TOURISM in regional Queensland and northern New South Wales will be among the worst hit by an $80 tax hike on working holiday visas, the head of Youth Hostels Australia has warned.
The increase in the charge would raise an extra $52 million to line the Federal Government's coffers, and would be paid by working holiday-makers in application for a temporary visa.
YHA chief executive Julian Ledger said he was concerned the government had already increased the charge by 2.5 times since 2005 in Euros - the biggest part of the working holidaymaker market.
"We estimates that the working holiday market generated more than $500 million in income tax revenue for the government in 2011-12, based on the 185,000 odd visas that were given out," he said.
"It's just not good policy to increase the front-end fee on people who are contributing to the regional economy by working, and to government revenues through tax.
"These are people who even before they leave the United Kingdom, or whatever country, they have to show evidence they've already saved at least $5000 minimum.
"They also save up to pay for their airfares, and now the government wants to add an extra $80 to their up-front fee."
Mr Ledger said the YHA believed the fee should be set at the cost of providing resources to deal with the immigration and airport processing, not as a revenue raising measure in its own right.
But while the increased charge will be put on all working holiday makers, Mr Ledger said he believed it would have a great impact in regional Queensland and NSW.
"Australia is a long haul destination for these visitors - they come here from further away, stay longer, and spend more time in regional Australia," he said.
"We think increasing the charge could deter some travellers from even considering Australia for their trip, and many of those that do come; they spend a lot of time and money in regional Queensland particularly.
"With the Australian dollar still so high, young people don't have to come to Australia - there's other countries they can visit, and we think they will."
Ferguson dodges backpacker row and energy protest
AN $80 hike in working holiday-maker visa charges was ignored by Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson when he addressed the backpacker industry on Thursday.
Mr Ferguson and his Opposition counterpart Bob Baldwin spoke to the Australian Backpacker Industry Conference in Sydney.
The annual industry meet comes just weeks after the government increased the upfront charge tourists pay for Working Holiday Visas to add an extra $52 million to bolster the budget surplus.
Mr Ferguson spoke about the recently opened Tourism Industry Regional Development Fund, part of a deal with the independents; he made no comment about the increased charges.
He said regional tourism businesses should be confident the number of working holiday-makers would continue; based on a rise in demand for the visas of 15.6% between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
In his comments on the visa itself, he said the government was actively negotiating now visa arrangements with Indonesia, Argentina and Greece, among other countries.
But numerous industry players, including the youth hostels sector, expressed much concern about the increase in costs.
Mr Baldwin's speech to the conference centred on the increase, telling the industry to "keep driving home the message "stop taxing tourism"".
He said he was concerned the government had not modelled the effects on visitor numbers the increase to the charge could have.
"The best industry assessment to hand indicates if the $80 fee increase goes ahead it would take a decrease of only 3% in working holiday maker applications before the Federal Government was a net loser due to the reduction in tax receipts from working holiday makers," he said.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne, protesters have interrupted Mr Feguson's release of the government's energy white paper.
A little over a week after Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was interrupted by two Melbourne protestors, the two men were at it again.
During a rather dry policy speech from Resources Minister Martin Ferguson on energy market reform, the two men jumped on stage to "thank him" for everything he'd done to help the coal industry.
With tongue firmly planted in cheek, the two men, calling themselves 'Twiggy Palmcock and Michael Higgins Beaumont', patted him on the shoulder and danced around the podium shouting "Thank you Fergo".
Understood to be students at a Melbourne university, the men are part of a group called Quit Coal, which in recent months has staged various protests around the Victorian capital.
One of them, armed with a photo of Minister Ferguson's head on a popsicle, got through what little security there must have been during the speech at the Centre for Economic Development function.