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Thursday, 10 November 2016
Page: 2458

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (12:15): I and my colleagues Senators Griff and Kakoschke-Moore will not be supporting this motion for a number of reasons. The leader of government business says that this is a stunt—and I know a thing or two about stunts! There are good stunts and there are counterproductive stunts. I think this motion is counterproductive for a number of reasons. We cannot support this motion because currently we are openly in good-faith negotiations with the government on a parallel amendment in respect of the backpacker tax. That relates to an opportunity for unemployed Australians, Australians who are on welfare, to have an opportunity to do this seasonal work without being penalised. Under the current system, if you earn more than $104 a fortnight you lose 50c in the dollar thereafter and it tapers off—if it is more than $1,000 a fortnight you get nothing. This system is built with massive disincentives for those on welfare to have a go and do this seasonal work.

The government, to their credit, have been open to this idea. I met with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce not so long ago, and Treasurer Morrison and Minister Porter have been open to this suggestion. There is no question that the 32 per cent backpacker tax was an ill-conceived policy notion and is counterproductive. We are facing a crisis, this season, that we need to resolve sooner rather than later. Senator Lambie is right. There will be many thousands of tonnes of produce left rotting on the ground in the Riverland of South Australia, in the Adelaide Hills, where my colleague Rebekha Sharkie, the member for Mayo, has been championing this proposal in relation to raising the threshold to 19 per cent. Some would say that is too high. But our wage rates are higher than New Zealand's and those of other countries. That is a countervailing factor, and I accept that.

We cannot support this motion because we are negotiating in good faith with the government. I urge my crossbench colleagues to see that there is a way through this. Forcing a vote on this today is counterproductive. There is scope to get the best of both worlds—to use the backpackers that we need to pick the fruit but to also, for the first time ever, unleash the potential of many thousands of young and older Australians who right now, with the huge disincentives built into our welfare system, are penalised for having a go. We want to remove that disincentive.