Regional tourism to suffer thanks to increased visa charges
A PEAK national tourism body says regional areas will be hardest hit by the Federal Government's decision to increase visa charges for working holidaymakers.
In releasing the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook on Monday, Treasurer Wayne Swan said increasing application charges for a range of visas would add $520.5 million to the budget bottom line over the next four years.
From January 1, working holidaymakers will be slugged $360, an increase of $80, to travel and work in Australia.
The Transport and Tourism Forum said the 28% increase could deter backpackers from heading down under.
TTF chief executive John Lee said each fee increase was less money backpackers had to spend on their travels.
"This means they visit fewer regional towns as they travel around Australia," Mr Lee said.
"This decision has been made because Treasurer Wayne Swan apparently believes that backpackers don't vote.
"But they do vote - they vote with their feet and if we keep raising the cost of coming to Australia, we risk pricing ourselves out of the market.
"It's wrong to assume people will keep coming regardless of cost - instead of coming to Australia as a working holidaymaker they will go somewhere else."
He said the fee increase was another blow to tourism in areas already hurting from the high Australian dollar.
Independent MP Rob Oakeshott said the TTF's fears were justified.
Mr Oakeshott, who lives in tourist-friendly Port Macquarie on the New South Wales Mid-North Coast, said the government should be doing everything in its power to encourage people to travel to Australia.
"The working, independent traveller is welcome in Australia," Mr Oakeshott said.
"And at a time when regional tourism is challenged by a high Aussie dollar, the working, independent traveller should be more welcome than ever.
"Of all the options at the Treasurer's disposal (to deliver a surplus), knocking off working, independent travellers ... and international students is an odd message of Australia supposedly wanting to engage the world around it."
Mr Oakeshott said while he supported the broad Treasury strategy of returning the budget to surplus, he would not be party to achieving it in record time.
He said that outside the mining sector, much of Australia was struggling. For this reason he said encouraging growth in non-mining sectors was vital.
And he said Mr Swan's assertion the macro-economy was flying was only part of the story.
"Within that macro story, you remove mining it's more than patchwork, it's a pancake. It's flat-lining on the eastern seaboard," he said.
"I think there are great dangers in doing these cuts at a time when the economy, other than in mining, is not growing.
"The actions of government need to encourage, rather than discourage, non-mining sector growth.
"As examples, we desperately need a bumper summer tourism season in regional Australia, we desperately need contracts for regional manufacturing, and we desperately need housing developers to get on with their long-ago approved projects to fire up the construction industry in regional Australia."
In defending the increases, which the Acting Immigration Minister Kate Lundy said demand for people wanting to work in Australia "would not be adversely affected".
"The government has made a targeted increase in the cost of visas where there are high levels of demand, and therefore areas that are less likely to be significantly impacted by the added costs," Senator Lundy said.
"The fact is that there are plenty of people around the world who want to work in Australia because of our substantial economic strengths during these times of global economic uncertainty - it is only appropriate for visa costs to reflect that demand."
- Partner visas allowing for people already in Australia to enter or remain on the basis of their married or de facto relationship, to increase from $3060 to around $4000.
- Partner visas for people outside Australia who want to join their partner in Australia will increase $2060 to around $2700.
- Skilled Graduate visas to increase from $315 to $1260 for the highly-valued post-study work rights for people in Australia on a student visa.
- The 457 temporary skilled worker visas to increase from $350 to around $455.
- Working Holiday maker visas will increase from $280 to around $360.