Thursday, 15 September 2016
Questions without Notice
Working Holiday Maker Program
My question is to the Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Ruston. In my new role as Greens spokesperson for agriculture and rural affairs, I have already had multiple representations from farmers, growers and industry representatives who say that they are fearful of the introduction of the backpacker tax and what it will mean for their businesses. Could the minister—
I will. Thank you, Mr President. Senator Canavan, in my new role as Greens spokesperson for agriculture and rural affairs I have already had multiple representations from farmers, growers and industry representatives who say they are fearful of the introduction of the backpacker tax and what it will mean for their businesses. Could the minister please outline to the Senate the impact the uncertainty over the proposed backpacker tax is having on the farmers planning for future harvests?
I thank the senator for her question. I met with farmer representatives just today to discuss this issue, and certainly in my area there are plenty who have raised this issue with the government. That is why, during the election campaign, the government announced a review of the changes that were announced in last year's budget. We announced that we would provide relief to the sector for six months. During that campaign we announced that we would consult widely on any changes that might be proposed to us as a government and what changes could be afforded within the budget environment.
This is an important change to be made to our migration and working holiday visa arrangements. I put on the record that the industry—and certainly the farmer representatives I met with this morning—recognise the need for change in this particular space. Given the changes that were made when the carbon tax came in, the tax-free threshold went up to $18,200, such that many workers on working holiday visas at the moment do not pay tax and do not contribute. I certainly believe that all Australians and non-Australians working here should contribute to our public service.
Mr President, on a point of order: can you request the minister to return to the core of my question, which is the uncertainty that the issue about the backpacker tax is currently having on farmers planning for future harvests?
I met with those farmers this morning, Senator Rice, and I listened to the concerns they have. The government has listened to those concerns. That is why we have announced this review and that is why we are consulting with the industry and meeting with farmers. We will make decisions shortly, once that review is complete. Those decisions will be announced before the end of the year, such that farmers can plan their business going into next year.
Minister, could you please inform the chamber which specific stakeholders you have met with to discuss the backpacker tax and further inform the chamber about the details of the concerns they raised with you about this ill-considered tax—one that I understand you have concerns about and have been reported as saying is too high and one that Senator O'Sullivan has said is a massive mistake?
This morning I met with Shenal Basnayake, who is the CEO of NT Farmers. Obviously I keep very closely in touch with those organisations in northern Australia, given my other ministry. I have met with many organisations over the past six months to discuss these issues. It was first raised with me in Bowen with the Bowen fruit and growers association. I am sure you realise, Senator Rice, that it has been a topic of conversation. But, as I said in answer to the previous question, the industry—the farming representatives themselves—recognise that there needs to be some change. The question for the government following this review will be what that change will be and how we can maintain our competitive and strong agriculture sector for the benefit of all Australians.
Could the minister please inform the chamber whether the government are now planning to introduce the backpacker tax by legislation or whether they intend to rely on a tax ruling that is likely to be subject to a legal challenge?
As I said in answer to the previous question, the current government will be making these decisions following this review and by the end of the year. We have provided that relief over six months. The senator has raised issues of uncertainty for the farming sector. Well, there is no greater uncertainty for farmers in this country than the policies of the Australian Greens. That is the uncertainty that our farming sector principally face often in my state, particularly in northern Australia, where the Greens would not like farmers to develop any land or to develop any irrigation to create new jobs. That is the uncertainty those farmers—
As I thought I indicated to the chamber, decisions on the aspects that went to the senator's question will be made following this review and before the end of the year. Decisions will be announced in time for the industry to plan for the next season.