ONE Nation leader Pauline Hanson has openly criticised fellow party member and WA Senator Rod Culleton for breaking ranks on the backpacker tax to the detriment of farmers, during a tumultuous final week of parliament.
Senator Hanson spoke last night during debate in the federal Senate as the prolonged backpacker tax saga was concluded, after the Greens struck a deal with the Coalition to pass the legislation at a 15 per cent tax rate.
That deal avoided the tax hitting 32.5pc on January 1 for overseas holidaymakers which the farm sector has worked would cause massive disruptions to fragile seasonal workforces especially horticulture.
But Senator Hanson pointed out the vexed political issue could have been resolved the day before if Senator Culleton had of maintained party discipline.
She thanked the Greens for brokering the deal but said she was annoyed about the “horse trading” that had gone with it, along the way.
“I believe One Nation is probably the only party in this house that has not done a deal on this,” she said.
“We looked at it on merit and we supported it from the beginning.
“We did negotiate from 19 per cent down to 15 per cent and we supported it on its merits.”
Senator Hanson said the most important people were the farmers and the farming sector but backpackers also were important to the hospitality industry.
In an earlier interview on Sky News, she said Senator Culleton was saying he was a farmer but “No”.
“He is a farmer of a different sector, he does not have backpackers,” she said.
“(Victorian Senator) Derryn Hinch, what's his connection with it?
“Have they ever really gone out to speak to the farmers?
“I was so angry they would not agree with the government.”
In the Senate last night as the sitting session dragged deep into the night, Senator Hanson said people had been phoning her office saying, 'Thank goodness there is some common sense and that a decision has been come to after so long’.
But she said it could all have been sorted out yesterday “if Senator Culleton had agreed to 15 per cent or Senator Hinch had agreed to 15 per cent or even Senator Lambie had agreed to 15 per cent”.
“It could have been sorted out yesterday, but it was not,” she said.
“The fact is that this is about the farming sector, who are in dire straits.
“In this chamber policies must be dealt with on merit, not through horse trading, and that is why I do not agree with a lot of things that happen here.”
Senator Hanson said she was also unhappy with the Labor Party's stance on the issue “because they of all people should be supporting the farming sector, which is the backbone of this nation, the ones who are suffering because of this”.
“I wish this decision had been come to a lot earlier than it has, but that was not the case,” she said.
“I will reiterate that the Greens have come to a decision and that common sense prevails in this house.
“I support this wholeheartedly and I am glad it has finally found closure.”
On Wednesday, Senator Culleton voted for a 10.5pc rate in a motion moved by the ALP and supported by the Greens, along with Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie, Senator Hinch and NSW Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm.
That forced the legislation to return to the Lower House and after tense, last minute negotiations - with the crossbenchers Culleton, Hinch and Lambie all moving to 13pc - the Greens averted the issue being left unresolved, in the final sitting week of federal parliament for 2016.
But Senator Culleton defended his negotiating position saying his stance had helped bring about a better deal for the farm sector and those farmers struggling with viability and farm-gate returns.
He said the 15pc tax rate agreed to in the deal had been described as being an effective 13pc rate, which he’d supported, with the Greens gaining several concessions.
Backpacker super payments of 9.5pc will drop from 95 to 65 percent, under the brokered agreement, and an added $100 million will be tipped into the Landcare program.
Senator Culleton said Landcare was a program that was strongly supported by the farm sector and regional communities and would be pleased by the extra $100m which would now have come about if he and the other crossbenchers hadn’t held off for a better deal, at 13pc.
The outspoken WA One Nation Senator was also thwarted by his party yesterday and Senator Hanson when they voted against his motion seeking to deal with issues relating to the High Challenge on his eligibility for election, and to be a member of the Upper House, sitting in the Court of Disputed Returns.
Nationals Queensland Senator Barry O’Sullivan was critical of Senator Culleton and other crossbenchers for backing the 10.5pc rate and potentially sending “thousands of small farmers into liquidation” by threatening negotiations.
“He (Senator Culleton) doesn’t understand what he’s doing and I’m particularly angry with him over this – he’s abandoned people in the bush,” he said.
“One Nation is in chaos – the rest of the team voted to support government’s position.”
Senator O’Sullivan said the ongoing backpacker tax issue had damaged and caused great uncertainty for small farmers, tourist operators, service operators and the meat processing sector, over the past three or four months.
He said backpackers had been doing “comparative sums” about where they wanted to travel to.
“If you’re a backpacker from Brazil, you’d be thinking this country can’t make its mind up,” he said.
Senator O’Sullivan said during a comprehensive Senate inquiry into the backpacker tax, the government received 1760 submissions from farmers, small businesses, people in small rural communities and throughout the country “and we took their advice”.
He said that inquiry agreed to a 19pc rate – which the government then compromised to 15pc – but the last minute changes in negotiations this week had only caused needless instability.
“This was democracy at work – this was participatory democracy; not representative democracy,” he said.
“We asked them to participate in determining this figure and as a result we settled on 19pc - that’s what they wanted.
“Just about every Australian is sick to their high teeth of this bloody parliament not being able to deliver sensible outcomes and reforms on their behalf.
“I’m capable of being critical of my own government (but) this one was not the government’s fault.
“The government did everything spot on – they followed the rule book 101 to arrive at a position that the constituency that are affected by it, wanted.
“This was democracy in its purest form.”
But Senator O’Sullivan said those moves were thwarted, due to “bastardy in politics” over the backpacker tax saga this week.
He said on Wednesday in the Senate, as the 15pc compromise was voted-down, the Labor party was “sitting there laughing”.
“I watched them through most of the vote – they were laughing and gloating at the fact that they’d disrupted the government’s position on this because they’d just been given a clip in the ear with the ABCC and this was their revolt,” he said.
“And they said so, (in speeches), ‘well you did this to our union officials so we’ll do this to your farmers’.
“In effect that was the spirit of what they said.
“Now that’s all a lot of fun unless you’re out there with cherries on the tree or you’ve got tomatoes to be picked or you’ve got fruit to come off or lettuce to come out of the ground in the Lockyer, or you’ve got bananas to be harvested or processed or causal labour on sugar farms.”
Senator O’Sullivan said people were “absolutely sick in the guts” of the way parliament had handled the backpacker tax.
He said he’d also asked the government and others to consider a further six-month moratorium on the tax increasing to 32.5pc, if the legislation failed to pass parliament, on the final day.
“I intend to stir up every single farmer in this place and every single farmer in this country to ring every one of those people who voted for this, to let them know exactly what they think.,” he said, ahead of a deal being brokered with the Greens.
“Myself and others have put the request through to the party’s leadership and to the government, to consider a moratorium so we can stir up the rural communities to show these fools exactly what they’ve done.
“All of the peak bodies are coming out and their frustration is palpable.
“They’re sitting there with their head in their hands shaking their heads and wondering ‘Why in God’s name are you doing this to us?’
“I’m capable of criticising my government – I’ve already said in speeches that this took too long to get resolution (but) it wasn’t impacting on them in a real way because of the moratorium until January 1.
“But it was creating an environment of uncertainty for planning for these people who are coming to the country and for farmers who want to manage their workforce.”
Senator O’Sullivan said he was given an assurance by the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann that the government “will not blink” on the 15pc rate.
“Imagine if we did?” he said.
“If you want to teach Derryn Hinch and Rod Culleton a bad habit, got to 13 cents.
“If you want to teach them an atrocious habit, go to 13 cents.”
Greens Tasmanian Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said it wasn’t a perfect deal which any agricultural producer would also acknowledge as they wanted to see backpackers taxed as residents for tax purposes.
“But all we have said to them is that we will do the very best we can to get the best possible deal,” he said.
“This outcome that we have tonight is the best possible deal.
“And we have to be honest - put all the politics and all the BS aside here tonight - that this is what we have here in front of us, and it will give certainty to Tasmania's farmers, to Australian farmers, and to backpackers; we desperately need their labour in this country and always have.”
Senator Whish-Wilson said the ALP were the only ones who did not accept it was a good, but not perfect solution, to the backpacker tax saga.
“Whenever the Greens do deals that deliver good outcomes for Australians, Labor decides that they need to take some skin off us,” he said.
“It is as simple as that; it is pure politics.
“This has been a long saga.
“We have been very critical of the government's mishandling of this.
“This has been a Mexican stand-off, a really dangerous game of chicken that was going to put a lot of agricultural producers at risk.
“But we feel we have struck a compromise now that is accepted by agricultural producers, that is accepted by the tourism industry, that delivers certainty and - I am very glad to say - that delivers $100 million back into Landcare for the environment, which is really important to my party and Greens voters and Greens supporters.”