Farmers struggling to find backpacker fruit pickers should be able to hire Australians who are on the dole.
That’s the solution being proposed by crossbench senator Nick Xenophon – and all he needs is the government to relax rules on welfare recipients.
Farmers are worried backpackers needed for seasonal picking are being driven away by new 32.5 per cent tax imposed from the first dollar they earn.
The impasse on the tax – which the government says will be resolved soon – has already hurt some family businesses worried their produce will be left rotting on the ground.
Senator Xenophon wants the government to give Newstart recipients greater flexibility, such as earning up to $5000 without any penalty if they fill the backpacker void.
Under the plan, they would get an extra $300 if they have to travel more than 100km, while job service providers would also get a bonus if they successfully placed jobseekers.
Treasurer Scott Morrison says the real problem with the welfare system is some people reject such jobs.
“The reason we need to get backpackers into these jobs in these places is because there are unemployed Australians living in these areas who won’t take these jobs,” he told Ray Hadley on 2GB radio on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says a resolution on the tax – which has been delayed until January – will come in just over a month.
He’s spoken to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, about the issue.
“We’re going to do this diligently and bring this to a conclusion,” he told reporters in Rockhampton.