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Backpacker inquiry reduction fears

Strawberries being harvested. Longford strawberry producer Hugh McKinnon has raised concerns over the uncertainty around the proposed ‘backpacker tax.’ Longford strawberry producer Hugh McKinnon has raised concerns his business might not be able to fill the labour shortage during peak harvest time due to inaction on the proposed “backpacker tax.”
Nanjing Night Net

Mr McKinnon was one of the delegates that travelled to Canberra on Thursday to meet with federal Assistant Minister Luke Hartsuyker and other federal MPs and Senators to discuss the tax, that is under review.

The group, organised by Primary Employers Tasmania gave the federal government a 10-day deadline to make a decision on the tax.

“The worst case is that we will be unable to pick all of the fruit during peak harvest time,” Mr McKinnon said.

“We are certainly concerned we are not going to have the [labour] numbers available.”

Mr McKinnon said his business relied on backpacker labour for about six months of the year, during peak harvest season. Backpackers work as pickers and in the packing room and begin arriving at the end of October.

“The small fruit industry in Tasmania is growing very quickly in the Midlands and in the Devonport area, the labour force needed is far in excess of the local supply,” he said.

Mr McKinnon’s strawberry business would employ more than 100 backpackers every year and he said it was important to note they tried to employ locals in the first instance.

While registrations for Mr McKinnon’s backpacker workforce is yet to open he said the labour hire companies he used had reported a 40 per cent drop off in inquiries.

“With the state government hoping to increase to grow agriculture [AgriVision 2050] if the workforce is not there it places that plan in serious jeopardy,” he said.

The state government has previously called on the backpacker tax to be scrapped and successfully lobbied for the federal government to include Tasmania in its round of face-to-face consultations.

The tax on working holiday makers was due to increase to 32.5 per cent and the tax free threshold removed on July 1. But a six month deferral was announced during the election campaign after farming and tourism groups raised concerns about negative consequences for seasonal workers.

The review is being conducted by Assistant Minister Luke Hartsuyker and a face-to-face consultation was held in Hobart on September 5.

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie also threw her support behind scrapping the tax.

“We need those pickers over Christmas and we need them now. If we don’t have them we will have rotting fruit left on the ground.”

The meeting included Independent senators Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenophon and was held on Thursday.

Primary Employers Tasmania president Glynn Williams described the situation as an “impending crisis” for the agriculture and tourism industries in Tasmania and nationally.

“This tax will see harvest losses and a drop off in investment. It will mean less long term jobs, lower profits and less tax paid by business. Revenue to state and federal to governments will fall, seeing the projected gains from 32.5 per centbackpacker tax as a hollow illusion,” he said.

“Tasmanian farmers need a decision now. The end of the year will be too late. The end of the month will be too late. The end of next week is too late. We need a decision to be announced to bring an end to the damaging speculation which is turning away the workers Tasmania so desperately needs.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

 

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