SUBJECT/S: Backpacker Tax

HOST: Shadow Agricultural Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is with me now, thanks for your time. I know we have spoken about this [backpacker legislation] before but it’s getting down to crunch time. Will someone blink on this in the next week? What do you think is going to happen?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Can I first say, we’ve always only had one objective here and that is to get the best deal for farmers. Can I say to those who have been the flag bearers for 19 per cent, for some months now, we do look like having some success with getting a better deal. I know the NFF and others, instead of talking about 19 they are talking about 15 to 19 so it seems like the forces behind 19 are starting to crumble and I think it is a pretty good sign that the Government understands that this tax will hurt farmers and growers but also they have Buckley’s of getting it through the Parliament.
HOST: If they came down to 15 for example, let’s throw that in as a middle ground position here - between their 19 and your 10 per cent. Would 15 be workable for you?

FITZGIBBON: Well remember, backpackers were falling off when the tax rate was zero so anything - brilliant idea from the Government, let’s put a tax on backpackers then. One is too many, two is too many and three is too many probably but the lower we can get it is better. Fifteen is better than 19 and 10.5 is even better. We have always been happy to have the conversation with the Government but at not one point have they come to us to negotiate or have the conversation. Why? I think they are still wedded to the revenue from 19 per cent and as I’ve said before, I’m sure Barnaby Joyce is using it to fund his pork barrel and that is the move of the APVMA to his own electorate.

HOST: But from what you have just said there, you are happy to have a conversation with the Government, 15 is better than 19, 10 is better, but it does sound like to me there is room there for a discussion.

FITZGIBBON: I’m disappointed by all those who have been saying Labor is playing politics with this. We resisted 32.5…

HOST: To be fair, initially in the election you backed the revenue it would raise.

FITZGIBBON: We said we weren’t dropping the revenue unless they were prepared to do so. I could have made a promise that if a Labor Government was elected, three months after our election we would do something. Alternatively, I said no let’s drop this now and let’s end the uncertainty they would have had to give up the $540 million as would we. We weren’t going to let them get away with banking the $540 million and spending it throughout the campaign while at the same time pretending like they were going to get rid of it after. That would have been a big mistake and would have taken a lot of pressure off them.

HOST: Either way, right now you have this difference and some have pointed out too while Labor wants to give backpackers a tax rate of 10 per cent, you are also running the argument we should have less 457 foreign workers coming in.

FITZGIBBON: They are completely different things. We are saying we need to be more discerning and careful about 457s because we can see evidence that 457 holders are taking Australian jobs and in all sorts of professions where you would have thought we have plenty of people to fill those positions. Backpackers are completely different. It is a fact no one contests the idea that, because the seasonal nature of the work, you have to have a surge of foreign workers. They are completely different things and it is mischievous for the Government to pretend they are not.

HOST: I’m just getting a heads up there is a division in the House we are going to have to let you run to Joel.

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