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Water fight could drench backpacker bill

AAP logoAAP 18/11/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

A stoush over water reform could sink the government's hopes of getting its backpacker tax through parliament.

Malcolm Turnbull is hoping to get the modified version of the tax through parliament, having agreed to cut the rate from 32.5 per cent to 19 per cent.

However his closest ally in the battle, South Australian crossbencher Nick Xenophon, said on Friday he was concerned about the federal government backtracking on a deal to return water to the Murray Darling river system.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who met with state water ministers in Adelaide on Friday, said it was clear the promised 450 gigalitres in extra environmental flows could not be provided under the legislation which required there be no detrimental social or economic impacts.

Senator Xenophon said government MPs and senators needed to stand up for South Australia and for "sound policy based on science, not a whim or the sectional interest of cotton or rice growers upstream".

He said talks had been progressing with Mr Joyce on the backpacker tax, another issue in the minister's portfolio.

"Barnaby Joyce and I are locked in discussions over the backpacker tax and we've been an ally of the government in relation to that, subject to some conditions," Senator Xenophon told reporters in Adelaide.

"Barnaby knows I'm pretty reasonable, what he has done is unreasonable."

One Nation, which holds four Senate seats, has joined with Labor and independent Jacqui Lambie in calling for a 10.5 per cent rate.

The government has just two sitting weeks left in 2016 to get it through parliament.

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