As published by Erin Jones in The Advertiser on January 6, 2017:
Foreign workers are continuing to travel to the Riverland to help with seasonal harvests despite last minute uncertainty around the backpacker tax.
The Federal Government in December passed changes to the backpacker tax which resulted in foreign workers being taxed 15 cents in the dollar from January 1.
It followed months of debate on the initial proposal of 32.5 per cent tax which sparked fear among primary producers who depend on foreign labour during harvest.
picking stone fruit at Lowana Fruits in Renmark North. Picture: Tom Huntley
French tourists Maeva Andre and Loen Traegler, of Germany, said the 15 cent tax rate was the best outcome and had allowed them to travel to the Riverland for the stone fruit harvest.
“I really wanted to come here with my boyfriend but, if the tax was higher, we probably would’ve just travelled for a shorter amount of time instead of staying somewhere to work,” Ms Andre said.
Lowana Fruits owner Dino Ceracchi said the initial proposal of 32.5 per cent would have all but destroyed the chances of getting backpackers to work during harvest.
“I believe 15 per cent in my opinion is very fair. Any more than that, in our type of industry, where it’s hard, hot work, is unfair and it’s not going to help the growers or be enough incentive for workers to keep coming back,” Mr Ceracchi said.
He said there was still work for backpackers despite some vacancies being filled by islanders as part of the Pacific Seasonal Worker Program, which provides a workforce able to return each season.
Chaffey MP Tim Whetstone, whose electorate covers the Riverland, said it was important that seasonal workers know the Riverland and Mallee were open for business.
“Many Riverland and Mallee primary producers and packing facilities rely on itinerant workers to meet skill shortages,” Mr Whetstone said.
“Seasonal workers are also important contributors to the region and much of the money they earn is spent in the local community, boosting the economy.”