BUSINESS;Rearrangement – 10 Nov 2016

The government claims that this bill is of utmost importance. However, despite the report being tabled yesterday, the government has not brought this bill on for debate. Senator Xenophon, we could have been debating it today but the government has chosen not to. So despite this bill being ‘urgent’—like a number of other bills and the urgent election we have had—the government has failed to fix this issue. But they have to fix it because what a disaster this has been for this government. I agree with Senator Lambie about the impact it has on the season in Tasmania. I was at the Tasmanian inquiry. I will talk about couple of issues there—I am only going to talk quickly about this today. We know that farmers and tourism operators around Tasmania, and in the rest of Australia, are hurting because of this situation.

Working holiday-makers, backpackers, help harvest production and we are looking at a situation where, nationwide, that is being put at risk. The government sought to make changes that significantly affect the agriculture sector without even bothering to consult with the sector. Once again, there was no consultation. The way the government has approached this issue is disgraceful. As I said, farmers and tourism operators across Tassie and Australia are absolutely livid at the arrogance, incompetence and ignorance that the Liberal-National government has brought this issue. The farmers and tourism operators face uncertainty and loss and fear for the future of their operations.

I just want to quote evidence given by Mr Tim Reid at the Launceston hearing of the inquiry into this bill. Mr Reid, from Reid Fruits, is one of Tasmania’s largest agricultural employers, with a particularly large export market for high quality cherries. Mr Reid told the committee:

We have over 600 people on our own farm during harvest. Again, around 65 per cent of them are backpackers. The locals are really good; they provide a regular return each year to fill key positions in management during harvest et cetera. But without the backpackers we do not have a hope.

… you would have gained by now that this whole exercise has been a shambolic process to introduce a new tax—a simple grab for money, in our opinion, without any thought or consideration and with a complete lack of consultation with people like ourselves.

I cannot believe that they did not go and talk to the agriculture industry. Once again, Senator Lambie, I agree with what you say: the Nationals should hang their heads in shame for how they are treating the people of Australia. It is absolutely abysmal.

In the case of Reid Fruits we have seen a decline by 50 per cent this year—

I am quoting Mr Reid again—

in the number of backpackers who have applied for positions with us. We will scrape through this season; we have enough people to fill our positions so far. But I must say that a lot of those backpackers were already in Australia when this tax was announced, some of them on second-year visas. It is the next wave of applicants that we are worried about.

That is from one of Tasmania’s leading exporters. They are not a piddly little farming organisation that might need a few people; they are huge. They do great things for Tasmania, and I think Tasmanian senators on the other side should be thinking very carefully about what this means for Tasmania before they just wander off into the wide blue yonder and put their hands up for their side.

Tasmania has done a wonderful job building up its export industry in recent years, and it would be an absolute disaster to see them continually impacted by this government’s incompetence. It is pretty clear we need to get this issue resolved, but it is also important that we solve this in the right way. The government previously sought to rush this legislation through. They appear to have been of the opinion that any solution was good enough. Well, it is not. If the government do not get this policy right, they could destroy farms and farmers, destroy our export markets, and destroy towns and families across Tasmania and Australia. We can and must do better. As I said, the government have stumbled into this issue without taking any due care. We know they did no modelling. We heard at the inquiries how they did not consult with anybody.

At the Launceston inquiry, I spoke to Mr Glynn Williams, president of Primary Employers Tasmania. I asked him, ‘Were you consulted prior to the 2015-16 budget announcement?’ Mr Williams replied, ‘No’. Ms McKinnon, from the National Farmers Federation, told the hearing in Canberra:

… I think we would have preferred to have been consulted before the 2015 budget announcement. Clearly, when announcements are made without consultation, there will be people who find parts of the announcements surprising, and that can lead to some consternation. So we would have preferred to have been consulted then.

This government has a history of not consulting people.

And what I do not understand is: if it is such an important issue—of the utmost importance—why don’t they want to bring on the debate? We know they have acted arrogantly, we know they have not listened to the industries affected, we know they have acted recklessly without any modelling or considering any of the impacts—especially in regional and rural areas, which of course is where most of this work takes place—and we know they have acted thoughtlessly without considering the impacts on Australian farmers, tourism operators and small communities. Let us not forget those backpackers spend most of their money in the communities they are actually working in, and so those other small businesses in those small communities will also suffer.

Those opposite need to have the courage to face this chamber and absolutely fix the destruction that they have wrought. I would ask that Senator Xenophon reconsider his position about not supporting this. You are right, Senator Xenophon; it is important. We know it is important and we need to resolve it. I believe that bringing the debate on today is one way to help resolve this issue more quickly.