Backpacker tax 'must go', says minister

Roula (left) and Tina Skliros at work sorting mangoes as part of an early harvest of some of their trees at their Berry Springs farm.
Roula (left) and Tina Skliros at work sorting mangoes as part of an early harvest of some of their trees at their Berry Springs farm. Mark Wilton

IN HIS first official media event, the Northern Territory Minister for Primary Industry and Resources, Ken Vowles, set his sights on resolving the backpacker tax issue that has created uncertainty in the NT agriculture sector for months.

Mr Vowles met representatives of the Territory mango industry at Skliros Produce in Berry Springs last week and immediately called on Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to resolve the issue and scrap the tax.

"This is a tax on the Territory.

"The uncertainty of this tax is hurting Territory businesses,” Mr Vowles said.

"I join with the Territory mango industry in lobbying the Federal Government to axe the backpacker tax.

"This tax will have a potentially crippling effect right across the NT. So I am calling on Barnaby Joyce to scrap this tax and let NT business do their job.

"It needs to be scrapped so that it can give the industry some certainty. In the NT we know that we need 4000-4500 backpackers each year for seasonal work.”

NT Mango Industry Association president Leo Skliros said the uncertainty about the backpacker tax had resulted in record low numbers of backpackers applying for seasonal jobs.

"With early rain in September this year, it will be a big mango season in Darwin and Katherine, with picking already starting at some farms,” Mr Skliros said.

"Agricultural Industries like mangoes rely heavily on seasonal labour - backpackers and employer sponsored workers.

"Crops need to be harvested and without these workers we cannot run our businesses.”

He said the full impact of the uncertainty would not be truly known until next month.

"We just don't know what our staffing issues will be for a few more weeks, but we definitely have had a drop-off in inquiries.

"At peak production times we employ up to 70 people. But because they come and go, to achieve that over the course of a 6-8 week season we would generally employ 150 people in total.

"But the concern is that if the backpackers aren't here we simply won't be able to harvest all of our fruit.”

Mr Skliros said his farm, which was renowned for being early, had already started harvesting a small percentage of his 13,000 trees.

"This tax should never have been brought in or spoken about. It is not just affecting the agriculture industry, it affects the tourism sector as well,” Mr Skliros said.

He said it was not a case of the industry being against backpackers paying some tax.

"We would accept a compromise, as long as it is fair for the sector and allows us to stay competitive with other destinations.”

In the NT, backpackers represent 85% of agricultural labour.

Topics:  backpacker tax barnaby joyce

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