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Backpacker tax decision still in limbo

Rueben HaleCountryman
Gingin vegetable grower and former president of Vegetables WA Maureen Dobra says the Government must scrap the backpacker tax immediately or risk bankrupting many growers whose business relies on overseas labour. Picture Ian Munro
Camera IconGingin vegetable grower and former president of Vegetables WA Maureen Dobra says the Government must scrap the backpacker tax immediately or risk bankrupting many growers whose business relies on overseas labour. Picture Ian Munro Credit: Countryman

A WA vegetable grower has urged to the Federal Government to take definitive action in scrapping the proposed backpacker tax for the sake of the industry.

Loose Leaf Lettuce Company owner Maureen Dobra, whose 50-strong workforce at her Gingin market gardens and processing plant comprises 50 per cent backpackers, said the industry had become impatient waiting for the Turnbull Government to make a decision on the levy that had been clearly rejected by farmers.

Ms Dobra’s comment followed a threat by influential Queensland National Party backbencher George Christensen to quit his party and become an independent if the Coalition did not scrap the proposed tax.

If Mr Christensen were to switch to independent it could upset the Coalition’s slim majority in the House of Representatives.

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The so-called backpacker tax, due to start on January 1, will slug people on working holiday visas with a 32.5 per cent tax rate from the first dollar they earn, unlike other workers, who don’t start paying tax until their income exceeds $18,200.

The changes would hit the agricultural sector hard, with about one in four workers on working holiday visas. Mrs Dobra, who is a former president of Vegetables WA, said backpacker labour was integral to primary production in WA and the nation in general.

“We operate in a regional area where it can be extremely difficult to find local workers that are willing to do this very hard work,” she said.

“It’s very simple — if the Federal Government increases the tax, backpackers will not come to Australia and work,” she said.

“This will not only mean operations like ours, as well as small and medium-sized businesses, will have no choice other than to mechanise the way we operate. Not only will our industry suffer as a consequence but other industries, like tourism, will suffer as well.”

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said he was appalled at the Federal Government’s lack of action over making a decision on the tax.

“They’ve done nothing but pussy-foot around on this issue and it is a very simple thing for them to make a decision,” he said.

“I’m sure if the mostly city-based people charged with making a decision on this had their incomes tied to this decision like primary producers do, the decision would have been made months ago.”

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