Hawke’s backpacker visa changes a cruel blow to farmers battling to find workers

The National Farmers’ Federation is angered by a move by Federal Immigration Minister Alex Hawke that will likely reduce the workforce available to northern and remote farmers.

Last week, Minister Hawke quietly extended the 88 day ‘specified work’ requirement for working holiday makers to include tourism and hospitality in northern, remote and very remote Australia, a change that will likely see less backpackers choose farm work.

“It’s inconceivable that the Minister would make this decision seemingly with the flick of a pen, with not so much as phone call to farm groups, let alone meaningful consultation with farmers, at a time when agriculture is dealing with an unprecedented worker shortage” NFF CEO Tony Mahar said.

Mr Mahar said the NFF was buoyed by a commitment from the Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud to establish an Ag Visa.

“We have big hopes for the Ag Visa and give credit to Minister Littleproud for keeping it on the agenda. But it’s very early days, there is a mountain of detail to be worked through before the visa is ready to deliver meaningful relief to farmers’ labour challenges.

“This latest decision is frustrating for farmers as it looks as if the Government is trying to give with one hand and take with the other,” Mr Mahar said.

The permanent changes announced by Minister Hawke are effective immediately and have the potential to particularly impact northern Australia cattle station operators, who rely on UK and European backpackers, and the northern horticulture industry.

“Even before COVID-19, farmers faced a significant workforce shortage. The shutting of borders meant a tough situation soon became a critical one. Farmers have been forced to leave produce to rot and some are now making decisions to scale down their operations.

“This is exactly what rural and regional communities don’t need.

“Worker shortages will be even more dire this season with international borders still closed, and overseas workers continuing to return home without being replaced by new arrivals.

“Agriculture has continued to supercharge the nation’s economy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. To continue to do the heavy lifting farmers need significantly more workers, not less.

“We await more detail from Minister Hawke to explain what seems like a misguided and rash decision, to say the least,” Mr Mahar said.

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