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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1534

Senator O'SULLIVAN (Queensland) (19:30): Might I just start by attaching myself to the submission that Senator Hinch has made in this place. He will enjoy my support of any measures, and I am sure he will enjoy the support of most of the people in this chamber.

Senator Hinch: Thank you.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: On Thursday, a bill is intended to be brought before the House of Representatives. It has been given the name: Working Holiday Maker Reform Package. I think there is no need for me to spend much time in particularising the issues around horticulture, rural industries and tourism in relation to this matter because they have been well publicised. The bill makes the best attempt it can to rectify some of the issues that have presented in this space with the intention of restoring certainty back to the tourism and agricultural sectors as a result of the toing and froing that has gone on with respect to this matter for many months—in fact, for far too long. I do not want to seem critical of my own government, but I think this whole exercise could well have been managed better and more promptly. All the information available to us to resolve the issues that presented to those sectors has been at our disposal for a significant period of time.

At the heart of this is a tax rate that was proposed to be applied to backpackers, many of whom provide very valuable labour forces in this country, particularly in my home state of Queensland in horticulture, the banana industry, the beef processing sector and tourism. There has been massive uncertainty. Now there is data to show that some of the choices being made by potential visiting backpackers has been influenced by the uncertainty that has existed in these sectors.

I want to make a plea because, on reports that have been made publicly, I understand that the Labor caucus voted on Tuesday to allow the legislation to go through the Lower House but has subsequently announced that it will move that this legislative package be referred to the Senate Economics Legislative Committee for an inquiry and to report back on 7 November. That will be the fourth inquiry undertaken by the government of Australia. I do not mean 'the government' as in us versus the other side; I mean the institution that is meant to make decisions on behalf of Australians. They simply do not understand the measures that are being proposed. We have just completed an inquiry that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. It took no less than 1,760 submissions from around the country. Those submissions were considered and, in fact, many of the changes in the legislation are reflective of the submissions that were made. In particular, the reforms in this package were widely received across industries. The National Farmers Federation has come out today to again criticise the government. It does not matter—they are not reflecting on the government of the day; they are reflecting on the institution of this parliament and the Senate, which seems to be continuing this in one form or another, or by one of us or the other. We all have a part to play in this and we all have to shoulder some of the responsibility for where we find ourselves.

I just want to make a plea to my Senate colleagues on the other side to revisit their decision to have this pushed off until 7 November, because the uncertainty will continue in the sector. A quarter of the workforce in agriculture comes from the backpackers. They are a vital source of labour. They are jobs that, it would seem, some of our young Australian men and women are not attracted to. Those who have seasonal considerations coming up later this year and in the early part of next year are going to be left with a diminished workforce unless we make this decision and restore stability out there because people making their travel plans and decisions about coming to Australia—why they might do that and when they might do that—will be affected. So I just urge my Labor colleagues to revisit this and see if we can pick a date for this to come before the Senate. (Time expired)