Will The Proposed Backpacker Tax Push Foreign Workers Away?


Queensland experts say that the Federal Government’s proposed backpacking tax is scaring off working holidays, and there are reports that some farmers haven’t planted fruit and vegetables this season in case they can’t find workers to harvest them.

Dimitri Roumpos, owner of Working Holiday Jobs and Fruit Picking Jobs Australia, conducted a survey of 5,000 backpackers earlier this year. The results showed that the 32.5% tax would discourage backpackers from visiting Australia and doing farm work.

“Backpackers are just making other plans [in] New Zealand, Canada. Europeans are actually opting to do a European summer,” he said.

Central Queensland grower, Ben Clifton, said he relies on backpacker workers.

“We’ve had a lot of success with our backpackers over the years – we usually find if they’ve got enough get-up-and-go to come out here and be looking for work, they want to do the work, get the money so they can further their travels,” he said.

Many backpackers are saying they would not have chosen to travel to Australia had they known about the tax before they left.

“If I heard about it before I arrived in the country, I wouldn’t be here … it’s really hard work,” said Chris Armstrong, a 19-year-old British visitor who’s been travelling around Australia this year.

“Every dollar I earn goes back into the economy here – I spend it on food, petrol, my car, housing.”

Ben Vincent, a Swaziland visitor also on a working holiday visa, agrees.

“If I had heard coming here and working here I would get nailed for 30 per cent of my wage, I probably would have chosen Canada,” he said.

According to horticulture lobby group, Growcom, the uncertainty has meant some growers have changed their planting plans, fearing they won’t have the staff to work during the summer harvest.

Chief Advocate of Growcom, Rachel Mackenzie, said that the significant costs involved in buying seed and planting a crop proved too much of a risk for some growers.

“That has implications for the community in terms of what they can access at fruit shops, and the cost of fruit and vegetables,” she said.

National Farmers’ Federation workplace relations manager, Sarah McKinnon, also doesn’t understand why the issue hasn’t been resolved yet.

“I think everybody you speak to understands that this is just crazy: the economics don’t make sense, the impact on rural towns doesn’t make sense, everybody understands that but we can’t yet fix it,” she said.

“To … not have a decision until later this year, with the implications kicking in on the 1st of January, is causing untold anxiety out there in the growing community.

“We are gravely concerned that the government has already made up its mind.”

A final decision on the laws is expected in October, with the changes taking effect on 1 January 2017, in the middle of the harvest period.