VICTORIAN Nationals MP Damian Drum has offered an apology and explained comments he made during a recent and heated verbal exchange in the House of Representatives, concerning the office of Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
In response to Mr Fitzgibbon’s speech during the debate on March 1, over amendments to the Farm Household Allowance support program, Mr Drum attacked the Labor frontbencher over his stance on the backpacker issue that flared up but was resolved in the final parliamentary sitting week of 2016.
At the time, Mr Drum said about 200 orchardists from the Goulburn Valley had told him that they had tried to contact the Shadow Minister's office “to try to get him to see sense”.
“They were either hung up on their phones or they were laughed at like the shadow minister,” he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon retaliated immediately saying if Mr Drum wanted to make an accusation of that nature, he needed to do so by a “substantive motion” during the debate.
“The second point of order is: if he is going to make an accusation like that - which I very much doubt is true - he needs to somehow authenticate it,” he said.
“He just cannot make it up.
“He cannot say people were ringing my office without response without being able to justify that remark in some way.”
On March 28 during a separate legislative debate in the House of Representatives, Mr Drum said he owed the Hunter MP an explanation for the comments made in relation to the backpacker tax.
“During that debate I was very critical of the way in which the member for Hunter conducted himself in that debate,” he said.
“I made comments about people from my area ringing his office only to be hung up on.
“I have since worked through where those constituents came from and it turns out that no-one rang the member for Hunter's office and was hung up on.
“That scenario took place in Senator Hinch's office and whilst I have no love for the member for Hunter's behaviour during the backpacker tax debate - I will remain eternally critical of the member for Hunter's behaviour during the backpacker tax affair - I do owe him and his office an apology for the false accusation.”
Victorian Independent Senator Derryn Hinch’s office was contacted for comment - but at the time of deadline did not respond.
Mr Drum is a former coach of the Fremantle Dockers AFL team and was elected for the Victorian rural seat of Murray at last year’s federal poll.
In the final sitting week of 2016, Labor stood firm on a 10.5 per cent rate to resolve the backpacker tax, while Senator Hinch joined other crossbench Senators to vote down the government’s proposed bill, in a shock move, after Treasurer Scott Morrison indicated it would pass at 15pc.
That forced the bill to return to the Lower House and ignited controversy and an emergency lobbying delegation by the National Farmers' Federation which had backed the 15pc rate, in representing that majority of the farm sector.
The Coalition stood firm and refused to budge from the already compromised 15pc – already lowered from a 19pc rate – but the issue was eventually resolved in a deal between the government and the Greens, after agreeing to the 15pc rate and an additional $100 million for Landcare funding.
The tax on working holiday-makers was set at 15pc after a change in the budget meant it was due to potentially hit 32.5pc on January 1 this year, which sparked a campaign by the NFF and tourism to reverse the increase, to protect vulnerable seasonal workforces.