Why Malcolm Turnbull must jettison backpacker tax: opinion

IT EMERGES like a gleaming mirage as you enter the sleepy township of Yenda, a jumble of silver wine tanks and shipping containers.

Casella Wines is one of the Riverina’s – and the nation’s –most stunning business success stories.

From a standing start more than a decade ago, its iconic label, YellowTail, has grown to become the number one imported wine in the US and a swag of other markets.

The company is one of Griffith’s largest employers, it supports dozens of grape growers and its community largesse is legendary.

He might be softly spoken, but when Casella boss John Casella speaks, his voice reverberates through Canberra and Macquarie Street.

He picks his battles, and he’s hunkering down for an almighty one over the backpacker tax.

The controversial policy will see the $18,200 tax-free threshold for foreign workers under 30 scrapped and instead force them to cough up 32.5¢ from the first dollar they earn in Australia.

Australia’s food bowl – the Riverina – relies on these young holiday-makers to supply relatively cheap seasonal labour and plough some of their wages back into the tourism industry.

As our wineries gear up for vintage, Casella Wines has reported email inquiries from backpackers keen to help pick grapes has fallen off a cliff, about 90 per cent down on last year.

A vintage without pickers is like a building site without brickies – it can’t happen without them.

Ditto for the citrus harvest, the melon harvest and a host of other labour-reliant harvests.

It’s clear many of these young tourists, who once saw a summer of hard yakka in the Aussie bush as a rite of passage, are spooked by talk of a backpacker tax.

We should never forget how reliant our region is on its horticulture and agriculture sectors. We cannot afford to lumber those brave and enterprising farmers that keep it afloat with more regulatory burdens.

MP George Christensen has threatened to “blow up” the government by quitting the party if the tax is not dumped.

Thank heavens someone is standing up for primary producers.

We can only hope the government takes the threat seriously and jettisons this ridiculous and unfair tax.

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