Wine in­dus­try wel­comes job rules changes

Augusta Margaret River Times - - News - Phoebe Wearne and War­ren Hately

Mar­garet River vint­ners will get a boost to their cru­cial sea­sonal work­force af­ter Fed­eral Govern­ment changes aimed at help­ing farm­ers fill crit­i­cal job short­ages.

Back­pack­ers and work­ing hol­i­day-mak­ers will be al­lowed to stay in Aus­tralia longer and move around the coun­try more freely un­der the changes, in moves wel­comed by the wine in­dus­try.

How­ever, Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son has flatly ruled out calls to scrap the back­packer tax to at­tract more for­eign work­ers.

Back­pack­ers will no longer have to leave jobs ev­ery six months and will be able to triple the length of their stay if they do ex­tra agri­cul­tural work.

Pa­cific is­lan­ders tak­ing up sea­sonal work will be able to stay three months more and the age limit for work­ing hol­i­day visas for some coun­tries will be lifted to 35.

The changes come af­ter the Na­tion­als failed to de­liver a promised agri­cul­tural visa and an at­tempt to force job­less Aus­tralians to pick fruit was dis­missed by the in­dus­try. Mar­garet River Wine As­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive Amanda White­land said the re­lax­ations to the rules would be a big help.

“Back­pack­ers and Pa­cific Is­lan­ders are used ex­ten­sively by the Mar­garet River wine in­dus­try,” she said, “par­tic­u­larly dur­ing vin­tage and prun­ing sea­sons, so any re­lax­ation of re­stric­tions on their avail­abil­ity would be wel­comed.

“They are a vi­tal part of the labour re­quired for an im­por­tant in­dus­try in this re­gion.”

The Prime Min­is­ter said the stalled ideas were not dead and buried, fram­ing the re­laxed visa rules as an im­me­di­ate fix to a press­ing prob­lem.

A rule that forced some back­pack­ers to work in north­ern Aus­tralia was also be­ing dumped, al­low­ing them to work in a far wider range of re­gions.

Some 419,000 back­pack­ers vis­ited Aus­tralia last year, spend­ing $920 mil­lion in re­gional towns.

Mr Mor­ri­son is hope­ful the visa changes will push this fig­ure above $1 bil­lion.

“They don’t go home with any money in their pocket. Ev­ery­thing they earn here, they spend here,” he said. Mr Mor- ri­son replied firmly “No” when asked whether he was con­sid­er­ing elim­i­nat­ing the 15 per cent tax on work­ing hol­i­day-mak­ers.

“When peo­ple come and they work, they pay tax,” he said.

“We all pay tax when we work. If other peo­ple come here and they work, they pay tax too.

“And they pay it at a con­ces­sional rate, and I think it’s a pretty fair deal.”

La­bor front­bencher An­drew Leigh was scep­ti­cal about what he de­scribed as a “short-sighted” an­nounce­ment.

A re­port pub­lished last week found back­pack­ers in Aus­tralia, about a third of whom are paid less than $12 an hour, are owed bil­lions in un­paid wages.

“The Govern­ment needs to be very clear about how it’s go­ing to deal with those abuses and how it’s go­ing to cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties for Aus­tralians to work in agri­cul­tural work,” Dr Leigh told Sky News.

Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Michael McCor­mack de­nied the changes were an ad­mis­sion the Na­tional Party’s push for an agri­cul­tural visa had failed.

“It was al­ways go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to get a spe­cific ag visa in time for this har­vest, but we are work­ing to­wards mak­ing sure there are more per­ma­nent ar­range­ments in place,” Mr McCor­mack said.

What do you think? Will th­ese changes help? Email let­ters to edi­tor@am­r­times.com.au.

Back­pack­ers such as Julie Ra­jsarong, Gabriele Menuguzzo, Lena Len­nertz and Robin Lam­bert will ben­e­fit from moves to re­lax work­ing visas on ru­ral prop­er­ties around Mar­garet River.

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