Backpacker tax the latest political football

Another parliamentary sitting, another day of non-decisions – initially at least.

This time, the backpacker tax became the political football of the day as one party, then the next competed in a game of oneupmanship – with the taxpayer again the pawn in the middle.

The day began with the backpacker tax sitting at an uncomfortable high of 32.5 per cent after the federal government failed to get the eight crossbench votes it needed in the Senate to support its proposed 15 per cent tax rate.

The crossbenchers and the parties started trading barbs soon after - the Liberals taking aim at Jacqui Lambie, Labor and the Greens, accusing them of backing a full 32.5 per cent tax rate by not "compromising" on its bill passed in the lower house.

The state Liberals said it was "bitterly disappointed and absolutely dismayed" at the result, also taking aim at Senator Lambie, the Greens and Labor.

Jeremy Rockliff claimed those three groups had "chose cheap politics over Tasmanian jobs and certainty".

Then during Thursday morning, Labor and Senator Lambie announced they were willing to compromise on their original call of a 10 per cent tax by agreeing to a 13 per cent rate, thus putting the onus back in the government to either compromise or go back to the negotiating table.

Getting a result - and one that is attractive enough to attract backpackers to the country - is paramount for Tasmania.

It's important because of the high number of overseas tourists that travel to the state, working for the multitude of businesses picking fruit.

The Examiner reported in September that North-West business Spreyton Fresh usually receives between 70 and 100 inquiries from prospective backpackers about work.

At the time, the company's director Michelle Distill said she had received no more than half a dozen - and it needed between 150 and 200 workers to pick its cherries in December.

Finally later in the day, the Greens announced they would support the government’s 15 per cent rate, giving it clear passage through the upper house. 

At the end of the day, a 15 per cent tax seems about right. Scrapping the tax altogether always seems a little unfair and over the top, although so did a 32.5 per cent tax rate, particularly when you consider the New Zealand rate is just 10 per cent.

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