Visa changes to bring flood of back­pack­ers

The Coffs Coast Advocate - - NEWS - STEVEN SCOTT

THOU­SANDS more back­pack­ers are ex­pected to ar­rive in Aus­tralia to pick fruit and tend an­i­mals un­der a Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment plan to fill crit­i­cal worker short­ages on farms.

Pa­cific Is­landers do­ing sea­sonal work will also be al­lowed to stay up to three months longer as the gov­ern­ment tries to pla­cate an­gry farm­ers who warn crops will rot be­cause they can­not find work­ers.

An­nual work­ing hol­i­day visa caps will be lifted, the age limit raised to 35 for some coun­tries, and back­pack­ers will be able to triple the length of their stay in Aus­tralia if they agree to an ex­tra six months’ agri­cul­tural work.

In a se­ries of changes to visa rules, back­pack­ers will no longer need to leave jobs ev­ery six months and also will be per­mit­ted to stay with the same em­ployer for up to a year.

The gov­ern­ment has been un­der grow­ing pres­sure to help farm­ers plug holes in their work­force af­ter the Na­tion­als failed to de­liver a promised agri­cul­ture visa, and Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son’s plan to force dole re­cip­i­ents to pick fruit was dis­missed by the in­dus­try.

Back­pack­ers spent $920 mil­lion in re­gional ar­eas last year but the num­ber of those will­ing to do farm work to get a sec­ond year in Aus­tralia has fallen by al­most 30 per cent since 2013.

As part of the farm labourer push, Pa­cific Is­landers will be able to work for nine months rather than the cur­rent six­month limit.

Em­ployer ex­penses will be cut, with sea­sonal work­ers forced to pay back full travel costs ex­cept $300, rather than the cur­rent $500 sub­sidy, and labour mar­ket test­ing will be dou­bled to six months.

It is be­lieved Mr Mor­ri­son has not ruled out fi­nally agree­ing to an­other agri­cul­ture visa if the changes do not fill the gaps on farms.

The Prime Min­is­ter said the aim was to de­liver im­me­di­ate help to farm­ers.

“Aus­tralians fill­ing Aus­tralian jobs is my num­ber one pri­or­ity but when this isn’t pos­si­ble we need to en­sure our farm­ers aren’t left high and dry with rot­ting crops, es­pe­cially in the straw­berry in­dus­try,” Mr Mor­ri­son said.

“We want more money in the back pock­ets of our farm­ers.”

Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Michael McCor­mack, who has been push­ing for an agri­cul­ture visa, said the changes were a prag­matic so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of fill­ing work­force short­ages.

Photo: TIM MARS­DEN

UN­DER PRES­SURE: Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son at a straw­berry farm in Cham­bers Flat, south­east Queens­land on Mon­day.

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