QUEENSLAND farmers have accused Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon of misinterpreting a conversation about the farm group sharing Labor’s 10.5 per cents position on the backpacker tax.
Mr Fitzgibbon held a media conference today in Canberra where he accused PM Malcolm Turnbull of having lied this morning on a number of occasions to the Australian community on the issue and telling so-called rich, European backpackers ‘you’re not welcome here’..
But the Labor frontbencher also said that overnight and this morning he’d had conversations with the President of the Queensland Farmers Federation who supported a 10.5pc rate.
“He rang me to send that message,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
But QFF issued a statement saying it had never backed an actual number and Mr Fitzgibbon had misinterpreted a conversation with QFF President Stuart Armitage in relation to the farm group’s position on the backpacker tax rate.
Mr Armitage said the QFF had never publicly nominated a preferred tax rate.
He said what QFF was calling for was for parliament to do its job and pass an internationally competitive rate that will deliver certainty to farmers and that industry can support.
“This is not about nominating a particular number, it is about delivering the certainly our members deserve,” he said.
QFF said its position on the controversial backpacker tax issue had not changed since a statement issued yesterday, after the Senate voted down the government’s 15pc compromise, to back a 10.5pc rate in an amendment moved by the ALP and backed by the Greens and crossbenchers.
In yesterday’s statement, Mr Armitage said politics was the art of compromise and no one gets everything they want, while calling for a resolution to the saga.
“One of the many great things about Australia and our political system has always been the pragmatism of its people, and by extension its elected representatives,” he said.
“Unfortunately, this guiding principle seems to have been lost following the defeat of the 15 per cent compromise.
“QFF has continually supported and advocated for an internationally competitive tax rate that ensures Australia remains an attractive and competitive destination for backpackers to work and play.
“With only one more parliamentary sitting day remaining in the year, time is running out to resolve the issue before the default rate 32.5 per cent commences on 1 January 2017.
“The 32.5 per cent rate is not internationally competitive and is a completely unacceptable outcome for Queensland.
“QFF joins our industry members Cotton Australia and Growcom in calling for an urgent resolution to the backpacker tax.”
The backpacker tax issue dominated question time in the House of Representatives where Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce highlighted the QFF’s clarification of Mr Fitzgibbon’s statements.
Mr Joyce said the ALP thought the backpacker tax issue was “a big joke” and were handling it like they did with the live cattle ban to Indonesia.
He said the government had already compromised from 32.5pc down to a 15pc rate – a 17.5pc shift – but the ALP refused to move from 10.5pc.
This morning, crossbench Senators Derryn Hinch of Victoria, One Nation Rod Culleton from WA and Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie indicated they supported a 13pc rate, after voting for the 10.5pc amendment yesterday.
Mr Fitzgibbon’s office has been contacted for further comment, regarding the QFF statement.
At today’s media conference, he also said he’d held talks with Glynn Williams - the President of the Primary Employers of Tasmania - which supported a lower tax rate than 15 per cent.
I have spoken to Keith Rice, the CEO of Poppy Growers Tasmania and he supports a lower rate than 15 per cent, he said.
“These people are ringing me, these are big players, ringing me to say we cannot compete at 15 per cent,” he said.
“They say 15 per cent is not that much different to 19 and it doesn’t make any sense.
“It needs to be a headline which can be easily compared with New Zealand and that’s the only hope we have to bringing backpackers back here.
“Backpackers which have been falling off since the day the government announced it’s 32.5 per cent and again this morning the Prime Minister looked out of touch.
“He doesn’t understand the farm sector (and) he doesn’t understand the tourism sector.
“He needs to get out of Point Piper, out onto the farms and talk to the growers I am talking to.”
In question time, Mr Turnbull accused Opposition leader Bill Shorten of misleading the parliament about the NFF’s position on the backpacker tax.
Mr Shorten said the NFF had asked the parliament to ‘get a deal done’ during an interview by President Fiona Simson on Sky News today and expressed support for 13pc.
But Mr Turnbull said the opposition leader was “reckless with the truth” and “will say anything”.
He said the NFF would like to see the issue resolved, as would the government.
“What’s the position they recommend – 15pc,” he said.
Mr Turnbull said the Coalition had compromised its position to 15pc which the NFF backed and had also described it as the “best policy outcome” and implored parliament to support that position.