Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 23 November 2016
Page: 3128


Senator LAMBIE (Tasmania) (18:27): I rise to speak on the government package known as the 'backpacker tax' legislation, which includes the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016, the Superannuation (Departing Australia Superannuation Payments Tax) Amendment Bill 2016 and the Passenger Movement Charge Amendment Bill 2016.

The main change in this package is the government's plan to increase the income tax rate for all backpackers from zero to 19 per cent from the first dollar earned up to $37,000. When the government presents 19 per cent, I will not oppose it; I will merely amend it, should the Senate allow it to go into the committee stage. So at the very least farmers can be assured they will have 19 per cent from this week. But the problem is, and the reason I propose to amend the 19 per cent—and while it is better than the 32.5 per cent, which the government threatened the agricultural industry with for 18 months—it is not internationally competitive and not a fix for the current crisis.

If we are going to pass the legislation, let's do it once and, for goodness sake, let's finally get something right. It is a simple procedural matter that will take no time at all; legislation is amended all the time. The critical question here is: what is going to attract backpackers to Australia? We know that 10.5 per cent is guaranteed to be competitive, because New Zealand's backpacker tax is 11.95 per cent and their nominal base rate is 10.5 per cent. At the moment, that is where the backpackers are going.

The industry needs guarantees and certainty, so that the only uncertainties they need to deal with are those that mother nature throws at them—not the uncertainties that a dysfunctional government throws at them. A rate of 10.5 per cent is guaranteed to undo the harm caused by 18 months of uncertainty and the threats of a destructive tax rate of 32.5 per cent. The damage will not be healed immediately, but over time the agricultural industry will recover, as the backpackers begin returning to Australia in future seasons.

The Liberal government has pretended to be the voice of the farmers throughout this debate, hiding behind their coalition with the Nationals. But it is the Liberal government that controls the agenda in parliament and the question of the backpacker tax could have been resolved two weeks ago after the committee tabled its report. Every day the tax issue drags on, more international damage is caused to brand Tasmania. The solution to all this madness and hurt is so simple. I met with the National Farmers' Federation this week, and they admitted that 10.5 per cent would be a much better outcome and would be more than welcomed with open arms by the agricultural industry. But the Liberal government continues to peddle fear and lies, telling the public that backpackers are stealing Australian jobs. Tasmanian farmers have told me, though, that, even if every person on unemployment benefits and of working age filled the seasonal positions, the farmers would still need backpackers.

We know that hundreds of Australian jobs depend on backpackers. I hope all crossbench, Labor and Greens senators will agree with my proposal and will also agree that we should remain competitive with New Zealand, should the Senate choose to support my amendment. I hope the government respects the Senate's decision and votes for the amended legislation in the other House. The ball is ultimately in Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's court. He has the power, but does he have the ticker to stand up against the Liberals for our farmers?

This could have been done a very, very long time ago. We could have had certainty for this season's picking of our fruit. We could have ensured that our rural and regional areas, which are doing it really tough right now, had extra income from backpackers who would have spent locally. I am putting through two amendments: one at zero per cent, and the best thing we could do is save everyone out there and vote for that. I do not think I will get the numbers for that so I will also be putting through the 10.5 per cent amendment; although, what I am hearing—which is quite disgusting—is that it does not really matter. It is going to go down to the Lower House and, because the Nationals do not have the spine and they have gone from being the blue heelers of the bush to being toxic bush rats, you know what? They are going to leave it at 32.5 per cent for 1 January. That is what they are going to do. These are the games they are going to play with their farmers out there. It is not like our farmers do not already have enough strain because you neglected them for years. They are finally waking up to that, and I say thank God for that.

What is even more disturbing is that you would rather speak about an Adler weapon that will kill than deal with a backpackers' tax that should have been done when you had the opportunity quite a few days ago. When you come back and try to put the blame on us, we are already about 10 steps ahead of you. I need you to know that. If you want to play these games and if this ends up at 32.5 per cent on 1 January then I reckon you are going to be in trouble. It is not just the farmers who will feel the effects. It is every small business in rural and regional areas. It is the tourism industry. You are hitting a lot of people at once here. You have done nothing but muck them around for 18 months because of pure incompetence. I do not know what has happened to your leadership and I do not know what has happened with the Nationals, because they have been missing in action for a very, very long time, but enough is enough. Let's get it at least to 10.5 per cent, get it down to the Lower House tomorrow and get it voted on for the weekend so that everybody can get on with their lives and, more importantly, so that just maybe we can attract a few more backpackers before the Christmas period starts.

The modelling that you neglected to do—actually, that's right, you did not do any modelling—did not model the negative impact that this is going to have on the agricultural industry, rural and regional small business and tourism. You were too lazy. What's new! It is either your way or the highway. Nothing has changed since the last parliament. The attitude still has not changed. I would imagine that the new crossbenchers and One Nation are starting to wake up to this and to become wary of you. And if they have not then give them another three or four months and they will be right there. If you want to do us all a favour, let's get this done tomorrow and let's get this vote finished off. I do not care if we have to stay here tonight. If it was important enough to get registered organisations through on Monday night then keep us all back here tonight. Let's have it out and get it down to the Lower House in the morning. Let's see how much guts the National Party actually has to fix this issue.