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Farmers call on Government to bring back backpackers

 

November 2020

Farmers and tourism operators have written to the Federal Government pleading for backpackers to be allowed into Australia to harvest crops, care for children and travel.

It comes as department officials struggle to pinpoint labour shortages this summer and almost 30,000 Australians who are stranded overseas cannot get home.

The National Farmersí Federation (NFF) has teamed up with Backpacker Youth Tourism Advisory Panel (BYTAP) to call for an urgent re-start to the Working Holiday Maker program.

According to the ABC, the number of backpackers in Australia has halved since international borders closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 earlier this year, creating a potential shortfall of more than 20,000 working holiday-makers.

In an appeal sent to about 30 federal politicians, the NFF and the advisory panel argued backpackers should be permitted to enter Australia under a COVID-safe plan to work as au pairs and harvest labourers, and to travel to boost the struggling tourism industry.

A backpackers stands in an apple orchard in Manjimup, WA.

Covid-19 restrictions mean there are fewer backpackers in Australia to harvest crops this year.(ABC Rural: Jon Daly)

NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said backpackers made up 80 per cent of farm labour.

"A recent report detailed that without access to working holiday-makers, the fresh fruit and vegetable industry may suffer a $6.3 billion reduction in value and the cost of produce could increase by 60 per cent," he said.

Backpacker Youth Tourism Advisory Panel spokeswoman Wendi Aylward said backpackers contributed $3.2 billion to the economy each year.

"Each working holiday-maker brings $5,000 with them as a visa requirement [and] spends $10,300 during their stay," she said.

"[Thatís] compared to $687 per trip that Australians spend domestically and $474 spent by Australian youth domestically."

As revealed by the ABC in August, the industry groups have been working on the proposal for some months and want backpackers from countries with low COVID-19 infection rates, under a strict testing regime, to be allowed to enter and quarantine in Australia before commencing work or travel.

Under its pilot proposal, the NFF and the advisory panel want visa fees to subsidise the cost of COVID-19 testing, and they have called for the Federal Government to consider offsetting the costs of quarantine with the 15 per cent backpacker tax or superannuation earned by working holiday-makers.

A recent report commissioned by Hort Innovation estimated the industry would fall short of 26,000 workers this summer.

Greek Tribune

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