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Wednesday, 23 November 2016
Page: 3137


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (19:05): I indicate that I and my colleagues Senators Griff and Kakoschke-Moore will be supporting the second reading stages of the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016. We believe that this bill has merit. It is by no means perfect. The backpacker situation is a mess at the moment. We need to fix it, because the fear is that literally thousands and thousands of tonnes of fruit will be left rotting on the ground. I respectfully suggest to the opposition, to some of my crossbench colleagues, that what they are proposing is really not going to be productive. What they are proposing could lead to an impasse that will leave us with the worst of both worlds. We will have a situation where, for backpackers, there will be a 32 per cent rate left. There will be a real disincentive for those backpackers to come here.

And there is an opportunity here, with the good-faith negotiations I have been having with the government, to make a very real difference to young and older unemployed Australians, for them to have a chance, really for the first time, to participate in seasonal work without the massive penalties in our current welfare system. I am grateful for the discussions I have had about this on a number of occasions with the Treasurer, and I want to acknowledge the tremendous work that the member for Mayo, my colleague Rebekha Sharkie MP, has done in relation to this. She has worked in the past in the youth unemployment space as the CEO of a major organisation helping disadvantaged youth, and she understands the challenges facing young Australians in terms of unemployment.

This bill is by no means perfect. But, as they say, I do not want the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is a case where others want to move various amendments to this bill, but I think that what the government is proposing—subject to commitments from the government and subject to implementing some of the changes for young and older unemployed Australians—could really work. The imperative here is that we need to have enough workers to work in this coming season and in the next two to three years in terms of our fruit picking, in terms of the seasonal work, in terms of working in the pubs, particularly in regional areas, at peak tourism hospitality times.

On 20 September of this year at Ceravolo's Ashton Valley Fresh premises I, along with Rebekha Sharkie, the member for Mayo, met with Susie Green from the Apple and Pear Growers Association of South Australia and the Cherry Growers Association of South Australia; Adelaide Hills fruit producer Joyce Ceravalo of Ceravolo orchards; Andrew Flavell of Flavell orchards; Ashley Green of Lenswood orchards; and Tony Hannaford of Torrens Valley Orchards. We spoke to them and we spoke to the media. We want to see an urgent change to the inflexible and punitive welfare rules that are currently discouraging many Australians, particularly young unemployed Australians, from doing seasonal work on farms.

Farmers across the country are concerned that fruit will be left rotting on the ground because there just simply is not enough seasonal labour to pick it—and the backpacker tax amendments may have discouraged some backpackers from coming here in the first place. We think this is a sensible supplement to the issue of seasonal shortages. We want there to be greater flexibility to current welfare rules. Presently, under Newstart, recipients can only earn $104 a fortnight before being hit with a reduction of 50c in the dollar for extra dollars earned and before benefits cut out at $1,023 a fortnight for a single person. A credit system for seasonal work under current Newstart rules only allows recipients to accrue 1,000 credits or 3½ thousand Newstart credits.

What we have put to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, and Treasurer Morrison is that jobseekers be able to work on seasonal work for up to $5,000 without any penalty; that Job Services providers have a small incentive to place jobseekers; and that jobseekers having to travel more than 100 kilometres and having to relocate temporarily receive a small relocation allowance in the order of $300.

There are those that say Australians do not want work. I find that offensive. The current welfare rules have massive disincentives in the system. The government has, for the first time, been prepared to talk to us in good faith and negotiate in good faith to give young and older unemployed Australians an opportunity to do the seasonal work—in addition to backpackers. This is what we need to do. Obviously, it will involve a change in the rules. It needs to be implemented appropriately and without any hitches.

We are prepared to support this legislation on the basis that we give unemployed Australians a fair go instead of the punitive welfare rules that currently exist. That is the nub of our support for this bill. We are still negotiating with the government. We will support the second reading stage of this bill. We believe it has a lot of merit, so the sooner we can get on with this and resolve this one way or the other, the better. Our agricultural sectors desperately need certainty, so we need to get on with it. I am sure, if this bill gets through—

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Senator XENOPHON: Senator Whish-Wilson, who I have enormous regard for, says: 'We are not going down the right road.' What is wrong with giving Australians who are unemployed a chance to work instead of being hit with punitive welfare rules?

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Senator XENOPHON: Well, they are—50c in the dollar for everything you earn after $52 a week, and it cuts out at $1,023 a fortnight for a single person. Our current welfare rules basically allow people to fail. The government is prepared to deal with that in a constructive way. We support the second reading stage of this bill. I know the Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann, is itching to say something. I will sit down and shut up, but I hope we can pass the second reading stage of this bill.