Australia’s Mixed Signals to Young Working Holiday Makers

The tax debate is still ongoing
November 17, 2016 7:45 am Last Updated: November 24, 2016 8:36 pm

BRISBANE, Australia—Word of mouth is the best way to find regional places to work for the many young people who come to Australia for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That is how twenty-five year-old Ms Rabee from Taiwan found her temporary job fruit picking.

After several months of studying English in Brisbane and learning about the Australian way of life, Ms Rabee embarked on a search for work. After a couple of weeks research and on the recommendation of a Taiwanese friend, Ms Rabee found a job opportunity in Victoria. Within a week she had made the trek to Melbourne and was settled into a temporary job picking cherries, with plans of extending her stay in Australia for an extra year. 

Rabee enjoying a Western style snack, in Brisbane, during August 2016. (Linda Huang/NTD Television)
Ms Rabee enjoying a Western style snack, in Brisbane, during August 2016. (Linda Huang/NTD Television)

Ms Rabee is one of thousands of young workers who travel to Australia hoping to work as part of their stay. Their conditions at work however may vary and many have concerns about a fair wage and safety. Now there is an additional concern with expected increases in their income tax. Earlier this year the federal government legislated that anyone on a working holiday visa will have to pay 32.5 cents in tax for every dollar of income up to $80,000. 

After a strong backlash from farmers and a slowing of young workers visiting Australia, the Turnbull government has been forced to change the legislation again. The government is now ” looking to swiftly introduce legislation” for a lower 19 per cent tax rate in order to placate the tourism industry as well as the agriculture and horticulture industries that employ young people with working holiday visas.

The legislation has to be passed in the Senate, however, and that could be problematic. Some senators want an even lower tax rate, and if the legislation is not passed the rate is likely to default back to the original 32.5 per cent.

Ms Rabee will have finished her extra year next month before any tax changes affect her, but many others in Taiwan will be asking her about the tax and even looking at alternative countries with lower or no taxes for temporary holiday workers.

Encourage Young Workers

There was an estimated 25,000 young Taiwanese on working visas in Australia last year according to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. Graham Perrett, federal member for Moreton, in Queensland has a large Taiwanese population in his electorate and he would like to see more Taiwanese students visiting Australia.

Mr Perrett sees it as an important part of his role to keep an eye on the young Taiwanese students and visits some of the farms around Queensland to check on the conditions.

He said that he “wanted to make sure that the Taiwanese community could be assured that the Taiwanese backpackers were being looked after by the Australians.”

Brisbane’s Director-General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Ken Lai, accompanied Mr Perrett on his last trip saying of the young backpackers that he was “very concerned with their safety and well being.”

Mr Lai says that more than just economic benefits, it is the cultural exchanges occurring in the tourism industry and in farming communities which benefit both the international visitors and Australians.

After meeting several young Taiwanese farm workers in Bundaberg last year and at Gatton this year, he said he hoped those on a working holiday will “integrate into the local community to learn about local culture” as well as encourage their new friends in turn to visit Taiwan and experience a different culture.

On his return from his farm visits Mr Perrett said he felt reassured that expectations were being met.

“Their employers were looking after them, they weren’t being charged too much for accommodation, too much for buses out to the fields and they seem to be having a good time,” he said.

In regard to safety and awareness of any changes in Australia, Mr Perrett suggested that more be done in Taiwan to prepare young people for their working holidays in Australia.

“If we can get as many messages as possible, particularly on social media also where they can share with their friends—a simple message about what Australia is like—I am sure they’ll come and have a fun experience, a worthwhile experience … make lots of Australian friends and go home as ambassadors.” he said. 

With reporting by NTD Television