Backpacker tax headache was foreseeable

The proposed backpacker tax is turning into a major headache for Tasmanian businesses.

While North-West business Spreyton Fresh usually receives between 70 and 100 inquiries from prospective backpackers about work, director Michelle Distill says the company will be lucky to have received half a dozen this year. 

It needs between 150 and 200 workers to pick its cherry crop this December.

Mrs Distill said she’d received feedback from backpackers they would not come to Australia if the tax was implemented.

If the labour shortfall continues, some of the company’s fruit may not be picked, she said.

The tax appears to have repelled backpackers who usually find seasonal work to fund their travels.

Uncertain they’ll be able to make enough money to make the long trip to Australia worthwhile, they’re not seeking out work where they usually do. 

This is a problem for businesses that can find it hard to attract seasonal workers.

Fears the backpacker tax would make life harder for producers are playing out, but the issue is in a state of limbo.

The uncertainty is as negative for seasonal worker supply as the tax itself. 

After the federal government announced the tax on working holiday makers was due to increase to 32.5 per cent, and the tax-free threshold removed, a six-month deferral was announced during the election campaign. 

It’s unclear what’s going to happen with the policy next.

The government may be looking for new sources of revenue, but repelling backpackers is proving a problematic way to do this. 

It’s an unusual policy from a party that prides itself on a philosophy of lower taxes and business-friendly policies.

Even when the tax was first announced earlier this year, it was obvious it was risking the flow of seasonal pickers around the country.

All Tasmanian federal and state representatives need to be meeting with businesses relying on backpackers, to learn what the tax could do to them. 

Of the state’s federal politicians, Senator Jacqui Lambie has made her position on the tax clearest. 

She has thrown her support behind scrapping the tax. 

The government will need to listen carefully to businesses before it acts next. But it needs to act fast.

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