Farmers furious over backpacker tax delay

AUSTRALIA’S peak farming body has attacked the Labor Party over its refusal to support a compromise on the backpacker tax, just as the controversial bill was set to be introduced to Federal Parliament this week.

Alex Paull
Farmers furious over backpacker tax delay

Announced in the 2015 Federal Budget, the measure will tax all working holiday makers at 32.5%, however after months of lobbying from the agriculture and tourism sectors, the government announced a compromise of 19% in September.

On Tuesday, Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said Labor wanted to refer the legislative package to the Senate Economics Legislative Committee for a short inquiry, to report back in November.

"This genuine and transparent consultation will inform Labor's final position on the Government's legislative package," Fitzgibbon said.

It comes after a research report commissioned by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation highlighted the critical importance of overseas workers in addressing labour shortfalls in Australian agriculture.

But the National Farmers Federation accused the ALP of 'walking away' from Australian farmers by establishing another review of the tax.

NFF president, Brent Finlay said the agriculture sector was outraged at the ALP's decision, which he said unreasonably prolonged uncertainty and distress currently felt by farmers across Australia.

"As we have said time and time again, the 'backpacker tax' threatens to divert away more than a quarter of the agricultural workforce. It needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed now," Finlay said.

"Our submission to the Working Holiday Maker review, which Labor has, comprehensively outlines how the backpacker tax will damage the agriculture sector and how it affects our competitiveness in global markets."

Fitzgibbon said previous delays had created further uncertainty for key sectors like tourism and agriculture, which had already seen a clear negative economic impact. 

"Labor will finalise its position once we've heard from effected stakeholders and explore how the Government's proposed new regime compares globally," he said.

But Finlay said farmers couldn't afford to wait until the end of the year, or even next year, for a resolution of the issue.

"Every day of delay means fewer working holiday makers in rural Australia and fewer crops in the ground," he said.

"After refusing to declare its hand on the backpacker tax all year, Labor decides to intervene at the eleventh hour to block a solution that would see an extra $2000 in every backpacker's pocket.

"This is unacceptable and we call on Labor to respect all the decent hard working Australian farmers who feed and clothe us every day by passing the 'backpacker tax' bills in the Parliament.

"There is no justification for any further delay. The legislation must pass this week, so that farmers can get their crops in the ground and know they will not be left without a workforce at harvest time."

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the farming sector, brought to you by the Farming Ahead team.

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