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April 19th 2016 print

David Flint

Indolence Pays, Work Doesn’t

An election-bound government frantic to raise revenue without irking voters thinks it has found the perfect target: backpackers, who will soon be subjected to tax rates imposed on nobody else. Apart from hurting the tourism industry, expect fruit to rot for want of pickers

back packerWhy does common sense sometimes elude our rulers? A recent example  is the  federal government’s brand-new tax which will target hard-working backpackers in a most discriminatory way. You see, it’s unlikely to bring in  much revenue. That’s because the  backpackers will be tempted to go to other countries where the politicians don’t see them as little more than plump geese which have laid an abundance  of  golden eggs.

This new tax  is sadly only  the latest  burden our politicians, federal and state, have  inflicted on  our farmers. (Not without justification,  Jai Martinkovits and I named a chapter in a recent book, ”Why do they hate our farmers?”)
The new tax is part of  a  pincer movement which defies all common sense.

The first  arm of  the pincer is the politicians’ own creation:  a generous  welfare state made up of “clients”, as the welfare-industrial complex likes to call them, they anticipate will vote for them in gratitude.  This involves endowing what I call the dronocracy, the  healthy yet work-resistant class, a life of leisure from cradle to grave. Being part of the dronocracy  has become so enticing that the status is frequently  inherited, like some aristocratic title.  All this is funded by a diminishing class: those unfortunate Australians who are net taxpayers.  How long can this go on?
Notwithstanding  the opposition of most of the commentariat, the maligned 2014 Abbott-Hockey budget went  in the right direction. One key example was the important lesson it would have given  school  leavers tempted to join the dronocracy. This was  that  the dole is not a lifetime  alternative to work, and certainly not to be immediately and easily accessible on leaving school .  Unfortunately,  the out-of-touch  majority in the Senate  decided that it would  not allow such realism.

The result is that the politicians have trained the work-averse to expect that their lifestyles will be funded by the taxpayer, and that they  should  be permitted to determine that they are above doing  the sort of work which was once done by university students in their long vacation.  After all, picking fruit is hard.

So instead of disbanding the dronocracy , which is their moral duty, the politicians have had to licence young foreigners,  about 40,000 of them, to work on our farms, as well as in the nation’s hotels, restaurants and cafes. They are a significant segment of the 240,000 backpackers who spend about $3.5 billion here every year.
Despite reported  high youth unemployment rates ( up to 17% in Western Sydney), our backpackers have no difficulty in finding work.

At $130 a day, the minimum rate for picking fruit, is not to be sniffed at, except among the dronocracy. Even more is offered on some farms. The average yearly income of a working backpacker is around $15,000, of which $13,500 is spent in the country. Under current tax law, no tax at all is payable on  income up to $18,200. Then its 19 cents in the dollar. When a taxpayer earns  $37,000 per annum, the tax  rises to 32.5cents in the dollar.   So although tax is taken out of their income by their employer while they work, backpackers normally receive a full refund  on leaving Australia, as they should.

Backpackers do not receive any special  privileges; they are being treated the same way as Australians. These young people are crucial to  our farmers’ ability  to produce both exports and food for the supermarkets. But as of July 1,   backpackers will be taxed on everything they earn. Worse, this will be  a special  rate, one  which nobody else pays  until  they are earning income over  $37,000 per annum, and then only on the excess . The punitive rate will be 32.5c on every dollar earned here — almost one-third of their income. The Treasury has calculated this will produce $100 million in the 2016-17 financial year and $220 million a year thereafter. This is no doubt calculated to help to pay for the  young and healthy leisured class who refuse to work, the dronocracy.

But it seems the politicians have shot themselves in their collective foot, as they are unlikely to recoup these vast sums. Even the dimmest backpacker is far too smart to fall for this. Social media has been full of warnings and advice that countries such as the US, Canada and New Zealand  will soon be far more attractive than Australia. They will pay tax in those jurisdictions, true, but nothing like Australia’s punitive gouging.  We may also lose some of the other backpackers who do not intend to work here but who like to be among  the backpacking communities as they roam the world.
The result will be that we will run the risk of leaving our farms and tourist sectors with fewer workers just when they are needed.  The fruit may well rot on the vines and the trees. Alternatively, pay could be increased to attract workers but this would make  exports too expensive and probably encourage imports which would tend to  underprice Australian produce.

The government claims that it is now  listening. The  Tourism Minister, Richard Colbeck, has announced  that Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison have allowed him to review the proposal in time for the Budget, but on one condition.  The condition  is that the government will still recoup the amount planned by the change. Any new proposal must be “revenue neutral”. This means that the government still plans to fleece the young backpackers of one third of their hard earned income.

According to The Australian‘s Sue Neales, the National Farmers Federation has come up with a suggested compromise. This involves imposing a 19% tax on all income consistent with the special six-months pieces given to Pacific Island seasonal workers employed on farms.  But that is still more than the tax payable in comparable countries.

So why doesn’t Canberra treat the backpackers like everybody else, as any fair and sensible government should do, and tax them according to the general law? In other words, no tax unless and until they earn more than $18,200.

Common sense would tell anyone that is the most sensible and also the most fair thing to do.

Comments [7]

  1. a propos says:

    When I worked in Far North and South East Queensland, the import of the backpackers for the local farmers was obvious. In these areas of the relatively low population density the backpackers’ contribution was crucial. These youngsters from all over the world were hardworking, decent and law abiding. An attempt to reduce their meagre earnings will severely disadvantage the local farmers, who, at the best of times, are hard put to entice locals to working on the farm.

  2. pgang says:

    So this was an Abbott govt policy.

  3. Dave Carter says:

    The obvious way to gain more economically from backpacker workers would be to excuse them from the superannuation guarantee. As things are now, the extra administration involved creating super accounts for many, the complete lack of awareness and therefore gratitude from a fair few, and then the self-defeating irony of cash handouts when the backpacker deports all combine to make it an expensive frustration.

  4. en passant says:

    This is a scurrilous article as we all know Mal is the smartest Golden Sacks Banker evaaa, the only man evaaa able to understand the economy, world politics, global warming and the Theory of Everything all at the same time. Hasn’t he smirked into the camera often enough when taking a selfie as we hang on his every word? Actually, I hear on the grapevine that it is really a mirror …
    I dread Shorten (or Plibersek) and the elevation of Sarah to the post of Minister for Mass Muslim Immigration, but if that is what Australian voters want, let their wishes be granted …

  5. The LNP must go in hard and explain the true nature/meaning of socialism. i.e. the socialists will take, by force, the money/earnings from one section of the population [the wealth generators/productive] to give to another section of the population who won’t or don’t want to earn their money. Anybody tempted to vote socialist [because they think they might get 'something for nothing'] should remember that anybody who is prepared to sacrifice somebody else’s interest to gain a vote will not hesitate to later sacrifice them if there are more votes in it.
    I am disappointed that anybody in the LNP would even consider slugging backpackers to subsidise the ‘dronacracy’. This is as stupid a concept as was the ‘divine right of Kings’ from medieval times.

  6. ianl says:

    > … So why doesn’t Canberra treat the backpackers like everybody else

    Well, duh and gee, maybe because they don’t have a vote, ya think ?

  7. Davidovich says:

    In Tasmania, the unemployed locals won’t go near fruit picking or any of these jobs which backpackers undertake. The reason, or one of them, is that the dole is too good to be worth doing some hard work. Work for the dole? You have to be joking as these people know every trick in the book to avoid work. Abetz and company knew, and tried, to correct this indolence but the media and 54 of their cohort decided to axe the firm line being applied.