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Thursday, 10 November 2016
Page: 2579

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (18:46): I will let the Senate know that I will not be using all the time allotted, so, No. 2, get down now if you are here. I wanted to make some brief remarks about the shenanigans and stunts pulled by the Labor Party and Senator Lambie this morning with regard to the backpacker tax. I come from the state where the horticultural industry contributes $1.2 billion in export earnings and where 3½ thousand businesses are involved in horticultural production.

During the state election I spent a lot of time in the seat of Murray in the beautiful Goulburn Valley where 80 per cent of our national pear production occurs and the iconic business of SPC Ardmona is located. Horticulture in this country's heartland resides in the great state of Victoria. When people choose to play politics with the businesses, particularly the small businesses, regional Victoria's ability to do what it does so well—that is, get the crop off, get it processed and get it out to market—is affected. It is not just domestic markets that are affected but markets around the world employing so many locals through the processing facilities at a local level. That is a task that is not always able to be fulfilled with local labour, as we know. As, indeed, my own Senate committee inquiry into working visas found last year.

We need this very special class of visa. It is the Nationals that, through the federal election campaign, strove to wind back what was started under Wayne Swan in terms of increasing the backpacker tax from 29 per cent—

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Senator McKENZIE: Don't shake your head, Senator O'Neill—to 32.5 per cent. That actually occurred under a Labor government. It is your policy. This is what is ironic about this conversation: it is the coalition members and senators who are hoping to ensure that the local worker is remunerated at the same level as the international worker, in those particular businesses right around the country.

What Labor and Jacqui Lambie are putting forward in this space is to ensure that the domestic worker is paid less—will take home less—than the international worker, and that is not fair. Indeed, we employ a lot of workers under that visa class in our dairy industry, a $1.9 billion industry with 4,200 dairy farmers. In the actual production of milk, 10,600 people are employed and just over 9,000 people are in processing. We do use that particular class of worker to assist us in the dairy industry, so it is not just in horticulture.

We need to have this addressed. We have done the review. Industry wants it set at 19 per cent. We agreed to that. It will actually ensure that there is parity between domestic and international workers and it will ensure, at 19 per cent—and I think the important fact that Labor chooses to forget about is that we are in a competitive international environment for this type of worker—that we are still very, very competitive against New Zealand and Canada—

Senator O'Neill: That's not true. We cannot compete with New Zealand.

Senator McKENZIE: when you take into account the whole package, Senator O'Neill. I would ask, on behalf of industry and on behalf of the Victorian horticultural industry in particular, that Labor and Senator Lambie stop playing politics with this issue.

When we go to the report into this issue that was handed down earlier this week, I note that the only farming groups arguing against the 19 per cent tax rate are Reid Fruits, a Tasmanian grower; Hansen Orchards, another major fruit producer in Tasmania; Fruit Growers Tasmania; the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association; and Primary Employers Tasmania. Now—great—Tasmania produces a lot of great fruit, but I am telling you that Victoria produces a lot of fruit, as do Queensland and New South Wales. All of those grower bodies are backing the 19 per cent. All of those bodies! And you know what? What the Labor Party may not realise is that the fruit is ripening now—right now! We need this addressed today. We could have had this dealt with this week in a manner that the industry seeks and that the budget requires. It is a great disappointment that, again, the Labor Party chooses to play politics with farmers and small businesses across regional Australia. It is a very, very sad day, but not unsurprising.

I want to commend the growers. I know from speaking to the council in the City of Greater Shepparton during the election campaign, and to the mayor at the time, Dinny—who has been re-elected; congratulations!—how passionate those particular growers and that community were. The then candidate Damian Drum, now the member for Murray, and I were left in no doubt whatsoever that this is absolutely essential to the economic growth and development of the region going forward. The fruit is ripening now. I have spoken to growers in the Goulburn Valley and the Yarra Valley in my home state. They are saying that if we do not get this sorted now the fruit is going to rot. They will lose a whole crop. Businesses are going under and families are going under because Labor chooses to play politics.

We have got the solution. We have consulted widely and it is an appropriate solution that the horticulture industry wants and is backing. I call on the Labor Party and Senator Lambie to solve this issue as soon as possible on behalf of all growers.