WA ONE Nation Senator Rod Culleton says he’s standing up for farmers’ and their farm-gate returns by voting with other crossbench Senators and Labor and the Greens for a 10.5 per cent backpacker tax.
But farm groups, including in WA, have broadly panned the political game-playing that has seen the backpacker tax thrown into further doubt, with the legislation now returning to the Lower House where it’s anticipated it will return to the Senate at a 15pc rate.
Federal parliament was thrown into chaos today when the Senate voted against a compromised 15pc rate that was expected to pass this week to avoid hitting 32.5pc on January 1 and threatening critical farm labour supplies.
Speaking to Sky News, Senator Culleton said his reasoning on today’s Senate vote was that - being a farmer himself - farm-gate returns were not high enough and farmers “just can’t afford any more costs”.
He said he’d always supported the 10.5pc rate and thought “we may have to concede to the 15pc but we saw a way” and believed the right thing was done at today’s vote.
“We’re not saying that we don’t support the 15pc but it‘ll go back to the Lower House now and I believe it’ll go through at 10.5pc,” he said.
“We want to look after farmers; I can’t stress that any more.
“We’ll come out a winner.
“My disappointment is with the Nationals; they’re supposed to be out there looking after farmers which is clearly not happening, and the Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association and all these (farm) bodies out there.
“But at the end of the day here I am really making a mark to get it down and keep farmers viable, on the land.”
Senator Culleton denied as “nonsense” a suggestion he’d split with One Nation, which had supported the 15pc rate compromise the government announced earlier this week.
“Everything is on the table until I have to vote in the chamber; until I take my position the balls are all in the air,” he said.
“My position has never changed.
“We need to get it fixed and get it right so everyone is happy and move on.
“I’ve been in many, many negotiations in my lifetime.
“I honestly believe the position I’ve take on it, which has never changed, I reckon it’ll get set at 10.5pc.
“Everything that’s put before me, I deal with its merit, deal with it and put it away.”
Senator Culleton declined to say if he’d support the legislation if it was returned to the Senate at 15pc.
“We’ll see how it comes back - we’ll see how they deal with that,” he said.
“Farmers need to know that whatever the second bite will be, it will be in the best interests of the farmers and I’ll be making further phone calls.”
Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch also did an unexpected backflip after saying earlier this week that he backed the 15pc compromise rate announced by the Treasurer.
The National Farmers’ Federation has stood its ground on a 15pc rate.
WAFarmers said the wider agricultural sector continued to be left in limbo by parliament on the backpacker tax issue, today’s vote where Labor amended the Bills to drop the tax rate to 10.5pc.
WAFarmers CEO Stephen Brown said industry was desperate for a solution, with only two sitting days remaining for the year in which a resolution could be determined.
“WAFarmers, alongside the National Farmers’ Federation, stands by our support for the Coalition’s recent 15pc compromise on the backpacker tax as we believe it is a fair, reasonable and competitive figure,” he said.
“We are furious that this has not been resolved, when it is so clearly a time-sensitive issue of critical importance to the future of multiple industries.
“The issue has been dragged out for 18 months during which time backpackers have chosen other destinations for their working holidays, leaving producers in the lurch and gaping holes in the tourism and hospitality sectors, plus the greater Australian economy.
“This additional delay demonstrates further contempt for the agricultural industry.”
The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) backed the NFF’s support for a 15pc backpacker tax.
AFPA Chief Executive Officer Mr Ross Hampton said parliament needed to provide agricultural industries with certainty by finalising a 15pc backpacker tax.
“As an associated industry that also has seasonal work and seasonal workers, we call on all members of Parliament to put politics aside and finally resolve this issue,” he said.