The government and tourist bodies are at odds over how the increase in Australia visa fees will affect demand.
24 October 2012
Government defends Australia visa fees hike
After announcing that Australia fees would increase as of 1 January, 2013 as part of Treasurer Wayne Swan's midyear financial review, the government has had to move quickly to defend the increase in the face of an immediate backlash.
It was revealed yesterday that partner visas, skilled graduate visas, temporary overseas worker visas and skilled migrant visas would all be subject to a price increase. However, it is the increase to the popular working holiday visa program that has raised the most ire.
As of next year, the cost of a working holiday visa will rise from AU$280 (£180) to AU$360 (£232), an increase Transport and Tourism Forum chief executive has said will deter backpackers from visiting Australia.
"It's wrong to assume people will keep coming [to Australia] regardless of cost - instead of coming to Australia as a working holidaymaker they will go somewhere else," said Mr Lee.
"If we keep raising the cost of coming to Australia, we risk pricing ourselves out of the market.
"A UK backpacker now has to save over £3,200, against £2,000 five years ago, while Europeans and Americans have to save 35% more.
"Why do we want to make it even more difficult for them?"
Mr Swan said the decision to raise the cost of visas was part of a plan to return the government's budget to surplus in the next financial year yet Independent MP Rob Oakeshott says it was a strange choice to make:
"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."
While Mr Lee believes the price increase will have an adverse effect on the backpacker industry - particularly in regional Australia - some are not so pessimistic.
Carl Walker of the Bowen Gumlu District Growers Association in north Queensland says backpackers account for up to 80% of the workforce and earn a very healthy wage.
"A lot of the pickers are earning now anything from AU$20 [£13] to AU$50 [£32] per hour there on contract, the ones that get in and work hard," said Mr Walker.
"I don't think that 80 bucks is going to change their view on Australia because Australia has got a damn good reputation amongst the backpackers for a great place to come."
Acting Immigration Minister Kate Lundy also agrees that Australia's popularity as a great backpacking destination will not suffer.
"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," said Senator Lundy.
"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 uncertainty - it is only appropriate for visa costs to reflect that demand."
The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy.