Australia's 'backpacker tax' delayed after backlash

SYDNEY • Working holidaymakers from overseas were yesterday given a reprieve from being hit with a so-called "backpacker tax" in Australia after a campaign by farmers and the tourism industry.

The government, which is in election mode with polls on July 2, had planned to introduce the levy on foreign travellers who are often young and work in agriculture and hospitality as a source of seasonal labour.

It would have meant that from July 1, they pay 32.5 Australian cents (32.7 Singapore cents) for every dollar they earned, boosting government coffers by about A$540 million over the next three years. Currently, like other workers, they do not start paying tax until their annual income exceeds A$18,200.

Farmers and tourism operators fear backpackers will shun Australia as a travel destination if the tax comes into force in favour of places such as New Zealand and Canada. Nearly 50,000 people signed an online petition in protest.

Assistant Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer said the tax would be suspended for six months pending a ministerial review. "The government has listened to issues raised by stakeholders about workforce challenges faced by industries in regional and rural areas," she said.

IN NEED OF BACKPACKERS

Backpackers are an integral part of the Australian agricultural workforce. We must make sure they have every reason to come here to work and to spend valuable tourism dollars in our regional communities.

NATIONAL FARMERS' FEDERATION PRESIDENT BRENT FINLAY, welcoming the move to push back the tax.

Some 600,000 backpackers visit Australia each year and farmers rely on them at harvest time. The National Farmers' Federation welcomed a pushing back of the tax, calling for a permanent solution. Federation president Brent Finlay said: "Backpackers are an integral part of the Australian agricultural workforce. We must make sure they have every reason to come here to work and to spend valuable tourism dollars in our regional communities."

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief James Pearson said the idea of the tax should be abandoned. "The backpacker tax focused on revenue-raising. Its design didn't take into account that most of the money that working holidaymakers earn... is spent in the local communities in which they are employed," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2016, with the headline 'Australia's 'backpacker tax' delayed after backlash'. Print Edition | Subscribe