Backpackers will be granted special visa benefits to help rebuild homes, fences and farms in bushfire-ravaged communities under an overhaul of the working holidaymaker program aimed at fast-tracking reconstruction and boosting tourism.
Working holidaymakers will be able to claim volunteering as “specific work” towards securing second and third-year visas in a bid to encourage backpackers to move into 45 declared disaster zones across seven states and territories.
With more than 209,000 working holiday visas lodged in 2018-19, the government has acted on the visa changes following recommendations from the National Bushfire Recovery Agency to help stimulate struggling regional economies impacted by fires.
The new visa policy will allow backpackers working in bushfire zones to remain with the same employer for one year, up from six months. The definition of ‘specific work’ has also been revised to ensure construction work in disaster areas is covered.
“This recovery will be driven locally, by local workers and communities. But this will be a massive recovery effort and we want businesses and charitable organisations to have as many boots on the ground as they need.”
BlazeAid president Kevin Butler, who has been pushing the government to change the visa rules, said he had been inundated with requests from backpackers to volunteer and support farmers. “We need young people with young muscles to do the hard yards. The bushfires hit hardest in some very rugged areas and these backpackers have the energy to do it,” he said.
“A lot of the backpackers are going up and down the coast and being turned away from jobs because of the drought and bushfires. This is an opportunity for them, and the farmers.
“We have 2500 farmers signed up to BlazeAid for the help these volunteers are providing. It’s just common sense and we should have done this a long time ago.
“It’s a great move by the Morrison government.”
Britain, France, Germany, South Korea and Taiwan feature prominently in the list of working holiday visas granted last year.
Bristol couple Grace Bishop and Finlay Roy, both 22, are on their first-year working holiday visa and want to volunteer in bushfire-hit regions. Ms Bishop, who has completed bushfire volunteer work, said they would take advantage of the new visa rules.
“We were a bit naive about bushfires when we started in Brisbane and we got caught up in the Tenterfield fires. We got caught again in NSW. So recently we volunteered in the Adelaide Hills,” she said.
“The people there were a bit surprised to see backpackers turn up and help, but I think they liked having outsiders. They could chat to us and rely on us, without any of the negativity there has been in some of the communities.
“We would definitely like to stay in Australia. And it would be amazing to go back and work on fence-building and things like that. These areas have been desolated and we want to help.”
In The Weekend Australian, bushfire recovery chief Andrew Colvin said critical infrastructure would need to be future-proofed against bushfire catastrophes following the destruction of power transmission lines, telecommunications and agricultural fences.
National Bushfire Recovery Agency data shows more than 2100 power poles in southeast NSW had been damaged or destroyed, as well as more than one million cubic tonnes of agricultural fencing lost across Australia.
Farming groups are concerned there are not enough fence posts produced in Australia each year to replace the 50 million destroyed.
German backpacker Lukas Weihrauch has moved to a BlazeAid camp in East Gippsland, where he is helping farmers rebuild fences and sheds.
“I saw a lot of the fires on TV and heard from people and thought: ‘This country has let me stay here, I want to contribute back’,” he said.
“Most of the time in Bruthen we are putting fences back up and helping farmers tie up their sheds. It’s very tough, very physical.”
Source. The Australian
Sourced by Mike Barrow