Backpacker tax at WAFarmers conference

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Jenne BrammerCountryman
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The backpackers tax and mobile phone black spots were key issues raised with Assistant Agriculture Minister Anne Ruston, after delivering the official opening presentation at the WAFarmers annual conference on Friday.

Delegates at the conference voiced their concerns over the backpacker tax, highlighting such a tax would create further obstacles to the existing challenges of attracting seasonal labour.

Senator Ruston said a compromise was important.

“Clearly 32.5 cents is the dollar is too much,” she said.

“What happened is the original threshold went from $6000 to $18,000 as part of the whole GST negotiations.

“I don’t think at the time anyone actually realised the majority of backpackers who come to Australia probably only earn $18,000.

“So in effect they are here for six months or 12 months, and they pay no tax at all. I don’t think anyone in this room would think backpackers should pay no tax, when they have access to the services we all have.”

She said the Federal Government had heard the concerns of rural and regional Australia, particularly the horticulture and viticulture sectors, about the impact this tax was likely to have.

“I can assure you it will be reviewed very seriously before it is progressed any further,” Senator Ruston said.

The National Farmers Federation has made an alternative proposal of 19 per cent, achieved through deactivation of the tax-free threshold. The NFF has also initiated a petition urging the Federal Government to reconsider the backpacker tax, which has reached more than 10,500 signatures.

Senator Ruston said another possible consideration was to return superannuation straight away, rather than after backpackers left the country - given the high likelihood this would be spent within regional Australia.

Another delegate suggested the current discussions on the backpacker tax could be an opportunity to review the need to pay superannuation to backpackers given it was rarely used to help fund retirement given most reclaimed it after returning to their own country which has its own arrangements.

Senator Ruston said she fundamentally agreed and would put superannuation payments to backpackers on the table for review.

Several delegates cited the poor telecommunications service and shortcomings with the National Broadband Network rollout.

In terms of black spots, Senator Ruston said it was important to get on the back of local members.

“Make sure they (local members) put as many black spot projects forward as possible, so that when the next round of funding is allocated, that you get your fair share here in WA,” she said.

During her presentation, Senator Ruston said there was a need to invest in infrastructure to allow for innovation.

“Big data, digital and the Internet of Things are all slogans that I don’t think existed five years ago,” she said.

“What they mean is that we have unprecedented opportunity at our fingertips. To unlock the potential of these opportunities for agriculture, we need to make sure those benefits are realised on-farm.”

Senator Ruston said the multibillion-dollar NBN project to deliver broadband to the whole of Australia was one of the projects considered absolutely fundamental in delivering opportunities and the ability for Australia’s farmers to realise their potential.

However, Senator Ruston was told that a member had heard from an NBN representative that there would only be one connection per certificate of title. This is despite most large farms often having three or four houses.

She said she was not aware of this restriction and it would be looked at.

During her presentation Senator Ruston referenced the exciting prospects for Australian agriculture and the Government’s belief that this sector underpinned the economy.

She cited the decision by Barnaby Joyce to retain the Agriculture and Water Resources portfolios upon his recent appointment as Deputy Prime Minister as an example of his faith in the sector.

Senator Ruston said in the past it has been traditional that the Deputy Prime Minister held the infrastructure and transport portfolios worth many billions of dollars.

However, Mr Joyce’s choice to retain the much smaller agriculture portfolio demonstrated his belief that this was the area with the greatest amount of opportunity, she said.

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