Doorstop, Virginia Farms Produce, Virginia SA
Topics: Working Holiday Makers, foreign worker exploitation, the economy, Australia-China relationship, Indonesian Free Trade Agreement, Jock Palfreeman
DAVID COLEMAN: Good morning. It’s terrific to be here at Virginia Farms Produce in regional South Australia. Great to be here with my colleague Simon Birmingham and particularly good to be here today to announce the significant increase in the number of working holiday makers who are working in regional Australia.
A big focus of our government’s immigration program is delivering immigration to the areas of regional Australia where it is most needed. There are many of those places around the country in regional and rural Australia, in agricultural industries and nowhere more so than here in South Australia. What we’ve seen in 2018/19 is a 20 per cent increase in the number of working holiday makers who have been given a second year visa. They got that visa because they worked and committed to work in Regional Australia.
That’s really important for our farming communities and it’s good, not only for the employers, but of course for the surrounding town, given the money that those working holiday makers spend when they’re working in regional Australia.
Across our migration program there are a range of different initiatives we’ve put in place to encourage regional migration. This year there’ll be 23,000 visas under the permanent skilled program for people who commit to living and working in regional Australia for three years. They will then be eligible for permanent residency. We’ve also got seven Designated Area Migration Agreements or DAMAs which acknowledge the fact that different parts of regional Australia have different immigration needs. One of the places where we’ve just recently kicked off a DAMA is regional South Australia.
So we’ve reduced the total amount of our permanent Migration Program, reflecting the very significant population pressures in Sydney and Melbourne in particular, but we’re providing more opportunities for regional migration. This increase in working holiday makers working in regional Australia is a good thing. I expect that to continue. This year we’re introducing a new option for working holiday makers where if they, in their second year, they work in regional Australia for six month they can then be eligible for a third year to work in Australia. That’s again about backing regional Australia and regional businesses, like this one, to access the workforce that they need.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks David, and thanks so much for coming to South Australia today for this announcement in relation to the success of the Working Holiday Maker program. Working holiday makers are a real win-win-win outcome for Australia because you get working holiday makers in businesses like Virginia Farm Produce, doing jobs and filling skills that they struggle to find local employees to do. They go out then and they spend their wages in local communities, as all tourists and travellers do, but they’re also contributing to produce that drives and supplies not just our local economy but exports out to the world. And that’s the great thing about a program like this. It helps to drive and sustain our domestic economy, our tourism industry and our export markets.
You get working holiday makers who are individuals, who come to Australia with their savings and while they’re here they spend their savings. They spend the money they earn in businesses like this and they often message home to mum or dad and ask for more money to spend while they’re here too. That’s the great story for our tourism industry.
Estimates project that working holiday makers contribute more than three billion dollars to Australia’s tourism industry because they’re working and spending and travelling their way around Australia at the time. The work that David has done as part of our government, in terms of reforming programs like this, to really target them into areas of jobs need in regional Australia so that we end up with people working to pick our fresh produce that is so popular around the world. To hear from a business like Virginia Farm Produce, just how they are working to grow export markets in the Asian region, in the Middle East and success that they’re enjoying which is bringing more dollars back to Australia and part of the reason why, as a country, we are enjoying such a prolonged period of trade surpluses. We want to keep backing these businesses to grow their exports, to grow our tourism industry, because that means more jobs overall for more Australians.
JOURNALIST: Minister Coleman, farmers argue that backpackers are an inefficient labour solution, so why can’t you create an agriculture specific visa for people who want to travel to Australia to work on farms. Well we have lots of.
DAVID COLEMAN: We have lots of different visa options for agriculture and I think this farm and many others around Australia would tell you that working holiday makers can actually be incredibly valuable employees. We’ve also, of course, recently created the seven designated area migration agreements. They’re about helping regional Australia to fill job vacancies. We have one in regional South Australia which includes the agriculture industry. We have one in Warrnambool, in that region around the dairy industry and meat processing. Around Orana in Central West New South Wales where there are gaps in the labour market in farming and so on. So through a range of different programs, whether it’s farmers, whether it’s a skilled program, whether it’s working holiday makers and indeed the seasonal worker program of course, where last year we had just over 12,000 people come from Pacific nations to work on farms, particularly during the picking season, the harvest season, when we do need people often for a short period of time.
So the immigration program can supplement the domestic workforce where workers aren’t available and we’re seeing through the increase in numbers like the working holiday maker program, the program addressing those issues.
JOURNALIST: Migration officials are concerned that this increase doesn’t necessarily address safety concerns for backpackers. Of course, here in South Australia there was a terrible case of a backpacker who was raped while working on a Meningie farm. What changes to safety are being made to ensure that people that do come to Australia on these working holiday visas can have a safe and productive time.
DAVID COLEMAN: Through Project Cadena, Operation Battenrun and various other programs from the Department of Home Affairs, we work very closely on this issue to ensure that people who have working holiday makers in their businesses are doing the right thing. Of course, the vast, vast majority of business do the right thing and create great opportunities for backpackers, like we see here in Virginia farms.
There are, there have been, some examples of people doing the wrong thing. We’ve had more than 500 operations in relation to specific individuals. We had 89 people recently, under Operation Battenrun, who had their visas cancelled because of inappropriate conduct in relation to labour hire and so on. Of course, at the more serious end of the spectrum, if there are allegations of criminal behaviour, then that’s absolutely a matter for the police and should be reports to the police and prosecuted. In addition, Minister Porter, in his role as Minister for Industrial Relations has announced the intention of the government to criminalise a number of offences in relation particularly to underpayment of workers and so on.
So across Home Affairs, across the Fair Work Ombudsman, we’ve put significantly more resources in – an additional 50 million dollars – and across industrial relations there is a range of actions we are taking, but we do need to bear in mind that the vast majority of employers do the right thing and create great opportunities for backpackers. .
JOURNALIST: The stats show that these issues are increasing. Is enough being done?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well as I say we’re doing a huge amount through Project Cadena, through Operation Battenrun, through the efforts of Minister Porter in relation to criminalising offences, underpayment of workers. Any criminal behaviour is, of course, treated extremely seriously and anyone who is breaking the law of Australia will be subject to very serious penalties. We continue through Home Affairs, through the additional 50 million dollars that we’ve put into the Fair Work Ombudsman, to assess and investigate these issues and take action where people are doing the wrong thing.
JOURNALIST: There’s been some major developments overseas overnight [inaudible] in the US Parliament, with an impeachment process beginning for Donald Trump, potentially. The RBA Governor of Australia has said the worst is over for our economy but should we be preparing for further headwinds in that regard?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There are many areas of global uncertainty and global economic uncertainty. That’s why we continue to build resilience across the Australian economy wherever we can. The budget we handed down this year was about recognising that there were headwinds and challenges coming to us from a range of international pressure points, as well as the drought conditions facing, afflicting, much of Australia. That’s why we put in place domestic tax cuts, 100 billion dollars-plus of infrastructure spending, why we’re working hard to reduce red tape and in my field, why we’re working hard to expand market access opportunities for Australian exporters so that we can build as much resilience as possible.
We can’t control circumstances like Brexit, the US-China trade wars, or domestic issues in the US political environment. What we can do is try to provide Australia businesses with maximum opportunities to sell their goods and services to the world and to build as much resilience as possible in the Australian economy.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s important then that we remain vigilant and don’t [inaudible} this feeling of thinking the worst is over?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: As a government, we will be ever vigilant, but we also want people to know that Australia’s economic conditions are still good and strong, particularly when compared to the rest of the world. We’ve seen negative growth in countries like Singapore or Germany, while the Australian economy continues to grow. Australians should be confident, that with strong levels of employment, the policy settings of our government, we’re going to be able to ride through some of these international difficulties, continue to grow and people should have confidence to invest in Australia and to keep growing Australian businesses. Especially those with an export outlook such as the one we’re at today.
JOURNALIST: Senator Birmingham, on the PM’s recent trip to the US – are you concerned that that trip to the US has been interpreted as lending Australia’s support to the US in the US-China trade war?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Australia’s policy is just that – Australia’s policy position. What Scott Morrison has enunciated in speeches this week, as he has done consistently as Prime Minister, is Australia’s policy position. We want to see a conclusion to the US-China trade tensions; we want to see one that addresses those substantive issues around subsidisation of industries; to make sure that economies that were once very clearly developing economies but have grown substantially have responsibilities commensurate with their current standing in the globe, not with their standing from years gone by.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Morrison has insisted China is no longer a developing country and should face tougher trade obligations. When and how has his message been communicated to China?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s very clear that China’s economy has grown substantially. This is a message that we have all been making quite clearly and one that we welcome. We welcome the fact that China is a much bigger economy today than it was years ago when it joined the World Trade Organisation and we want it to be even bigger into the future. But as a larger economy today we expect that any more developed economy today to take on responsibilities commensurate with their size and with their economic strength. China is not the strongest economy in the world and certainly still has areas with significant growth can still occur. But these are not new issues that we have raised, we’ve been talking about it for a while. Indeed in my own remarks and work in Beijing not that long ago, I spoke about some of these issues, including how we tackle the issues around special and differentiated treatment for developing economies, and make sure that is fit for purpose for the future.
JOURNALIST: What assurances have you received from China that it isn’t going to seek retaliation and reduce Australian imports?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Australian China relationship is a mature one, it is a respectful one. From our perspective, China is a country with whom we have a comprehensive strategic partnership – a valued economic relationship – but a valued strategic relationship as key players within our region. I am confident we can work through all these issues. The invitation that I made when I spoke in Beijing not that long ago, to work with China as partners, to look at how we strengthen the World Trade Organisation and deal with these issues around development status is an invitation that remains and is a warm and friendly one. We would welcome the opportunity to constructively contribute to resolving these types of tensions and issues wherever possible.
JOURNALIST: The Indonesian FTA is facing opposition from the Crossbench and Greens [inaudible]
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Indonesian Free Trade Agreement is critical to Australia’s future economic outlook, our ability to engage successfully with Indonesia – the largest of our near neighbours, a rapidly growing economy, and yet one where we have got fewer exports today than we should have, a weaker economic relationship than we should have. The comprehensive economic partnership agreement we’ve struck with Indonesia is one that we want to see implemented. It is demonstrably in Australia’s best interest to deepen the economic ties between Australia and Indonesia. Now I would encourage anybody who wants to and who has expressed concerns about it to go and get the facts in relation to the Indonesia-Australia comprehensive economic partnership agreement.
It does not create new categories of waiving of labour market testing. What it does do, is create some new places for working holiday makers from Indonesia to come to Australia. And why should working holiday makers from Indonesia not be welcome in Australia when we’re welcoming in working holiday makers from other parts of the world? I would hope that other political parties, as well as the Senate Crossbench, would want us to deepen our relations with Indonesia. Part of deepening those relations is to encourage the flow of individuals two ways between our countries. But these are purely places that have been spoken of for working holiday makers, for people aged between 18 and 30, and individuals who will contribute to our economy just the same as the working holiday makers we’re celebrating today.
JOURNALIST: Just finally Senator Birmingham, on Jock Palfreeman’s possible freedom in Bulgaria. Mr Palfreeman’s lawyer says the Morrison Government needs to put him on a plane out of the country and quickly, amid concerns for his safety. Will the Australian Government accommodate that? If not what is being done to ensure Mr Palfreeman is safe passage home?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: In all of these issues we handle them carefully, we engage with our consular staff on the ground providing support wherever possible. We put the safety of Australians at the forefront of what we do. Often that means not talking in detail about what’s occurring behind the scenes, but about making sure that we are giving the appropriate consular assistance and working closely with authorities elsewhere to ensure the safety and legal rights of Australians are protected wherever possible.
JOURNALIST: So you won’t guarantee him safe passage home?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: As I said, it’s not always helpful to play out all of the details in public around our work. What is important for people to understand is that whilst in other countries Australia cannot guarantee how Australians will be treated. We do work as hard as we can through our consular services to provide as much support to ensure the safety and legal rights of Australians are respected.