NFF welcomes backpacker tax compromise

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The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has welcomed the government’s agreement to a 15 per cent backpacker tax, which falls within the NFF’s proposal of 15-19 per cent.

In a short press statement, Treasurer Scott Morrison said he hopes to see the decision finalised in parliament the end of the week.

"Today the government will be working to put in place a bill which will propose 15 per cent on the backpackers’ arrangement," he said.

"That means this week, hopefully even today, this matter is resolved."

NFF CEO Tony Mahar says after a long debate, the NFF is happy to see an acceptable figure as a result.

"It has been a painful process but we wholeheartedly welcome the announcement that a compromise rate of 15 per cent has been reached," Mahar says.

"The NFF back to the Colbeck Review said that a rate between 15 per cent – 19 per cent was a fair one that would attract backpackers to the sector and be comparable with rates paid to Australian workers.

"We now ask that the Senate expedite passage of the relevant legislation to provide the long needed certainty to the sector and allow businesses to start rebuilding backpacker interest in on-farm jobs."

In a press conference, NFF Workplace Relations & Legal Affairs general manager Sarah McKinnon was asked whether she thought the NFF should have rallied for a lower figure.

"It’s important to remember that in March this year the whole agricultural sector, led by the National Farmers’ Federation, put up a proposal for a position between 15 and 19 per cent," she told reporters.

"This is not a new figure. This is a figure we’ve been fighting for all year because it’s a fair figure – it is the rate that Pacific Islanders who come here under the Seasonal Worker Programme pay – and it’s going to do the job make sure backpackers feel they can earn more in Australia than they can anywhere else.

"We need to get the message out there to the backpacker community that we have fought hard for them, that we have delivered a fair rate, and that we very much want them to come to the farms and stick around.

"Of course, this issue has had a damaging impact on the farm sector, and that impact will continue to be felt for many months, but the sooner we get out there with the positive message that these workers are very important to us and we need them to stay, the better it is for Australian agriculture."

Again, McKinnon was questioned about a perceived change in the NFF’s position on the tax, from 19 to 15 per cent.

She says the previous push for 19 per cent was because that seemed like a realistic figure at the time, and adds fighting for a lower figure could have delayed a result.

"There’s no point in supporting a rate that won’t get through parliament, because then what we end up with is ongoing games and uncertainty.

"We welcome the compromise, it’s a position that reflects our position which has been the case since March this year"

Some opposition to the 15 per cent decision still remains, however, as Shadow agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon criticises the government’s call to impose an "arbitrary figure".

As reported by the Guardian, Fitzgibbon says:

"There has been no research or modelling done.

"It is an arbitrary figure and this government stands condemned still for selling out our farmers and putting some of their own interests around Senate negotiations in front of the interests of the country and our farmers."


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