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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 8 November 2016: developing Northern Australia; Beef Roads; same-sex marriage; Racial Discrimination Act; backpacker tax

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SENATOR THE HON. MATTHEW CANAVAN Minister for Resources and Northern Australia



Subjects: Developing Northern Australia; Beef Roads; same-sex marriage; Racial Discrimination Act; backpacker tax

Minister Canavan: I just want to say a few words about what we're doing outside of this place, not in this place. I don't think too many Australians would be surprised that sometimes we can be more productive outside this place, than in this place.

Over the past two weeks, we have announced more than $300 million of road funding across Northern Australia and opened up a $400 million water development fund to build dams and grow agriculture right across Australia. These are major advances, major steps forward in our plan to develop Northern Australia. It is the first time a government has committed funds to develop Beef Roads since the Menzies Government. These are roads scattered around Northern Australia that unlocked vast swathes of agricultural land to the beef industry in particular. And we are making the investments needed to upgrade those, to invest in those. Investments like at Gracemere, near where I am, which will allow type one trucks to go to the two Rockhampton meat works. It'll save two hours a trip, it will save lots of money, and will also save lives. Someone was tragically killed there are a couple of years ago, cross loading cattle.

So these are important investments, they're our commitment to develop the north, to grow our country and make sure that we give all Australians an opportunity to be a part of economic growth. To give all Australians that chance if they like to go and have a new future somewhere else, rather than just stacked up in Sydney and Melbourne. And also for those Australians already in Northern Australia, it'll give them a chance and their children to have a future where they live rather than have to go to the big lights and the big city.

So I'm very proud of these investments, it's a major step forward and it goes to show that we're a government getting on with the job in creating jobs for all Australians.

Reporter: Is this it for marriage equality in this term of Parliament?

Minister Canavan: Well look, unless the Labor Party sees sense and listens to the Australia people, or the Greens, or other crossbenchers do so, I fear it is. I think many of those who support change to the Marriage Act are probably waking up this morning to a dawning of realisation that this change might not happen until at least after the next election.

I'm not hopeful for any change of heart from those that voted on it last night, but our policy is clear. We took a clear policy to the election, that we would ask the Australian people whether they wanted to change the Marriage Act. We have failed of course in the Parliament last night to proceed with that and our policy remains where it is. But without a change in the views of Senators, it is very unlikely we'll see a change in the Marriage Act this term of Government.

Reporter: Do you think the discussion about 18C is distracting the Government from more pressing issues?

Minister Canavan: I think it's distracting you guys, but I don't think it's distracting most people in Australia. Notwithstanding that, I think I am personally upset I suppose or dismayed that someone could be seemingly hauled before a tribunal for telling a joke. I mean in effect a cartoon is a joke. It's not the Australia I grew up in. It's not a part of Australian culture that I think defines us all. We tend to be a culture that can have a joke, that can have a laugh, can take the mickey out of people. But we're going to lose that part of our culture to political correctness if people can be hauled before an inquisition just for telling a joke.

Reporter: Do people raise it on the street when you’re talking to voters?

Minister Canavan: Yeah. Look it has been raised with me quite a bit. Particularly by those who are interested in politics. So our party members, but not just our party members, those who are interested in and follow politics closely in our country. Unfortunately they are perhaps a diminishing few. But they are very worked up about it. I get emailed about quite a lot.

I accept it's not a bread and butter issue for the vast bulk of Australian people who perhaps don't read papers like The Australian or the Financial Review. But for those who do follow politics, it is very important. And as I said, I think it is an important part of our culture, the ability to speak frankly and fearlessly to people, sometimes too robustly. Sometimes I think people from other cultures perhaps don't quite understand our culture and can take offense given how forthright we can be with our opinions in jest at times.

But I'm concerned that this Human Rights Commission, this body, is a little out of control, moving away from probably the original intent of this law. I don't think those that put this law in place thought that cartoonists and certainly not students would be caught up in the way they have.

Reporter: Triggs says that cartoonists are covered by 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act. Have you looked into that, do you accept that?

Minister Canavan: Why did her Commissioner come out and call for people to complain about it?

Reporter: Labor wants you to make further cuts to superannuation and sort of make more changes. What’s your attitude towards that?

Minister Canavan: I think we took a clear policy to the election. That's something we've had to make some changes to, I don't think the Australian people want more changes, they want certainly on superannuation. And I think Labor's proposals will cause people great angst out there. We should agree, and I think largely we have got to agreeing to a set of measures to reform the system and lock those in place. If we make changes month to month here, people will lose confidence in superannuation. So I think they are particularly disruptive proposals from the Labor Party.

Reporter: Just on the backpacker tax, Jacquie Lambie believes she has the numbers for a 10.5% backpacker tax, and there are reports Labor is considering it. What’s your view on that?

Minister Canavan: I think that proposal runs the risk of completely destroying any relief for farmers on the backpacker issue. We must remember that the actual rate right now, after a tribunal decision, the rate farmers will face for non-residents is 32.5%, unless we get changes through the Parliament. Unless there are changes through the Parliament near farmers next year farmers will pay 32.5% for non-resident taxpayers. The farming sector broadly has accepted a rate of 19%. I think it's right and proper that a non-resident foreigner is not given a tax advantage relative to an Australian working next to them. My sons are too young to do it but hopefully maybe one day they will one day go and pick grapes or something like that, I know people who do that, it pays good money. If they do that, I don't think they should be paid less or pay more tax than someone from France standing next to them in a field picking grapes too. And a lower rate than 19% would risk that. We've come to a reasonable solution, the farming sector accepts it, let's get on with the job and do it. It might not make everybody happy, but people out there

expect us to compromise and come together to deliver better results for all Australians, not just steadfastly and stubbornly say "my way or the highway."

Reporter: If the Labor caucus rejects the changes to the lifetime ban for asylum seekers will the Government consider a watered down version to pass it?

Minister Canavan: That's a matter for Minister Dutton, I'm not going to speculate on what we may or may not consider. Except to say that I don't quite understand why the Labor Party can't support the policy they announced a few years ago.

Reporter: Back on same-sex marriage, Labor and the Greens say they’re not going to give up on it. Will this be a distraction for the next few years?

Minister Canavan: We're not going to break our election promise to the Australian people, which was to take this matter to a plebiscite. We have a clear mandate to do so. I understand that's not the preferred path for some in the Senate, but it is a fact that only a few years ago, only a few years ago people like Richard Di Natale, people like Nick Xenophon called for a plebiscite. People like Bill Shorten said before the 2013 election that he would think a plebiscite was a reasonable way forward. Now that might not have been, I understand it's not the policy they took to the election. But how can they be so vitriolically against this and come up with all these radical and over-the-top statements about the impact of a pure vote would be, when only a few years ago they supported the policy. Now I know they might have changed their minds, but we did win the election and we've got a mandate to do it, and if they want the change the option is there for them and is still an option for them to take up.

Reporter: Do you think it will be a distraction?

Minister Canavan: I don't think this is an issue that occupies much of our time and probably not much of most of the electorate’s time. But I understand it's very important on both sides of the debate. I think this was a reasonable way to try to take a step forward for the Australian people to resolve these disagreements on this issue in a way that everybody can be a part of. That's failed, well we'll move on. We've got other things to do. It doesn't distract us from investing in roads in Northern Australia, it doesn't distract us from building dams. The thing that distracts us are other governments that are holding us back, like Queensland which doesn't want to sign up to dams. That's what I'm focused on, and that's what I'll be focused on when we rise here on Thursday.

William Rollo Communications/Media Advisor, Senator the Hon. Matthew Canavan Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Suite M1.45, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600 APH: Industry: Mobile: 0436 409 743 Canberra: 02 6277 7180