Transcript: Sky News - The Latest - Interview with Ashleigh Gillon

Subjects: LNP; One Nation; backpacker tax

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

Joining us now is the Resources Minister Matt Canavan, he's joining us live from Canberra. Minister, I do want to ask you about issues relating to your portfolio, but first as a Queensland LNP Senator do you agree with Senator Brandis that the State Opposition, the LNP in your home state, is very, very mediocre?

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well no, I don't Ash. Obviously it's not surprising that people have opinions on how things are going in politics. We all have those. But I, in fact, think that the LNP are doing a very good job at the moment. The polls are very close, the Government up there is very young, and typically at this stage of the cycle a Government should be doing better than the Labor Party are doing in Queensland right now. I think it's a reflection of the fact that they've spent almost two years now doing nothing and having no real plan for the State of Queensland, the economy is doing it pretty tough, particularly in regional areas, and people are pretty frustrated about that inaction. So I'm sure over the next year, and keeping in mind the Queensland election's probably at least a year away, if not longer, I'm sure the LNP Opposition up there will be putting out a lot more policies in the year leading up to an election, just as normally happens before polls.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

With the switch back to compulsory preferential voting in Queensland, is it now worth revisiting the Liberal National Party merger, as Senator Brandis suggested?

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well look, George was absolutely right that the rationale for the merger, the push for the merger if you like, did certainly come from the fact that there was optional preferential voting in Queensland at the time. But I think since the merger we have developed a culture in the LNP. It is a good culture, and members like the fact that we're not fighting with each other, that we're keeping the focus on what is the real choice for people in Queensland and people all around the country between a high spending, high regulating, high taxing Labor Party, and a party that believes in lower taxes, believes in development, believes in freedom. Our members like that, and around half - I think it's a bit more now - a bit more than half of our members joined the party since the merger. So they identify with the LNP. I think it's going to stay and persist now, and it's got its own momentum.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

So you think Senator Brandis is alone, or would have very little support in that idea that this should be re-looked at, de-merged as he suggested? I mean, splitting the parties would give you, essentially, more horses in the race.

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well look, we're a grassroots party, Ash. We're run by our members. We had a constitutional convention last year in Brisbane where everything is decided by our members, and it's certainly not a sentiment I hear from our members. Our members want us to stay together; they want us to keep the focus on that real choice, that real battle in politics, the battle of ideas between generally a left government and a right government. That's why people join the party. They don't join the party to fight other people on the same side of politics.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

Well you're not agreeing with much that Senator Brandis said in this chat yesterday with Michael Kroger so far. Do you share, though, his alarm at the spike in support for One Nation? Was he just stating the obvious when he said that it's likely the party will win quite a few seats at the state election?

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well look, there's no doubt One Nation are polling well right now, and there's no doubt that it's a threat that we have to be focussed on. We've always got to make sure we're doing things that people want, and there is frustration. As I said, there's an economy in particularly regional areas that's struggling a little after the mining boom. We just need to go out there and make sure we're telling people what we are standing for. I mean, the federal election was only a few months ago and we had One Nation candidates standing in many seats. Some of those candidates did get a fair vote, but the LNP returned almost all of our members, only losing one in regional Queensland - a remarkable result given the economic situation for a Government to achieve. And a lot of the One Nation vote came at the expense of the Labor Party when you looked at the figures. So it's something we have to obviously be mindful of, but we were going into the federal election with a strong plan to build dams, to get jobs going. That's what our focus has got to be on, not other political parties. We've got to focus on the people.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

Okay, well just my last question on this, this matter. Would it be helpful now if Senator Brandis came out and clarified some of these comments, clarified his position on a potential de-merger of the LNP in Queensland, to calm the troops there in your home state?

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well look, that's up to George, Ash. I mean, I don't begrudge George having a particular view on issues. I can have a different view from people from time to time and still be in the same party with them, still be friends with them, still be mates with them, still have a beer with them. It doesn't bother me too much what George's particular view is, but it's up to him if he wants to add to it or clarify those comments. I'm sure he will if the need arises.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

Well he is a very senior, of course, figure in the Government. It's not like this is a backbencher's comments, he's the Attorney-General of the country and one of the most senior people in the Government. His words, his comments, carry a lot of weight, surely?

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well as I say, our party is grassroots. And I know people might be a bit cynical about that, but just come to one of our conventions: it is run by the members. They're the people in charge, not George Brandis, not me, not the Prime Minister, wherever they might be from. The people in charge of the LNP are the 14,000 members that we have, and it's their view that's going to count.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

All right. Let's move onto matters of policy. The backpackers' tax legislation is due to be debated on Wednesday. How are negotiations going? Where are you at with that? Is it likely to pass at that 19 per cent level?

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well look, I hope it passes, Ash. We're doing what the industry wants, what the industry asked for, but we currently have this circus-like coalition between One Nation, Jacqui Lambie and the Labor Party, who are defending the rights of foreign workers over Australian workers. But I think it's very important for those people who are listening or watching your show, who may want to support One Nation as we were just saying, that on this issue One Nation is backing the rights of foreign workers to get a lower tax than Australian workers. That's what their position is at the moment. Now, if that position doesn't change, Ash, yes it will be hard to get this legislation through; if the Labor Party's position doesn't change - the Labor Party, who are meant to be there to support Australian workers continues to say that foreigners should have a lower tax rate than Australians - well, yes it will be hard to get this legislation through. We've come up with a solution, a solution that the National Farmers' Federation wanted, of a rate at 19 per cent. It's the same marginal tax rate that Australians would face working in the industry. That makes sense, that is fair, this should be passed.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

Can I just pick up on a comment you made there? You described the Senate as a circus. That's a pretty different tone from the sort of tone that Malcolm Turnbull has set in terms of negotiations between the Government and some of these crossbench Senators.

MINISTER CANAVAN:

That's not quite what I said, Ash. I'm glad I can clarify those remarks. That's not quite what I said.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

You used the word circus.

MINISTER CANAVAN:

The coalition on this issue, between the Labor Party, One Nation, and Jacqui Lambie, is a circus on this issue. Because you've got a situation where a party formed to defend workers, the Labor Party, is defending foreign workers. You've got a position where One Nation, who was apparently formed to put Australians first, is putting foreign workers first, and Jacqui Lambie likewise, a position I wouldn't have thought she would take. So on this issue, this coalition is definitely circus-like.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

Okay, so just looking at the different options on the table here, is the Government open, do you have room to move? Could the level drop further as Jacqui Lambie and the One Nation senators are pushing for and what about this idea proposed by Nick Xenophon? He's proposed that unemployed Australians are able to- should be able to earn up to $5000 for seasonal work without losing their welfare benefits. Does that idea have merit?

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Yeah, well, look, I think ideas like that are very interesting but it's not the right approach to be tagging those onto debates like this. We tried to make changes to unemployment benefits in the last term of Government which would have encouraged unemployed Australians to take jobs when there were jobs available. So, I encourage and support the sentiments of Nick Xenophon but when that bill came up last time in the Government, Nick Xenophon did not vote for it, he did not vote for it, and it failed because of that. So, it's all very interesting for Nick to bring these issues up but we've got a solution here now. We've got a solution that the National Farmers' Federation recommended, a rate of 19 per cent, a situation where the take home pay for backpackers who work in Australia will be higher than that if they went back, went to Canada or New Zealand, so it's a competitive rate. It's a good deal for the industry, it's fair for the Australian worker and it should be supported.

Other ideas that Nick might want to bring to the table are best dealt with through social services legislation, which we do have more coming up, on the issue of encouraging young Australians to work but as I said before and previously, Nick didn't support those moves.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

Can I just clarify to when, we are going to be speaking with the National Farmers' Federation Tony Mahar in just a few minutes but today he's been really saying, well, farmers have been struggling as a result of the uncertainty over this tax, can anything actually be done to compensate farmers who have been affected by this debate? Is compensation an option? We keep hearing that fruit's been left rotting on the ground as a result of this uncertainty sparked by your Government's decision.

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well, that's not quite correct, Ash. The reason the rate at the moment is at 32.5 per cent is because of a tribunal ruling about the status of working holiday maker visas. The tribunal ruled that the rates should be that which applies to non-resident workers I should say, which is 32.5 per cent. That's the rate that would otherwise be prevailing. We provided a relief period until the end of the year, which has already provided relief to the industry to ensure that they would not have to pay that rate while a solution was worked out. That has been very generous, we've got a solution.

It's a solution that the National Farmers' Federation put to us; in their submission they wanted a rate between 15 per cent and 19 per cent. We came in at 19 per cent, yes it was at the upper end of their range but then they supported that position in the Senate Inquiry on these bills, they backed the Government's position of a 19 per cent rate, so I'm looking forward to the fact the NFF should be supporting the decision that we came up with and that they should be banging on the doors of Jacqui Lambie, of the Labor Party, of One Nation, telling them that they should support this bill because otherwise they're going to leave farmers with uncertainty over Christmas.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

Okay, so sorry, there's no compensation on the table for farmers who are saying they have been hard done by over this period?

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well, we've put in a six-month relief period, there's nothing else being considered at the moment, Ash. We've got a solution, it should be supported. The ball is in the court of the Labor Party, One Nation, and Jacqui Lambie.

ASHLEIGH GILLON:

Alright, well best of luck with those negotiations. We'll be watching very closely on Wednesday when this is debated. The Resources Minister Matt Canavan, live there from Canberra. Thank you.

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Thanks Ash.

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