COVID-19 pandemic leads to 50,000 fewer backpackers in Australia, prompting parliamentary inquiry

Backpackers will be the focus of a new federal parliamentary inquiry designed to help tourism, health and farm sectors recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Key points:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has meant there are 50,000 fewer working backpackers in Australia
  • A parliamentary inquiry will look at how to help the tourism, health and farming sectors recover economically
  • The inquiry will also look at the possibility of out-of-work Australians taking up jobs typically filled by backpackers

With unemployment in Australia expected to reach 10 per cent, the inquiry will look at the possibility of out-of-work Australians taking up jobs typically filled by working holiday-markers. 

New South Wales Liberal MP Julian Leeser, who will chair the inquiry, said there were about 50,000 fewer backpackers in Australia because of the pandemic.

“Once borders reopen they will be key to filling some roles where Australian workers are usually not available, particularly in regional areas,” Mr Leeser said.

He said the inquiry would also look “to what extent, with the prospect of so many unemployed Australians around, can those unemployed Australians fill the gap that would otherwise be filled by working holiday-makers”. 

Regional migration inquiry suspended

A separate parliamentary inquiry into migration in regional Australia, by the committee chaired by Mr Leeser, recently reported back without any recommendations, despite receiving more than 130 submissions and holding 11 public hearings.

“We suspended that inquiry because of the COVID-19 situation changing, and the fact we cut the migration program substantially and the situation in regional Australia had changed,” Mr Leeser said.

“We didn’t come up with recommendations because, truth be told, we hadn’t seen enough and had the chance to properly debate and test some of the assumptions.

“This is why we’ve been given this new inquiry … some of these issues were raised in the previous inquiry, but it is particularly important to people in rural and regional Australia who rely on the working holiday-maker workforce to help them keep their businesses running,” he said. 

Mr Leeser said he did not expect the inquiry would consider an agriculture-specific visa, something farm groups and some senior Nationals had previously championed.

‘Yet another inquiry’, says farmers federation

Victorian Farmers Federation spokeswoman Emma Germano said there was no point having another inquiry if governments continued to ignore the recommendations.

“I’d love to know why they are embarking on yet another inquiry,” Ms Germano said. 

“We hope it leads to meaningful recommendations that are actually adopted by the Government — unlike many of the inquiries into the ag workforce that have gone before.”

Ms Germano said her industry had become overly reliant on backpacker labour because there was a lack of suitable options to assist the sector. 

“Industry has long made recommendations to improve the worker holiday program to make it fit for purpose, and put protections in place for the worker and the employer,” she said. 

Working holiday-makers contribute around $3 billion to the Australian economy each year.

The inquiry into the working holiday-maker program, by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, will receive submissions until July 24.

Source: ABC News

Sourced by Mike Barrow

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