House debates

Monday, 17 October 2016


Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016, Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016, Superannuation (Departing Australia Superannuation Payments Tax) Amendment Bill 2016, Passenger Movement Charge Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading

11:46 am

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | Hansard source

The bill before the House, the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016, represents the latest stage in an 18-month fiasco at the hands of this incompetent government and this incompetent Treasurer—an 18-month fiasco which started with the former Treasurer announcing a backpacker tax in the 2015 budget. We have seen uncertainty, we have seen poor policy and we have seen an utter lack of consultation of affected sectors by this government. And now the government expect praise and congratulations for having fixed a mess that they themselves created. Well, this government deserves no congratulations when it comes to the backpacker tax. The Liberal Party is meant to understand business, and the National Party is meant to understand regional Australia. This policy imbroglio just underlines that these parties do not fulfil those core expectations of them.

We know that the original proposal for this was made with absolutely no consultation. When we responded to the 2015 budget, we said at the time, 'We trust that the government has thought through all the implications and has conducted adequate consultations.' Now we know that that simply was not the case.

The government are fond of saying, 'If you want to reduce an activity then you tax it more; if you want to stop something, then tax it.' They say that about many things. It appears that the government want to stop backpackers coming to Australia by virtue of imposing a tax which was unworkable at 32½ per cent. That was designed to raise $540 million in revenue. But, now the government has been forced into this backdown, there is a $300 million hit to the budget. And the government have not taken that hit to the budget. What they have done instead is increase the passenger movement charge by five dollars per movement, and change the taxation treatment of superannuation payments to working holiday makers in Australia.

Now, it was only a couple of weeks ago that we sat in the chamber at question time while the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment talked about how bad increases in the passenger movement charge are and criticised previous changes to the passenger movement charge, saying that was not the way that the Liberal-National party do business. This alleged member of the cabinet has been forced to defend things he was condemning just a couple of weeks ago at that dispatch box. So I wonder what consultation by the Treasurer with the minister for trade and tourism occurred when it comes to increasing the passenger movement charge.

Now, $5 might not sound like much if you think of it as part of $1,000 or $2,000 airfares to Europe et cetera. But when you consider how many Australians take the cheaper flights, to New Zealand, Indonesia, Bali, the Pacific Islands—and one of the things we have seen in recent years, of course, are budget airlines and much cheaper flights as a result of airline deregulation—then this is something that is worthy of some scrutiny and some consideration by the parliament.

The approach that the Labor Party are taking to this matter is not to oppose the passage of this legislation through the House; rather, we will ensure in the other place that affected sectors—horticulture, agriculture, tourism and hospitality—are given the chance to be consulted and to have their say in a way that they have not been by this government.

We know that, just as the previous Treasurer did not consult affected parties, this Treasurer has not consulted them either. He rang the airlines to tell them the change in the passenger movement charge was happening on the day he announced it. It was not consultation to ask, 'What do you think?' It was: 'This is what I am announcing today.'

This Treasurer is also someone who, when he sat on this side, condemned increases in the passenger movement charge. When he sat in opposition, he also condemned increases in the passenger movement charge—what used to be called the departure tax in Australia—and said it was bad for tourism, bad for Australia's reputation and bad for Australia's competitiveness. Now that he is Treasurer, he has found himself with this terrible mess on his hands, an imbroglio of this government's own making, and he expects us to say, 'That's okay, then. We won't provide any scrutiny.'

We on this side of the House have shown we are prepared to facilitate, in good time, savings measures that are worked through in a proper fashion. We have shown we are up for budget repair. We have shown we are up for facilitating this bill through both houses of parliament. The Treasurer had the temerity to demand that we pass this legislation last week because of certainty. He said it was important for certainty for the affected sectors that this legislation pass the House last week. After 18 months of uncertainty from that side of the House, they finally get their act together and come up with what they say is a more palatable plan, and then they demand that this parliament—not just the opposition but the crossbenchers and the other place—pass the legislation as a matter of urgency.

What we will be doing is providing the appropriate degree of scrutiny for a government which has got this so wrong at every turn. Why would we expect a government which has got this wrong at every opportunity to have suddenly got it right and pass its legislation without scrutiny? It is right that affected sectors and affected people have the opportunity to make a submission through a Senate inquiry, at which point the opposition will determine its final votes in the other place.

There will be other contributors to this debate. The shadow minister for agriculture, the member for Hunter, will examine the issue of our agricultural competitiveness and the impact of a tax on working holiday-makers—particularly when we know that the number of working holiday-makers coming to Australia is already on the decline and has been declining for several years. Of course, the member for Grayndler, the shadow minister for tourism, will look at issues around the passenger movement charge and, of course, the hypocrisy of the government and the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment in particular. The shadow minister for employment and the shadow minister for immigration will also be raising issues about the working holiday visa system. They will also take the opportunity to reiterate Labor's position, as announced during the election campaign, of ensuring that we have the policy settings in place around working holiday visas and other important labour market and non-labour market immigration programs which have an impact on the labour market, to ensure that those policy settings and the balance are right.

In that instance, I note that just last week there was a report released by the Fair Work Ombudsman detailing exploitation of working holiday visa holders, including: underpayment and/or non-payment of wages, workplace health and safety issues, and other exploitation. This comes as little surprise for those on this side of the House, who had a long interest in ensuring that the visa policy settings are correct when it comes to temporary workers in Australia. There is a place for temporary workers in Australia. Everybody acknowledges that. Everybody acknowledges there are good and genuine employers who have had trouble attracting employees—particularly in regional Australia, whether it be in horticulture or whether it be in tourism. So it is right that the parliament provides that scrutiny. This government, as I said, deserves no thanks, no congratulations and no credit for these 18 months of imbroglio. The Treasurer seems to think he should get a pat on the back, just as he claims on other matters, for attempting to fix what has been a shambles of a process.

I will move the second reading amendment that has been circulated in my name. Based on recent form, I can see no reason why it would not have unanimous support of the House, because this government should acknowledge that it has been a shambles. It should acknowledge the uncertainty that has been created for the agricultural and tourism sectors. It should acknowledge that the passenger movement charge increase comes despite the government only weeks ago criticising increases in the passenger movement charge. It should acknowledge that concerns have been expressed around changes to arrangements for working holiday-makers, given the rorting, abuse and exploitation that have occurred in some sectors and by some employers. So I move:

That all the words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“while not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes:

(1)the Government’s handling of the backpacker tax has been a shambles;

(2)the uncertainty that has been caused to the agriculture and tourism sectors;

(3)the Passenger Movement Charge increase comes despite the Government only weeks before criticising an increase to the Passenger Movement Charge; and

(4)concerns have been expressed about the changes to the arrangements for Working Holiday Makers given the rorting, abuse and exploitation that has occurred.”

The Labor Party will not oppose the passage of the legislation through the House. We will reserve our rights for a Senate inquiry to have a proper examination of the issues that get raised.


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