AgForce and Growcom unite to slam backpacker visa changes

Sheep Central, June 30, 2021

AgForce CEO Michael Guerin

QUEENSLAND’S AgForce and the peak horticulture group Growcom have today slammed changes to the Working Holiday Maker visa conditions that allow backpackers to extend their stay by also working in tourism and hospitality.

In a joint statement, the bodies said there had been no consultation with agriculture industry bodies about Immigration Minister Alex Hawke last week changing the rules to allow backpackers to also extend their visas to a second and third year by completing 88 days work on farms and in the tourism and hospitality sectors in remote and norther Australia.

AgForce chief executive Michael Guerin said more detail around this decision was required in order to fully understand the potential impacts.

“The consequences could be far reaching if a loss of labour starts seriously limiting the many opportunities for growth and expansion in Queensland agriculture, including the current re-building of small livestock enterprises in western Queensland.

“There are ongoing challenges in finding and retaining ag labour in rural and remote areas, and this shortage has been made much worse by the COVID pandemic and travel restrictions,” he said.

“Grains, for example, relies heavily on skilled workers come harvest time.

“Skilled workers are safe workers, but this decision by Minister Hawke puts that at risk,” Mr Guerin said.

“We are calling on the Minister to review his decision immediately and for greater transparency moving forward on the basis for making changes to what is a long running visa program, upon which entire workforces have been predicated.”

Growcom chief executive Stephen Barnard said the change defied logic and ran counter to all available evidence, including analysis from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries which found the Queensland horticulture sector is currently short up to 9,000 workers.

“The requirement to work on farm was there for a reason.

We won’t dispute the average backpacker would prefer to pour beers in Port Douglas than pick mangos in Mareeba,” he said.

“So now we’re going to see an exodus of workers from agriculture into pubs, clubs and restaurants right when we need them the most. Which is obviously back to front and suggests the Federal Government doesn’t take our food security seriously at all, or the welfare of farmers and the viability of their businesses.”

“Next time Minister Hawke orders a counter meal at the pub, he should consider where his fresh salad, steamed vegetables, hot chips and steak come from,” Mr Barnard said.

“There’s no point having great service if there’s nothing to eat.

“And its not as though the agriculture sector was already asking for much,” he said.

“Backpackers will typically work in tourism and hospitality roles anyway for the rest of the year after they’ve done 88 days on a farm.”



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


Get Sheep Central's news headlines emailed to you -