SPEECH – Getting the facts right about the Backpacker Tax

30 November 2016

Today is a hallmark day for me. I have spent my three years in this place endeavouring to expose the Labor Party and the Greens and a couple of others for their hatred of the bush and farmers. And what you have just done today—we have seen you do before in 2011—with the legislation on the backpacker tax is right up there with the suspension of the live cattle trade. You see if it does not play out over Christmas. You have just put thousands of farms, small producers, people in the service industries and people in the beef industry in a terrible position because you know—and we do not want this fraud to go without being exposed—full well that 10.5 per cent taxation is not on the table. It has never been on the table. It was not on the table today and it will not be on the table in the future. This bill is going to come back to this place at 15c and it will have to lay on the table until our farmers in their thousands have called you—and I will devote my entire Christmas break to stirring this up—until you have had hundreds and hundreds of calls each, as they share with you what their Christmas is like when their fruit remains on the trees, when their small crops remain in the fields, when processing cannot occur and the service industries cannot operate and when all of those resorts up and down our coast and in your states cannot operate. I notice a lot of you do not come from my place, and to the few that do, I will tie this stinking, rotten, dead kangaroo around your throats in Queensland. I will make sure that every Queenslander knows that senators from Queensland supported this legislation to send these businesses to the wall at 32½c.

And do you know what the insidious thing is? That your defence to this has been that somehow this was the government’s backpacker tax. Well, you know full well that the greatest treasurer ever to live, Mr Swan, introduced this in 2012 with the support of the Greens. This is the Greens-Labor coalition backpacker tax—make no mistake about it. To use the words of Mr Keating: ‘It is law. L-A-W.’ This is not something to be fiddled around the edges with; this is the current tax rate for foreign nationals. And what the Greens would have us do—let me just concentrate there for a moment—is put them in a position where the foreign nationals can come into this country, just come in from I do not know where—Syria, Iraq, New Zealand, where if you like. What one of the speakers for the Greens did the other day was, when you get to that question for tax purposes, mark off that you are a resident. The Greens promoted fraud in a speech the other day. We found out why: because the speaker has these backpackers working on his grape farm and two of them are living at Mum’s.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Gallacher ): Senator O’Sullivan, please direct your comments through the chair and not across the chamber.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Well, he needs to get on the phone to Mum now and get the rent for the next three months. He needs to get on the phone and tell Mum to put an ad in the paper to get himself some new tenants because these people are going at 32½c.

I have to tell you—this place—you know what? People out there are sick to death of all of us. They are sick to death of their parliament and all of this crap that goes on with politics. They want us to get on with the job and that is exactly what we did. The government went out and took 1,760 submissions from industry, the farm sector, the service sectors sector and the tourist sector.

We took some independent advice on it and we settled on 19c because that is what they wanted. You senators have come in here and said, ‘My farmers in Tasmania are ringing me every day.’ We had an audacious statement from Senator Whish-Wilson, who told us that he spoke to every farmer in Tasmania. How ridiculous is that!

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: It is on the Hansard. You are supporting this, Senator Brown. He has persuaded you to do this. It was the most atrocious, misleading statement in this Senate since I have been here. He said he spoke to every farmer in Tasmania. Think about that. I tell you what I will do, Whishy: bring your phone logs in and prove it and I will give you a free trip to Paris.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, on a point of order?

Senator Cameron: Senator O’Sullivan knows that he should address a senator by their proper title.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O’Sullivan, I do remind you to address those opposite or on other benches by their correct titles.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: That is Senator Whish-Wilson, if anyone was in any doubt. I am sorry, Doug, that I did that. The fact of the matter is that we have a situation here where those opposite have persisted in providing advice into this Senate that is false and have persuaded some of the crossbenchers, who have really demonstrated a real show of ignorance on this issue.

We have just seen Senator Culleton, who is from One Nation and from the bush and has been fighting for farmers, send his neighbours to the wall. That is what he has done today. One Nation is divided. It is an empty vessel now. It is finished. Culleton is one of the Labor Party or maybe one of the Greens.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O’Sullivan—

Senator O’SULLIVAN: ‘Senator Culleton’—my apologies.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Yes. Please extend the courtesy expected by the chamber.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Put a global ‘Senator’ before any senator’s name I say so we do not have this problem! We have a serious situation on our hands—

Senator Cameron: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I know debates are wide ranging, but to treat the Senate in the way in the way that the senator has done now is just unacceptable. He cannot be so flippant about what he is doing. He should actually treat the chamber with some respect.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O’Sullivan, I do remind you of the requirement for all acting deputy presidents to observe the standing orders. I do remind you as an acting deputy president to observe the courtesies expected by the President.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: I do respect that. I apologise to the chair for any difficulty that I have created. But I will tell you what: you know you are on the money when Senator Cameron gets up every two minutes to interrupt the thrust of your speech! I have had three interruptions. That is a record for me. Senator Cameron has been interfering, but it will not make any difference because, until this tax rate is settled, every time I come into this place I will talk about this issue. They have to have it branded on their foreheads in the Labor Party and the Greens.

Senator Culleton, Senator Hinch and others: you have ownership of this. This was your tax. This is your tax. The power rests with you to bring it back to a reasonable rate. It is less than what the sector wanted, less than what the agriculture industry wanted and less than what the farmers wanted. It is down four per cent.

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Senator Brown, you need to spend a bit more time reading up on the results of inquiries. I will bet you London to a brick that no-one on the other side has even read the results of the inquiry that was done in the lower house to provide this 19 per cent tax rate.

This is exactly the same as the cessation of the live cattle trade, only it is going to affect more small businesses in the bush. It is going to affect many more than in the live cattle trade. In effect it is up in the north and it flows down through the trade and the market into the south. This is going to affect thousands of small businesses, including mum-and-dad operations at Stanthorpe, Warwick, Laidley and the Lockyer. That is the food bowl of my home state.

The only good thing to come out of this is that in all of these areas the Labor Party will never ever get another vote—not as long as they breathe. The Greens already do not get a vote there. As I said the other day, when the Greens get up and speak in favour of farmers and agriculture, farmers everywhere break out into a big sweat. They really do. They break out into a big sweat. They have a Bex and a lie down and wonder what they have just seen. That is what they are going to find today. You people opposite have crippled these small businesses.

Senator Carol Brown: You have!

Senator O’SULLIVAN: No, it is you people. This is your tax. This is a Labor tax of 32½c and you have just reinforced it today through your actions in this chamber. You do not care about what happens in the bush. Senator Brown does not have a bloody clue about what happens there, and she certainly does not care about what happens there.

This is a devastating decision in this place. This is a devastating economic decision. I see you sitting there, Senator Cameron, with that grin you have. I tell you what: I will get the farmers to take the grin off your dial when they start to contact your office. You will need to put extra staff on. You have brought the economy of these small businesses to a standstill.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, you have a point of order?

Senator Cameron: Again, Senator O’Sullivan should actually not threaten a senator in this place. His behaviour during this debate has been absolutely disgusting and he should be called to order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: All I have heard is Senator O’Sullivan encouraging electors to ring senators’ offices, so I do not think there is a point of order there.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Democracy at work, it is! Fancy! You are going to have to take the calls of some angry constituents in relation to the decision that you take today.

I will close. This is going to come back from the House. There is going to be no acceptance for a 10½c tax. That has the support of all in government, including the National Party. I say that before this group starts to bleat about it. Think about it. We are their people. We live for them, and we support this decision of the government. So those opposite should not start during question time and at other times to suggest that there is some division or fracture within this government. There is none. We are as one on this. I have nothing else to do now in my office as a senator but get this fixed. I will work hard with my colleagues. There are 22 National Party people and many, many Liberal senators and members who will go into the Christmas break now and devote every part of their resources to making sure that every small business in the bush and every economy understands that this is the decision of those opposite decision from start to finish. They made it, and they will have to live with the consequences.