SPEECH: if the sun sets and this legislation has not passed the Senate, it will be a disaster for rural Australia

23 November 2016

Farmers all over the country will have just broken out in a big sweat when they think that the Greens are finally standing up to articulate matters that are in their interest. I will say that one of the features that come out of the contribution from the Australian Labor Party and their coalition partners, the Australian Greens, is of course that they leave the facts out. The story does not sound anywhere near as compelling when the facts are left out.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: I am pleased that I have the attention of Senator Polley. Let’s first of all debunk the story about our government introducing the backpackers tax. The facts of the matters are that in the 2012-13 budget, the best Treasurer the world has ever seen, Mr Swan, introduced the rate of 32.5c, which is now loosely referred to as the backpacker tax. So it is a Labor-Greens backpacker tax that we are dealing with. I am pleased to see that Senator Whish-Wilson fits the description of another senator here now who understands the Constitution better than the High Court, and we now have a situation where he understands tax rules and tax laws better than the Taxation Office and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, who visited this question in 2015. This where this dilemma comes from. The Greens-Labor backpacker tax was tested in the—

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Through you, Madam Deputy President, I know this is really inconvenient rhetoric for Senator Polley, but if you sit there quietly, kick your shoes off, throw your legs up and have a listen, you are going to learn something out of this, Senator Polley. Here are the facts: you introduced the tax at 32.5c, so it is a Greens-Labor backpacker tax, if you want to give it that name. In March 2015 the tax office took three matters to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, where the question posed was whether these backpackers were residents of Australia. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruled that they were not residents and, therefore, they were subject to the 32.5c—

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: I know that Senator Whish-Wilson often does not put as much research into matters as he ought to, but I am happy to help him, because I have put the effort in. It was the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that made the ruling that they could not—in the contribution made by the senator before me it was almost suggesting that if you are confronted with the form, and you are a foreign national, a backpacker from Panama or Patagonia—I do not even know where Patagonia is—confronted with a form asking, ‘Are you a resident of Australia?’ you would tick the box. On your version of events, that is all that needs to happen. In fact, that is inconsistent with the law. The law does not support your principle. I really think that people looking at the Hansard of your speech ought to do a little bit of due diligence themselves. I expected a bit more from someone who has been a banker. But of course the contribution was not being made by a banker; it was being made by a grape-grower who uses this labour on their farm and does not want them to pay any tax. You talk about a conflict when you made some reflections on me. But let’s get back to the issue at hand. This was Labor’s—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Whish-Wilson, on a point of order?

Senator Whish-Wilson: Senator O’Sullivan just slurred me. It was unparliamentary. I do not know what conflict he was referring to there. I think he needs to clear the record on that.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I do not believe there was a slur, Senator Whish-Wilson. It has been a wide-ranging debate.

Senator O’SULLIVAN: The donkey will continue to bray, to use your own words, as we are talking about slurs. Let’s get down to the serious issue here. We have the Labor-Greens backpacker tax at 32.5c. We have a confirmation that the existing law of the land was to be followed by the Australian Taxation Office. That is supported by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. That is the simple pathway by which we found ourselves where we were. What did the government do? The government of the day, with a great deal of support and energy from members of the National Party, which has been under attack here, went to industry. We eventually took 1,760 submissions. Let me repeat that for effect: 1,760 submissions from all interested parties right across all the sectors of tourism, service industries, agriculture, particularly in horticulture, and, in pockets, meat processing. We went to them all. I must confess that even if I had rung every agricultural producer in Queensland, I would not have said it because it would have been met with the incredulous disbelief that met your statement that you have somehow rung every agricultural producer in Tasmania. I know there are not a lot of people in Tasmania, but that statement was outrageous. For you to present to this place and suggest that somehow you have caucused every interested party in Tasmania diminishes your argument. It puts your argument under clear doubt.

What I can tell you—this is a matter of public record, and these submissions are available for you on the government website—is that we took 1,760 very well-made and comprehensive submissions from all those industries. As a result of that the government settled on a position. We settled on matters to resolve this. You know who the first one was to agree with us? The Labor Party’s shadow Treasurer, at the Press Club. He was the very first one. If you have a laptop here today, whip it open and have a look: you have still banked 32.5c in your budget—Labor’s budget. You have not put it down to zero, as Senator Whish-Wilson would want. You have not even put it down to 10.5c. You have it in there at 32.5c.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: Senator Polley, when you make a contribution today, what you should do is say to the Australian people, ‘We’ve had a big change of mind and change of heart: we’re going to cut the billyo out of this $540 million that we have in our budget papers, online, today, contemporaneously,’ and when the $370 million disappears from revenue, you tell them what you are going to cut out of your services or what other taxes you are going to provide.

Senator Polley interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Polley!

Senator O’SULLIVAN: When I get Senator Polley going without a breath, I know that I am right on the money. This is proving to be grossly embarrassing for our Labor-Greens coalition sitting opposite here, because this has been their problem. This remains a problem for you. It is not for us. After we have consulted industry extensively and had 1,760 submissions, we have settled on a very balanced and fair position for this backpacker tax.

Let me now made a point. I promise you this: if the sun sets today and this legislation has not passed the Senate, the tax rate is 32.5c. All of these industries that you all pretend that you are supporting, with your crocodile tears—I tell you what: I move around the bush of Australia a lot, and I have never cut the tracks of any of you. No-one ever said that you were at bloody Wagga Wagga, or you were up there at Chinchilla or Cunnamulla or Dalby or all the places where I spend my entire time. This is a very serious matter and I should no longer make light of my contribution.