"THERE'S just this huge gulf between the city and the rural areas. They don't understand what it's like."
Bruce and Tina McPherson were busier than usual on their Woongarra farm yesterday: a portent of what could be to come.
Their struggle reflects what the latest statistics suggest about the impact of the looming backpacker tax hike on agriculture.
The couple was "racing around" attempting to secure pickers for their strawberry harvest.
"This is what consumes our days - organising backpackers," Tina said.
The Australian Government's International Visitor Survey for the quarter to June 2016 reported a 7% drop in the time spent by backpackers on our shores - figures at odds with an overall rise in overseas visitors of 10% in the year to June 30, and a 5% jump in nights in Australia.
Under the 2015-16 Budget measure announced earlier this year, the current tax rate for working holiday makers will rise from about 19% to 32.5% from January 1, 2017, and most would no longer be able to access the tax-free threshold.
"It's bulls***," Bruce said of the hike. "It defies logic.
"We're making planting decisions now for next year, and our costs just for planting are around $100,000.
"We don't use machinery to pick our fruit, we rely on manual labour; they're effectively taking our harvester off us."
The designers of the legislation fail to understand the dynamics of seasonal operations that a local workforce can't satisfy, Mr McPherson said.
"Today we have 40-odd people on our payroll - we have four contract and one permanent; the rest are itinerant.
"That goes for another six weeks and then it's all over. It's not a tap you can just turn on, or a switch you can push.
"(Backpackers) don't want to work for nothing; it's hard enough to get them here already."
Pickers out in the Tinaberries fields agreed the looming tax hike could be to blame for backpackers backing off.
Swedish holiday worker Asa Gustaffson had planned to stay for a couple of years, but she said the tax was "absolutely" a turn-off.
While she has enjoyed her time in Bundaberg and likes the strawberry work, she said, "if the tax rises, I would think about going home".
The tax has been a hot topic between backpackers and their friends back home.
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