LABOUR SHORTAGE IN AUSTRALIA : Backpacker tax backlash prompts Federal Assistant Agriculture minister to 're-think' impact on seasonal workforce

ABC Rural By Charlie McKillop

Updated January 19, 2016 15:20:56


The Federal Government has given its first indication it might be prepared to 're think' an increase to the amount of tax paid by backpacker workers.

Assistant Agriculture Minister Anne Ruston told mango growers in far north Queensland yesterday she recognised their concern about looming labour shortages amid a downturn in working holiday makers to Australia.

But she's yet to see evidence the scrapping of the tax-free threshold for 417 visa holders will hurt farms that rely on backpacker labour.

AUDIO: Federal Assistant Agriculture Minister Anne Ruston opens the door for 're-think' on government's controversial backpacker tax hike (ABC Rural)

"Certainly if it is going to have the kind of detrimental impact that people are predicting, then maybe we need to have a little bit of a re-think," Senator Ruston said.


"But we also have a situation where we've got a budget deficit and as a responsible government we've got to deal with the debt and deficit situation the country finds itself in, so it's a fine balance."

The assistant minister was in Mareeba as the Australian mango industry marked the arrival of four, major export varieties, at the same time, in the emerging United States market.

Certainly if it is going to have the kind of detrimental impact that people are predicting, then maybe we need to have a little bit of a re-think.

~ Assistant agriculture minister Anne Ruston

With Department of Immigration figures showing 34,000 fewer visas were granted in 2014-15, than in the previous year, industry leaders pressed the point about the potential impact on the horticulture industry and exports.

"We're very concerned and it's not about cost, it's about availability," Australian Mango Industry Association CEO Robert Gray said.

"These types of changes will make it more difficult for our growers to source labour and we're asking for a re-think, a different approach, because what's planned is going to make it harder, not easier, for our growers to get their product to American, to make a dollar."

Mutchilba mango grower Adrian Zunyo only completed his harvest season a few days ago, which involved employing up to 60 seasonal workers, and he's worried about the impact once the tax changes come into effect in July.

"It's probably going to make it a lot harder," Mr Zunyo said.

"It depends on whether the backpackers will still want to come and work and get taxed at that higher rate.

"I don't think the backpacker community really knows what's happening at the moment but we know it's coming," he said.