Farmers getting back to normal following backpacker tax debate

WORKING HARD: Strawberry picker Sandra Yu, of Hong Kong, is watched by workplace relations director Andrew Cameron and Primary Employers Tasmania's Keith Rice at Longford's Mountford Berries. Picture: Paul Scambler
WORKING HARD: Strawberry picker Sandra Yu, of Hong Kong, is watched by workplace relations director Andrew Cameron and Primary Employers Tasmania's Keith Rice at Longford's Mountford Berries. Picture: Paul Scambler

It has been six weeks since a decision on the controversial backpacker tax was finally reached, and things are starting to get back to normal for Tasmanian farmers.

January marks a busy part of the season for many producers, and so far, most farmers are seeing enough backpackers coming through their doors to meet demand. 

The long parliamentary debate over what tax rate backpackers should be charged finished up late last year. 

Over the course of the debate, the proposed rate bounced between an initial 32.5 per cent, to 19, 15, and 10.5 per cent. 

The debate was eventually resolved on the very last sitting day of federal Parliament for the year, and a 15 per cent tax and a superannuation rate of 65 per cent was agreed to.

Concerns resonated with farmers around not only the figure that was agreed to, but if the lengthy period of uncertainty would deter backpackers from seeking Tasmanian jobs. 

Primary Employers Tasmania’s Keith Rice said so far, things were going as well as could be expected. 

“Probably the bigger fruit growers are not having a great deal of difficulty at all and any overflow they’ve got or any gaps that they might have, they’re sending them through to the smaller producers,” Mr Rice said. 

You’re sitting on the brink of what could have been a very, very challenging situation.

Primary Employers Tasmania's Keith Rice

“We’re finding overall that some people are getting really good passer-by traffic and a large number of inquiries. 

“Others are just struggling a little but are managing to get by.” 

Mr Rice said once the long-standing debate was resolved, backpackers were able to make a firm decision over whether they would stay in the country. 

“Albeit it was so late, our understanding from speaking to growers is there were enough backpackers left looking for their second-year visa that were still in Australia,” he said. 

“You’re sitting on the brink of what could have been a very, very challenging situation. 

“It could have gone really pear shaped and that is what it was looking like.” 

Looking at the fruit and vegetable growing season as a whole, Mr Rice said it was looking like an average year.

Mr Rice reminded those who were employing working holiday makers to register with the Australian Taxation Office before January 31 to avoid paying a higher tax.