will ultimately happen if you don't support the compromised tax rate.

FITZGIBBON: Well let’s quickly review the history here. In 2015 the Tax Commissioner became concerned that backpackers were ticking the box that said I'm a resident of Australia for tax purposes which gave them the tax free threshold. The Commissioner decided this isn't true and that they are not residents in any sense of the word and he said on that basis he was going to remove their tax free threshold. That point, particularly given backpackers were already falling away and going to other countries for other reasons, the Government could have simply overruled the Commissioner with legislation. It could have said we were going to change the definition or we are going to make it a zero rate. Rather, the Government, Barnaby Joyce, Scott Morrison and the whole lot of them said, no we like the $540 million on offer here-

HOST: But you also banked that saving during the election campaign, you banked that saving.

FITZGIBBON: This is part of the spin Patricia. What they were doing in the lead up to the election – I said to them during the election on many occasions was you drop this now and we will back you and farmers will have certainty from today. Instead what they did was promise to review it after the election so they put it on he never never, feigning or I'm implying that they would get rid of it.

HOST: Just to clarify Joel, you did bank the saving at the time, I remember that.

FITZGIBBON: Patricia let me finish this very important point - during the election campaign they were still spending the $540 million that they were pretending they weren't going to spend after the election, so we weren't going to let them off the hook. Rather than force farmers to wait- look we are here in November, in June this year Barnaby Joyce could have joined with me, abolished this tax and no one would have had the revenue, everyone would have been happy and farmers would have had certainty. He's a bully Barnaby Joyce. He is holding a gun to the heads of farmers and politicians. He's like a spoilt child. If you don't accept my 19 you will cop 32.5. It's Barnaby Joyce's tax.

HOST: Isn't it the case you are all holding a gun. The National Farmers Federation says the sector needs certainty, you are holding up that certainty.

FITZGIBBON: The National Farmers Federation wanted me to pass 19 per cent months ago and we decided to have a Senate Inquiry and now we know why the Government didn’t want to have a Senate Inquiry. They feigned this idea that we are holding the Bill up. That’s absolute rubbish. It was them that tied the backpacker tax to two other tax changes including the increase in the departure tax. We know why they don’t want to have the inquiry because we learned at the inquiry that they had done no modelling on the impact on farmers or the broader economy and of course growers lined up at the inquiry to tell us how bad 19 per cent is. I have only had one objective throughout all of this and that is to get a better deal for farmers and a better deal for tourism operators who likewise rely on backpacker labour.

HOST: Just on another issue, a joint Parliamentary Committee will review whether the Racial Discrimination Act limits free speech. Labor says this is the Prime Minister pandering to the right of the party. Even the President of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs says she would welcome an attempt to moderate the statute. They were her exact words, that is a direct quote. So why close it? Gillian Triggs thinks it might be a good idea to review it. There is no final outcome, it is a review.

FITZGIBBON: Well you can see Malcolm Turnbull’s conviction falling away on this as days go by. On the new asylum seekers proposal, when he and Peter Dutton did their original press conference he was aggressive and as bolshie as can be and in two days’ time, he was really softly relaxing and saying this is not much different than the rules we have now, we are just codifying it. It’s the same on 18C. He sent out a signal that the core of the right wing of his party saying I can be tough too on this 18 C issue. I will fix this for you and then today it was, we will have a Parliamentary Inquiry into it, there is nothing to see here. You can’t hold a message for any more than 24 hours. What is consistent through it all Patricia is that he is not leading his party, he has been led by his party and is in trouble and Is trying to push the agenda off all the controversial challenges he has in the Senate and Barnaby Joyce and George Brandis and Bob Day and the like.

HOST: That may be your assumption to why he is making this decision that might be your assumption on the politics but Gillian Triggs and the Government haven’t been the best of friends, that is well known, so the fact that she agrees with the idea of an inquiry says a lot doesn’t it?

FITZGIBBON: I don’t mind inquiries. We had an inquiry on the backpacker tax and Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce have decided to ignore the outcome of that. We can have an inquiry, but I have heard the Commission say they already have the capacity to flick away frivolous and vexatious claims. Look if the system can be made better that is fine but we are not going to have the right wing of the Liberal Party dictate to Malcolm Turnbull that he must return hate speech to this country. We will fight that all the way.

HOST: You are tuning into RN Drive, Joel Fitzgibbon the Shadow Minister for Agriculture is my guest. Just one final issue before I let you go. Labor announced a major shift in its superannuation policy today, a plan to further cut superannuation concessions to the tune of 1.5 billion. Why didn’t you mention this at the election?

FITZGIBBON: Well I fondly remember debating Arthur Sinodinos on superannuation policy in the lead up to the election and he completely tied himself in knots. If there is confusion about the approach to superannuation policy then that applies to the Government.

HOST: But today we know the Government’s position and you have now announced more taxes on super that no one knew about.

FITZGIBBON: We have a plan that we will raise more revenue and would be more equitable and more fair in the market place. Look, this Government talks consistently about budget repair but it is adhering to its commitment to give big tax cuts to big business in this country while imposing further burdens on farmers, tourism operators, working mothers, pensioners you name it. This is a Government that has its priorities all wrong

HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you so much for coming in.

FITZGIBBON: Always a pleasure.

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