Subjects: Passenger Movement Charge; Backpacker Tax; infrastructure investment
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning, last night the Senate voted to reject the hike in the tourist tax. This is a tax where the Government’s own minister, in the Parliament, just two weeks before they announced that they would introduce it, contrary to government policy, from $55 to $60, said that such increases were like strangling the golden goose that is the tourism sector. The tourism sector deserves certainty. They deserve to be treated properly. They employ one million Australians and the Government has stuffed up the backpacker tax, stuffed up the tourist departure tax by not having proper consultation, having no economic modelling and it is no wonder it was rejected by the Senate. The Government should stop playing games and talking about having another crack at introducing this increase in the tax.
REPORTER: Just on the backpacker tax, is Labor willing to accept the 32% backpacker tax if the revised 19% doesn’t pass the Senate today?
ALBANESE: Well that’s a Government call. The fact is that the backpacker tax was zero. There has been so much misinformation from this Government. They announced in their Budget in 2015, 18 months ago, this introduction of a new backpacker tax. They did it without any consultation with the agricultural or the tourism sector. Since then we have seen the agriculture sector particularly hit hard and farmers say that they could not plant their crops because they were not sure that they would be able to pick them.
We saw during the election campaign the Government announce a deferral in terms of time of implementation. They then said that they would have a new plan, but they were all over the shop and introduced very late the legislation for 19%. They then say that the 10.5%, that is internationally competitive, the same rate as New Zealand, somehow treats foreign workers better than Australian workers. But Australian workers don’t pay any tax before the tax free threshold, which is above $18,000. They pay zero, whereas backpackers would pay this rate of tax from the first dollar. Most backpackers of course earn between $10,000 and $15,000. So this is a government that has been all over the shop on this. They need certainty. Labor will be supporting an amendment today, in the Senate for 10.5%, that gives certainty. The Government needs to provide that for the agriculture sector and for the tourism sector.
REPORTER: On another topic if I may, the fuel excise. What do you make of this proposal to have the levy based on kilometres rather than litres?
ALBANESE: Well of course, there is no proposal. What we have from the Government today is an announcement of a committee to look at the work that a committee did. So, when the Government has a serious proposal before the Parliament, we will be happy to engage with them in a constructive fashion. But one of the things we have to do is acknowledge that there are equity considerations here. If you are in the outer suburbs of our major cities, you have to drive further than if you are in an inner suburb, such as the ones that I represent. What more, you don’t have the same public transport options. It is about time this government today should be announcing their support for the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane, funding for Melbourne Metro, funding for Adelaide light rail, funding for the METRONET project in Perth and funding for Western Sydney Rail, including through Badgerys Creek Airport.
REPORTER: A bit more on the backpacker tax. You can imagine the frustration of Parliament can’t you? The Government is saying it is either going to be 19% or 32% and Labor is going to let it revert to 32%. Surely they would rather the 19%?
ALBANESE: They’d rather the 10.5. Go and ask them, go and ask them. That is the Parliament that has been elected, there will be this deliberation today. If it reverts to 32%, that is a decision for the Government, if they choose to do that. Who knows what they will do. This is a Government that has played games with this, the May 2015 announcement in the Budget that is being debated today for the first time in the Senate in November 2016. The Government is responsible for its own incompetence here. It has already had drastic consequences for farmers.
REPORTER: Are you playing politics with the lives of farmers?
ALBANESE: The Government is playing politics by introducing a new tax in May 2015 and not having any parliamentary debate to implement it, and indeed changing its own proposal that it put forward. That is a concession by the Government that it got it wrong, and with either it, and the departure tax, on neither of them did they bother to do any economic modelling before they were announced. That is bad government policy from an incompetent government that is desperately searching for an agenda and today on the pricing of transport, it will be announcing a committee to look at what a committee has already looked at.
Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.