Victorian farm lobby calls backpacker visa expansion ‘definition of insanity’August 13th, 2019 | | 462 visa
The Victorian farm lobby says it is insane to expect backpackers alone to address the industry’s labour shortages and fears new changes could lead to more exploitation on farms.
- The Government wants to further expand its backpacker visa to provide workers for farms
- The Victorian Farmers’ Federation describes the latest changes as the “definition of insanity”
- Exploitation of workers on backpacker visas by employers has been reported
The Government has flagged 13 countries from which to target backpackers to work in regional Australia in a planned expansion reported last week.
But Victorian Farmers’ Federation vice-president Emma Germano said her industry needed an agriculture-specific visa to attract workers that wanted to work on farms.
“We need something more sustainable than that,” Ms Germano said, referring to the Government’s proposal.
“We’ve seen there’s been problems with the (backpacker) 417 and 462 visas in the past so the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, and yet here we are again.”
The National Farmers’ Federation offered in-principle support to the proposal, which included targeting travellers from Mexico, India and the Philippines.
Ms Germano said the industry had such a shortage of workers that any attempt to find more was “a good thing”, but she was worried that the list of countries targeted by the Government could lead to on-farm exploitation.
“We’ve seen there’s exploitation in the sector, that’s not a secret to anyone,” Ms Germano said.
“It just concerns me that those countries and those people might be actually more vulnerable to exploitation than the current cohort of backpackers we’ve had in the country for the past few years.”
Immigration Minister David Coleman said the Government was listening to farmers and “has made supporting regional Australia a key priority”, including announcing a regions-focused population plan earlier this year.
“We’ve made significant improvements to our visa system to give the agriculture sector access to overseas labour where Australian workers are not available,” he said.
“The Government has zero tolerance for exploitation in Australian workplaces and we’ve invested in our agencies to identify, and take action against, those responsible.”
He also reiterated that work and holiday applicants must have a functional level of English and must hold or be studying towards tertiary qualifications.
Ag visa remains a live issue
Ms Germano said she was frustrated with the Government’s response to her industry’s plea for an agriculture specific visa.
“I feel like we keep being appeased, like these are measures to appease the calls for an agriculture visa.
“We don’t understand why that is such a big issue.”
The National Party wants such a visa, but so far the proposal has not been supported by its Coalition partner, the Liberals.
While agriculture minister earlier this year, Nationals MP David Littleproud said Prime Minister Scott Morrison was “working towards” the proposal.
“The Prime Minister is now on the journey,” he said.
The Government has already expanded the backpacker visa scheme once this year, increasing caps for some developing countries and allowing workers to stay in Australia for three years.
Shanthi Robertson, a senior research fellow at Western Sydney University, argues the extension of backpacker visas into a third year means communities will have to adapt to long-term temporary residents.
“We will see more people move from working holiday visas, to student visas, to partner visas, to other forms of temporary work visas.
“That’s not in and of itself a problem,” she said.
“But it does create the issue of having migrants in Australia who are here for really extended periods of time.
“So what does that do to communities? And how long, realistically, is it equitable and democratic to allow people to pay tax here when they are not given any kind of political voice or any social benefit?”
Sourced by Mike Barrow