SUBJECT/S: Backpacker Tax





HOST:  With me now is Shadow Agricultural Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.  Thank you for joining me this afternoon. Were you expecting this outcome today, on backpackers?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA:. I was quite pessimistic, a lot of people over there in the Senate are under significant pressure from the Government – even more so now.

HOST: What is going to happen – some of them had supported the bigger 19 per cent rate then suddenly they are backing you on a 10.5 per cent rate.

FITZGIBBON:  Well I think they are hearing from growers.  Seriously I have growers lined up to tell me that, to say the obvious, that we can’t compete at 15.  The Government has provided no evidence in the review that we can.

HOST:  The NFF says 15 and that all their groups are now backing them at 15 per cent.

FITZGIBBON:  The NFF turns out to be a funny piece doesn’t it?  It was the NFF which first proposed 19, giving the Government a perfect opportunity to just say, oh well, we will go for 19 – that’s how scientific the 19 per cent rate was.  And now of course they are sort of locked into step with the Government.  But what I have been told more and more of course is that the NFF don’t represent these growers and there are lots of them, some of them are very big players.  I posted on twitter this afternoon an email from Nick Tana, a big Western Australia grower who says that we just cannot compete at 15 per cent.  So we have got the angels on our side here I think.

HOST:  So you are not going to budge?

FITZGIBBON:  We are not budging.

HOST:  So you wouldn’t even go up to 11, 12, 13 per cent?

FITZGIBBON:  No, not without evidence.  Someone has got to provide us with evidence that we can compete again at that rate.

HOST:  What’s the evidence on 10.5 per cent?

FITZGIBBON:  I just think it is common sense.  The backpackers in the UK and elsewhere look at the headline rates.

HOST: So is your version of common sense, evidence?  Shouldn’t there be modelling on this?

FITZGIBBON: Of course there should be.  And there should have been modelling before the 32.5 per cent was ever introduced.  You know we couldn’t have a Senate inquiry [into the legislation] because this was so urgent we had to do this in one week  -18 months after they began the process.  And we know now why they didn’t want to have a Senate inquiry - because they had to admit, the Treasury officials, that they never did any modelling.  Now remember backpackers were falling off before the 32 per cent was ever announced. And it takes a genius style of Government to say well we will put a tax on them as well.  They were always going to fall off once the tax rate went upon them.  Now arguably only zero would hopefully restore the numbers.  We are being sensible, cooperative – ok we are saying to the Government, you want some revenue, you can’t go above 10.5 as it is going to kill our growers.

HOST: But what made you arrive at 10.5 per cent? What was it that convinced you that is the figure and we cannot budge from that?


FITZGIBBON: I was critical of the whole thing of course throughout the election campaign.  I wasn’t going to declare we would do something then because they were booking all the revenue and were playing this double game of saying we are booking and spending all the revenue and at the same time implying they were going to have a review after the election.


HOST: Yes but you booked the revenue as well without saying 10.5 per cent is where is should be.


FITZGIBBON: I said many times throughout the election campaign through the airwaves to Barnaby Joyce and Scott Morrison announce the abolition of this tax today and you will have Labor support. To do otherwise would have allowed them to play the trick, the game, all the way to the election.  Spend $500 million dollars and then whack the 32.5 per cent on afterwards.


HOST:  At some point since the election you have settled on 10.5 per cent and that was after Jacquie Lambie said 10.5 per cent. Was it Jacqui Lambie?  Who was it that put it in your mind that it has to be 10.5?


FITZGIBBON: I have had the headline rate of 10.5 in my head for many months.  Quite simply because it is the New Zealand rate. That’s who we effectively compete with on the long haul. We have competitors in the form of South Africa and Canada as well. Canada is a short trip in comparative terms from Europe.  So they have the choice - if they are going to do the long haul and go down south, they have New Zealand or Australia to choose from.  I heard the CEO of the Horticulture sector organisation in New Zealand say on radio on Friday that the real beneficiaries of 15 per cent is the New Zealand horticulture industry. They know this is a big win for them.


HOST:  So what is going to happen? The government is obviously working pretty hard on these crossbenchers. What is your view on it?


FITZGIBBON:  They are, they are working overtime.


HOST:  What about you?


FITZGIBBON:  The groups that represent our growers are calling cross-benchers too, urging them to back a higher tax.  They are going to have to explain themselves to their members.  This can be fixed tomorrow.  The Government just has to swallow its pride and say you are right, 10.5 per cent is our best chance of restoring our capacity to compete.


HOST:  Do you reckon they are going to be able to win back any of the cross-benchers, Derryn Hinch?  Rod Culleton?


FITZGIBBON:  They are working very hard on them.  This Government is very bullying in style, in its approach to these things.  Be in no doubt.  In fact I have even had reports of farm organisations ringing and bullying [their] members who dare to break ranks with the 15 per cent thing.  Now imagine that.  Farm groups representing growers and other farmers arguing for a higher tax.  We could have a 10.5 per cent here tomorrow – get this Bill through the Senate, everyone goes home happy.  If the Government thinks it can get away with blaming the Labor Party for it reverting back to the 32.5 per cent, I think you would agree they are dreaming.  We are doing the right thing here. And they know it.


HOST:  Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon we will see where this finishes by the end of the week.  Thanks very much.


FITZGIBBON:  Fingers crossed.

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