Farmers' fears as tax paid by backpackers to increase
CLOSE to 10,000 people have signed a petition to save economies like Bundaberg's by fighting the introduction of a 32.5% tax on people with working holiday visas.
Farmers across the region rely heavily on backpackers to provide manual labour at short notice, and those workers are valuable to the local economy as tourists - but that could all change in July.
"It is unfair for the backpackers to get taxed. Bundaberg relies on backpackers," said farmer Darren Zunker.
Mr Zunker had eight backpackers working on his property on Hummock Rd on Tuesday.
It's times like this, with good rainfall, that he calls on holiday workers to dig up, sort and pack 25 to 30 tonnes of sweet potatoes that will travel from Bundy as far as Melbourne and Sydney.
It's tough, physical work, but there are plenty of holiday workers who are willing.
Holiday workers are currently taxed 13 cents per dollar. The minimum wage is $21.60.
"We rely on extras at times like this. It's easy to ring up the hostel and find a few extra workers," Mr Zunker says. "To find locals is hard."
It's the same story over at Mr B Fresh on Rosedale Rd. Farmer Ben Prichard hires backpackers sporadically.
"One day we might have none, another we might need 10, and that's what they're perfect for," he said.
"It's hard to rely on local workers for sporadic work because you don't know what's coming up; it's hard to organise a group of people at short notice."
He said the tax hike would make regional areas less attractive for backpackers.
Backpackers usually stay a while, he says, often before travelling north and staying again on the way back south.
"They've got to eat, so they're spending in town."
The tax hike is expected to dig up $540 million in revenue by 2019.
But backpackers contribute more than $3.5 billion to the national economy, according to the petition addressed to Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison, launched by the National Farmers Federation.
For backpackers, money "is freedom", according to German worker Jonas Kreutzer.
"If this tax is going to be 32 per cent, it's too much," Mr Kreutzer said.
"You have to pay for rent, food, and a car if you have one, and then you don't have enough money to travel and enjoy it."
You can read the petition at change.org/p/australian-government-stop-the-backpacker-tax.