Senate debates

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Working Holiday Maker Program

3:35 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources (Senator Canavan) to a question without notice asked by Senator Rice today relating to the backpacker tax.

A delegation from Tasmania—10 fruitgrowers, all from successful and very important businesses to Tasmania—is in parliament today. Tasmania relies on the export of its clean, green, high-value produce to the mainland, overseas and into the tourism market in Tasmania. Having been a fruitgrower myself, with a vineyard, I know how cruel Mother Nature can be. Fruitgrowers face significant risks, and now they are facing a significant risk with this Liberal-National government bringing in a new tax on backpacker labour.

At harvest time it is very difficult to get seasonal labour. Backpackers supplement the local labour markets and enable these producers to have the labour there when they need it. Of course, picking is very difficult to predict—often it happens around weather and around ripening—and the availability of labour is very difficult to predict. I want to make this really clear, especially to my Senate colleague from Tasmania Senator Urquhart: the producers that I know in the Tamar Valley, the big fruit producers, always employ local labour first. They always employ local Tasmanians and Australians first, but they simply cannot get enough labour to pick their fruit, so the backpacker market is crucial.

I know orchardists who provide accommodation and even food to attract backpacker labour to the area—it is really important. Sometimes those pickers are only required for a week or a month, so the transitional nature of that labour is what it is. There is work available when it is available and then, once the picking is done, the work is not available. This suits backpackers because they are coming to our country and to my state of Tasmania to see the beautiful scenery, to see the culture and heritage, to meet people and to meet other fellow travellers. The work is available for them and it is an excellent way for them to travel.

We currently have a system in Australia where backpackers pay the same taxes we do as Australian citizens, which means they do not pay tax for the first $18,000 earned, and that is very lucrative for them. Overseas, they have different tax rates. We need to maintain our competitive advantage, especially in Tasmania, which is very vulnerable to a lack of seasonal labour. If we do not maintain that competitive advantage then we are putting our local producers at significant risk. I can tell you have from having spoken to them that they are absolutely furious that this government is bringing in a new tax on backpackers that could very seriously impact on the availability of labour for their businesses.

It really surprising that the 'low-taxing government'—and we hear that in the this chamber all the time—is trying to introduce a tax on rural Australia. And shame on the Nationals for not speaking out for their electorate. These Tasmanian producers are here today. I just attended a press conference. The crossbench was there with the Greens. There were no Liberal senators there to support them and unfortunately, Senator Brown, there was no-one there from the Labor Party to support them either. So I would like to hear from the Labor Party on this issue.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

That is not even true. We were invited, were we?

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

There were no Labor senators at the press conference. I would be very keen to hear from Senator Brown and Senator Bilyk and Senator Urquhart whether they support Tasmania's fruit growers and local producers in this aspect. I will be very much looking forward to hearing from them on this because, as I said, these businesses make it very clear always employ local labour first but they simply cannot get the numbers of people that they need.

If the Labor Party is going to block any future legislation on this backpacker tax, join with the Greens and the crossbench, make your announcement this weekend, Senator Brown, and we can send a message to the government: do not bother bringing forward this legislation to the Senate; it will not pass the Senate because we stand with the Tasmanian primary producers. It is a silly idea and it is a cash grab by the government passing the buck to primary producers. We can find the $550 million elsewhere. There are plenty of other places we can find budget savings. So step up, Labor, and help us take on the Liberal National Party on this issue. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.