Thursday, 1 December 2016
Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016 (No. 2); In Committee
You are quite right, Senator Dastyari. It is shameful but not unexpected, because we know that they feel neglected and they want to be relevant again. That is why the Leader of the Greens, while he is still leader—I am running my book as to how long he will last—will do anything to make himself the centre of attention. That is what has happened here. But it has come at a cost, particularly in Tasmania. Senator Lambie knows this because she has been consulting and talking to the growers, the producers and those people who are directly affected by this decision, and they have told her that so many local jobs depend on being able to attract backpackers to our state.
This 15 per cent tax does not make us internationally competitive. You think that by spending $100 million you can just whitewash over the decision you have made. It has all been about saving face for Mr Morrison and Mr Joyce. It was so evidently clear when the Prime Minister was being interviewed this morning that, as he has done with so many issues since he rolled Mr Abbott, he would do whatever it takes to win. So if that meant an additional $100 million being paid out to the favourite toy of the Greens, he was going to do it. But the implications of this are far wider than that. We know that Mr Turnbull had a plan to be Prime Minister; unfortunately, he has no plan for how to act as a Prime Minister. And there was never a starker example of that than in his interview this morning. I really expected so much more.
Madam Chair, I know that you would have had the same conversations throughout your community as I have had. People are saying: 'Who is this Prime Minister? He promised so much but has delivered nothing.' We have a government that cannot even govern: they vote against themselves in the House of Representatives. We have had two weeks of late-night sittings. But we do not mind. After all, that is what we are here to do—have debates, scrutinise legislation. But what we have seen is a ping-pong game between 32.5 per cent and 19 per cent—and we are not going to move from there! Senator Cormann, who is in the chamber now, said: 'We will not move from 19 per cent. We're firm on this. We're going to be responsible.' Well, we know that his word, like the Prime Minister's word, means nothing when it comes to protecting the egos of Mr Morrison and Mr Joyce.
Frankly, there is nothing wrong with a politician saying, 'We got this wrong.' And, let's face it, that is what they did on that side; they got it wrong. Mr Joyce has made a complete mess of this. It was not like all of a sudden a bit of knowledge rained down in the last two weeks and they realised: 'Oh my goodness, we've mucked this up as well!' They have known this for 18 months. They knew during the federal election campaign that they had got it wrong. So what did they do? They gave the community the indication: 'We'll just put that policy in the bottom drawer; it's not going to happen.' And too many in the sector actually took that con. So here we are now, with another piece of legislation coming back to us, and we have not even had the opportunity to look at that legislation.
But my real concern is about what this is doing to our reputation in an international sense. Those on the other side do not understand how social media works and what a laughing stock they have made of themselves in government. They have not been able to say: 'Okay everyone, we've made a terrible mistake. Let's clean up the mess we've made. Let's put it to the Senate and accept the Senate's decision'—which was made by more than just us in the opposition—'that 10.5 per cent is a good figure that will keep us internationally competitive.' Our closest neighbours, the New Zealanders, have a lower cost of living. With the weasel words being used by those on the other side trying to justify this, when they were misleading people through the media and in the chamber about the value of the backpacker tax in New Zealand, they never took into consideration the cost of living in New Zealand, which is a lot lower than it is here.
It is really disappointing but it is not surprising. A lot of the producers in Tasmania, a lot of the people who gave evidence at that Senate inquiry into the backpacker tax—and Senator Lambie and my colleagues from Tasmania would concur—are not supporters of the Labor Party. And I can assure you that they will not forget how the Liberal senators in this place—Bushby, Abetz, Duniam and Parry—have sold them out. They do not care about the Tasmanians whose own jobs rely on those backpackers who come into this country coming to my home state of Tasmania.
You think that this quick will deal that you have so nicely packaged together with the Greens is going to pan out well for you because of your embarrassment about how you have stuffed everything up from day one. Since you were elected, week after week, you have stuffed up everything that you have touched. We were giving valedictory speeches for the Attorney-General this afternoon. We know his days are numbered. There is going to be a reshuffle. So they want to get out of here very quickly tonight so that Mr Turnbull can do his reshuffle. And we will see a new ministry coming in. It is going to be so exciting! Who is going to get a job this time? Well, I wonder if Alexander Downer is wondering about this. When I was taking note this afternoon, I had a call from London. It was a call for George—and it was Alexander! I do not know if it was Alexander Downer, but it was from London. And he feels like he might be pushed under the bus, just like Senator Brandis did to Joe Hockey. The people on that side will sell out anyone. They will throw their own colleagues under the bus just to be able to save face.
This is a very sure sign of a Prime Minister who is desperate. It does not matter which way he looks, he knows there is always someone gunning for his back. That is what he is afraid of. We all know that when you are Prime Minister under attack from within your own caucus the last place you want to be is in parliament. I have been around politics for a little while, and I can assure you when a government is in trouble, they want to run. They want to get out of here tonight. Well, they have created this mess. We have a right, as senators, to have a look at this legislation and to be able to debate it. That is what we will be doing.
If you look at the sitting pattern for next year, what do you see? Not too many weeks of sitting, because, once again, Mr Turnbull had a plan to become Prime Minister, but he has never been able to develop a plan or an economic strategy for this country in order to be remembered as a good Prime Minister. What he has done is create some very, very mediocre ministers. We have seen that on display time and time again. What I will say now is what I have said before: travel safe, George, because I think London is calling you.