A taxing problem

    Spotlight 3/2017
    around oz
    © cnythzl/iStock.com
    Von Peter Flynn

    I put my latest backpacker visitor from Germany on the bus a few weeks ago and imagine he is still picking avocados on a farm south of Perth. Bastian, as he likes to be called, is among the more than one million temporary visitors to Australia who have work rights.

    He’s part of the group of 160,000 who have “working holiday visas”, which allow them to stay for up to two years if they spend at least three months working on a farm. But Bastian almost didn’t stay thanks to a stupid federal government idea to sharply lift the “backpacker tax” rate to a massive 32 per cent from the first dollar earned.

    Australia needs backpackers

    Thanks only to an 11th-hour deal, on the last day of the 2016 parliament, did the government to cave innachgebencave in to calls from the farming and tourism sectors to drop the rate to 15 per cent. The deal by the conservative government, ironically, with the support of their natural enemies, the Greens, ended an 18-month political stoush (Aus., ifml.)Keilerei, Gerangelstoush to raiseerheben, bereitstellenraise relatively little money.

    Without backpackers, fruit and vegetables would to rotverfaulen, verrottenrot on the ground

    The government’s pig-headednessDickköpfigkeit, Sturheitpig-headedness had to alienate sb.jmdn. verstimmenalienated most of its traditional allyVerbündete(r)allies, such as the National Farmers’ Federation and other employer groups. Rightly or wrongly, Australia needs backpackers. Otherwise, fruit and vegetables would to rotverfaulen, verrottenrot on the ground. Similarly, bars and cafes need backpackers to serve food and drink or work in kitchen and cleaning jobs.

    The same is true of the $15 billionMilliarde(n)billion international education industry, where many students are allowed to take on part-time work. All of the above casual worker (Aus., UK)Gelegenheitsarbeiter(in)casual workers earn $A 20–$A 30 (about €14–€21) per hour, with most planning to save at least half of that to continue their travels or study. Many of these temporary working visas are part of reciprocalgegenseitigreciprocal arrangements with other countries, allowing younger Australians to undertake working holidays overseas.

    Political pride vs. common sensegesunder Menschenverstandcommon sense

    Why the government would have put all this in danger is instructive in the difficulties this government is having in managing its wafer-thinhauchdünnwafer-thin majority in the lower house as well as the hostilefeindlichhostile upper house. In the end, it was about political pride and the posturingGetueposturing of party leaders on all sides, totally devoidfrei von, ohnedevoid of common sense or any care for the economy.

    If the 32 per cent backpacker tax had been introduced in January — as previously planned — Bastian would be in New Zealand now, maybe picking Kiwi fruit at an even lower tax rate. After nearly two years in Australia, he knows his way around this part of the world, and the internet offers countless useful sites to help backpackers find seasonal farm work at almost any time of the year.

    In fact, I think the various German backpackers who have stayed for a short time in my home have worked on farms in every state in Australia. The question of why Australians — other than some hardyzäh, robusthardy older folk touring in their caravans — won’t do this work is a topic for another day.

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