Changes to the "backpacker economy" would hurt Gympie

Will Taunton - Bernet general manager from Visit Oz. Photo Renee Albrecht/Gympie Times
Will Taunton - Bernet general manager from Visit Oz. Photo Renee Albrecht/Gympie Times Renee Albrecht

MANY Gympie region farming and tourism enterprises would suffer under planned taxation changes affecting the backpacker economy, it was claimed yesterday.

Will Taunton-Burnet, of Goomeri's VisitOz backpacker training farm, said backpacker labour kept many small farms afloat, especially orchards and other seasonal operations in the Gympie region.

The Cooloola Coast tourism economy would miss them too, if planned tax changes make them reconsider their visit to Australia.

That was the real risk from Turnbull Government plans to introduce a 32.5% no-threshold tax on working holidaymakers, he said.

At present, many Australian backpackers get full tax refunds because they earn less than the $18,200 a year income tax threshold.

Foreign backpackers pay only 13% tax up to the threshold.

Mr Taunton-Burnet said this meant their tax instalments are often refunded after they return home.

A simple improvement that would make everyone better off, including the government, would be to not tax them in the first place for refundable amounts, allowing them to spend the money while they are still here.

That would benefit tourism businesses and generate extra tax payments on extra income from tourist operators.

"We've got about 2000 farms on our books and we refer backpacker clients to them," Mr Taunton-Burnet said.

"We meet and greet at Brisbane airport, take them to the beach for a few days, then train them in rural employment skills at Goomeri, before helping them find a job," he said.

"They put their effort into the farming economy and then spend their money visiting places like Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island.

"Then they would probably front up for another temporary farm job to finance their next break."

"The main thing is the proposed changes will end up putting less money in the backpacker's pocket," he said.

"The knock-on effect of that is they will not spend it in the local Australian economy."

He called for "some mechanism that would encourage them to spend their money in Australia, doing all the wonderful things that can be done here, rather than taking that money overseas and having it as a sort of post-visit refund.

"The vast majority of backpackers come here for a working holiday.

"They work, learn skills and grow up as well as having a holiday.

"It's important to the economy from two perspectives.

"They provide labour for

the farming sector and customers for tourism.

"It's a double win in that they put their economic effort into rural industries and then spend the proceeds on tourist industries."

Gympie Regional Council tourism councillor Julie Walker said overseas backpackers brought more than mere economic benefits.

"It brings diversity and culture into an area, all those different types of people from different parts of the Earth. It's great to have them here."

Rainbow Beach business operator Ruth Modin has also often praised the contribution of backpackers outside of their economic contribution.

"They keep us young," she said during a recent holiday season.

Cr Walker said many farming operations depended on seasonal workers.


Gympie Times

Topics:  economy tourism

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