We will send ‘em pack­ing Farm­ers’ visa war on La­bor

The Courier-Mail - - FEDERAL POLITICS - EX­CLU­SIVE SHERADYN HOLDERHEAD

LA­BOR is set to spark a mas­sive pre-elec­tion war with farm­ers over a union pro­posal to dis­man­tle work­ing hol­i­day visas which threat­ens to “crip­ple” the agri­cul­ture sec­tor.

The Aus­tralian Coun­cil of Trade Unions is pres­sur­ing Bill Shorten to re­view the scheme with a view to ban­ning back­pack­ers work­ing for a sec­ond year and putting fur­ther re­stric­tions on work in the first year.

Op­po­si­tion im­mi­gra­tion spokesman Shayne Neu­mann re­fused to rule out back­ing the pro­posal and told The Couri­erMail the num­ber of tem­po­rary visa hold­ers in Aus­tralia with work rights was “too high”.

The Na­tional Farm­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion said the de­mands were “ill-con­sid­ered, ill-con­ceived and smack of ‘dog-whis­tle’ pol­i­tics”, and threat­ened to launch a wide­spread cam­paign against La­bor.

“The en­tire sec­tor would mo­bilise to voice its out­rage and de­spair if the pro­gram was to be scrapped without adopt­ing re­al­is­tic al­ter­na­tives. The re­sponse to the ‘ back­packer tax’ is­sue would pale in com­par­i­son,” NFF gen­eral man­ager Ben Rogers said.

In a sub­mis­sion to a Se­nate in­quiry, the ACTU called for a re­view of the scheme and pushed for a cap on the num­ber of visas handed out, a ban on job ads that ad­ver­tise only for work­ing hol­i­day visa hold­ers and the scrap­ping of a sec­ond-year visa.

It also pro­posed work rights at­tached to the visa be re­mod­elled so that it “op­er­ates as a gen­uine hol­i­day visa with some work rights at­tached, rather than a visa which in prac­tice al­lows visa hold­ers to work for the en­tire du­ra­tion of their stay in Aus­tralia”.

An ACTU spokesman said the union body was con­cerned the visa had been “abused by big busi­ness to ex­ploit visa hold­ers and to deny lo­cals ac­cess to op­por­tu­ni­ties”.

Mr Rogers said farm­ers re­lied heav­ily on back­pack­ers par­tic­u­larly dur­ing har­vests be­cause “Aus­tralian work­ers sim­ply don’t want, in suf­fi­cient vol­umes, to do farm work”.

“Most Aussie farms are very small, fam­ily-run busi­nesses with low turnover and profit mar­gins,” he said.

Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud said back­pack­ers were an im­por­tant labour source for farm­ers and Aus­tralia com­peted with other coun­tries to at­tract them.

“The ACTU doesn’t un­der­stand this be­cause they don’t care (about) or un­der­stand agri­cul­ture and the im­por­tant role back­pack­ers play,” he said.

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