May 17, 2016

LNP in a pickle over backpacker pickers

LNP in a pickle over backpacker pickers

Members of the second largest farming sector in Queensland have accused the Liberal-National Party of placing them in a ‘swamp’ of uncertainty over moves to introduce the backpacker tax.

Horticulture peak industry body Growcom is against the tax but said the caretaker government’s announcement they’d delay implementation by six months showed little appreciation of their industry.

“January is the height of picking season in many regional areas but growers will not know whether they will have any workers to harvest their crops,” said Chief Advocate Rachel Mackenzie.

“The time for reviews and more talk is over. This is nothing short of using growers’ livelihoods as a political football and is very disappointing,” said Ms Mackenzie.

“Despite logical argument to the contrary, the government still intends to continue with a backpacker tax of 32.5 per cent with no tax-free threshold. This will drive away backpackers who will work and holiday in other countries.

“Ultimately consumers will be the losers as they won’t be able to access the fresh fruit and vegetables they enjoy as it will be rotting on the trees and vines.”

Ms Mackenzie said comprehensive evidence and a compromise solution that would not drive away backpacker labour had been tabled by both the agricultural and tourism industries during the recent enquiry. However, the government has seemingly ignored warnings of the tax’s dire economic effects on horticultural growers and other small businesses in regional towns who are dependent on healthy backpacker numbers.

“It seems to us far more reasonable to introduce the lower tax rate of 19 per cent which will secure $315 million a year without losing backpackers rather than pitch for $540 million which can’t be achieved because of the resultant decline in visitors,” said Ms Mackenzie.

“Already, backpackers are telling growers they will be going elsewhere for their working holidays and communicating with their friends to that effect on social media. Australia’s brand as a tourist destination is taking a hit. The Kiwis must be rubbing their hands together with glee.

“Growcom is fighting hard for the industry on this issue. We encourage growers to speak to their members of parliament about their dismay at this matter.

“The Greens has been the only party to rule out the introduction of this tax and we call on all other parties to do so as soon as possible. This tax may well become an election bellwether in regional seats.”

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