Aust'n govt says fruit harvest will rot unless 'backpacker tax' supported

By Charles Happell

CANBERRA, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- The Australian government, and national farmers' body, have called on opposition groups to support the new, reduced 'backpacker tax', saying farmers desperately needed help in picking their summer fruit harvest.

A recent Senate report recommended that backpackers - young foreigners visiting Australia on working holidays - should be subject to a 19 percent tax rate, down from the 32 percent rate which currently applies.

The Senate committee urged parliament to pass the 'backpacker tax' legislation at this sitting, in order to maintain Australia's attractiveness to backpackers, and to secure extra harvest labor for farmers.

National Farmers Federation chief executive, Tony Mahar, said on Thursday that, with just three parliamentary sitting weeks left this year, an outcome was time critical. He said the summer harvest would be left to rot unless a deal can be reached soon.

"There are real people and real jobs at stake here particularly with summer crops ready for harvest. A failure to pass the legislation currently before the Senate before the end of the year would create further unnecessary uncertainty for backpackers and agricultural businesses," Mahar said.

"Backpacker workers make up more than a quarter of the national agricultural workforce. In some areas of Australia, that figure is closer to 80 per cent. As uncertainty over this tax lingers, inquiries about farm work are steadily dropping away. This affects our farmers more than any other sector of the economy - and that's not good enough."

The Labor Opposition, One Nation and Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambie have proposed an even smaller backpacker tax - of 10.5 per cent - which the government says would put a $500 million hole in the Budget.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said on Thursday that the 19% backpacker tax was eminently fair and legislation supporting that tax needed to be passed by parliament soon.

"The Senate Committee is confident the reform package will ensure that working holiday makers are paying a fair share of tax and not disadvantaging Australian workers, while retaining Australia as a destination of choice for those workers," Joyce said.

Joyce said backpackers would have more money in their pockets when they work in Australia compared to New Zealand, Canada, or the UK under a 19% tax.

"Our tax position is fully funded and internationally competitive due to our high wage rates, which was also highlighted by NSW Farmers and Cotton Australia in their submissions to the report," he said.

"Not only does Labor's blatantly political game playing add more delays that could see fruit left unpicked on the trees over Christmas; and not only does Labor's proposal leave a $500 million hole in the federal budget, but Labor plans to slap a higher marginal tax rate on Aussie workers than it does on foreign backpackers."

"It was Labor who referred the reform package to the Senate Economics Committee for review, the committee has reported and it is now up to Labor to stop picking at the scab and playing games with peoples' livelihoods."

Usually employed on a casual basis, backpackers help farmers pick seasonal harvests of grapes, cherries, blueberries, melons, apples and bananas, mainly in Australia's eastern states.

[ Editor:yfs001]

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