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WoolProducers Australia joins farmer body chorus against backpacker tax

Sheep Central, May 18, 2016
Welsh backpacker Sian Pierce at work in the Burbidge woolshed.

Welsh backpacker Sian Pierce at work in Grant Burbidge’s woolshed.

WOOLPRODUCERS Australia has joined state and national farmer bodies in seeking a firm Federal Government commitment to either lower or drop a proposed backpacker tax, despite an announcement to delay the measure for six months.

Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer this week said the removal of the $18,200 tax-free threshold for overseas travellers working in Australia would be delayed for six months, pending the outcome of a government review.

The tax-free threshold changes would also have removed a lower 19 percent tax rate Australians are charged for income between $18,201-$37,000 meaning non-residents were set to be taxed 32.5 cents in every dollar earned. The changes were mooted in the 2015 budget and were due to begin from July this year.

WPA, along with the National Farmers Federation, the Victorian Farmers Federation, NSW Farmers and WA Farmers, is seeking a greater commitment to either lower the proposed tax hike or dump the proposal permanently.

WPA president Richard Halliday said the delay in implementing the severe flat rate of 32 .5pc was a step in the right direction.

“But there needs to be more long term certainty for Australian farmers who utilise this sector, not to mention more certainty for overseas working holiday makers who are considering working in the Australian agricultural industries.”

WPA said backpacker labour is playing an increasingly important role in Australia’s wool industry, in the on-farm and wool harvesting sectors, with many wool growers and shearing contractors relying on backpackers to fill the employment shortfall in these areas.

“The reality is that the wool industry, particularly in pastoral areas need access to backpacker labour and the proposed changes to this tax regime will have a detrimental impact on sourcing these people.

‘While the whole-of-government review of the agricultural sectors workforce requirements’ is also welcomed we would like immediate reassurances that backpackers will remain a viable and accessible workforce resource,” Mr Halliday said.

WoolProducers Australia commended the National Farmers’ Federation in leading the public campaign against the proposed tax hike.

NFF wants certainty

The National Farmers Federation said an online petition opposing the measure attracted almost 48,000 signatures, but delaying the decision by six months will not give certainty for farmers on their immediate workforce needs.

NFF president, Brent Finlay, said he welcomed the Government’s acknowledgement that a better long-term agricultural workforce solution is needed, but this would not address the short-term workforce crisis facing the farm sector now because of the backpacker tax.

“We have heard stories from farmers across the nation who have found themselves unable to move forward with basic farm management, facing much lower production levels than usual, because of the impact this tax will have.

“A six month delay doesn’t alleviate that concern, and for many means that the tax will now take effect half way through their busiest time of the year.”

An immediate, permanent solution which encourages working holiday makers to travel to Australia and find employment in rural areas must be delivered as a matter of priority, he said.

VFF calls for election commitments on backpacker tax

THE Victorian Farmers Federation called on all sides of politics to commit to scrapping the proposed backpacker tax if elected.

VFF Horticulture vice president Emma Germano said the backpacker tax has been a growing threat to both the agriculture and tourism industries.

The Coalition’s dithering meant that if they were re-elected farmers would face months of uncertainty in the lead-up to harvest in the New Year, she said.

“As for the Labor Party we’ve struggled to get a coherent answer from them on what they intend to do with working holiday maker visas.

“Young people across the globe are already turning away from Australia as a working holiday destination.”

Ms Germano said the fight over the backpacker tax will heat up in the coming weeks, with the VFF now calling for it to become a key election issue.

“We want an election promise that the backpacker tax will be delayed until the government has conducted a proper consultation process with stakeholders,” Ms Germano said.

WAFarmers wants support for reasonable changes

WAFarmers chief executive officer Stephen Brown welcomed the decision to delay implementation of the proposed tax, but said more work would be needed to protect Australia’s position as a destination of choice for working holiday makers.

“While the delay and subsequent review are certainly positive outcomes, we now call on industry to continue to support reasonable changes to the tax and to speak up about the detrimental effects the current proposed tax would have on rural business.

“The agriculture and tourism industries are vital to the WA economy, with both being heavily dependent on backpackers for seasonal work, so we implore the State Government, key industry stakeholders and WA-based backpackers to come together with us to present a united front to the Federal Government during their review,” he said.

Mr Brown said the ideal outcome would be for the tax to be scrapped entirely, but that a compromise in the form of a 19 per cent tax rate would be a fair outcome following the proposed review.

NSW Farmers says it’s time to support farming and regional communities

NSW Farmers president Derek Schoen said farmers will face a further six months of uncertainty in sourcing labour following the Federal Government’s announcement to delay the ‘backpacker tax’.

“It’s time to dive in and make the decision to support growing Australia’s farming sector and our regional communities.”

Mr Schoen said the Federal Government needed to develop a tax policy immediately that encourages working holiday makers to come to Australia and work in rural and regional areas.

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