June 27, 2023

SUBJECT | Holidaymaker Visa | 27 June 2023

Woolf: Joining me on the line to tell us more is the Shadow Federal Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Dan Tehan. Good morning to you, Dan.

Tehan: Morning. Wonderful to be with you. It's cold, wet and wintery here in Victoria. And I wish I was in Darwin, up there in the nice warm weather with you.

Woolf: Well, it's definitely not cold here. I'll give you the hot tip.

Tehan: Well, can I give you the cold? It definitely is cold here. I'm sure there'll be plenty of Victorians who are heading your way to get out of this cold down here at the moment.

Woolf: Well, we'll take all the tourists we can get. Dan, tell us what the situation is with this increase when it comes to those working holidaymaker visas.

Tehan: Well, the government is going to increase the backpacker visa by $130 on July 1 to $640. This makes the most expensive backpacker visa anywhere in the world, more so than New Zealand, the US, Canada, the UK, and Germany. And it means it's going to be harder for us to get the backpackers, and not only that, there's a review that the Government has commissioned, and the review has recommended that backpackers be limited to coming to Australia for one year. Now as you know, we've always given them the option to go and work in regional Australia and then work a second year, and that helps us make sure we get backpackers out into regional and rural areas to either help with the restaurants, the cafes, the accommodation venues in tourist areas, or in the case of picking fruit, picking mangoes and that type of thing. The backpacker workforce makes up about 80% of our horticultural workforce, so we just can't understand why the Government is picking on backpackers. They make a $3 billion contribution to our nation, and it just seems so short-sighted, and we just can't understand why. Backpackers have been part of who we are as a nation, and our tourism industry for so long will.

Woolf: But they also have such a huge impact in a place like the Northern Territory where they help to pick fruit. They help to fill quite a few different jobs. And a lot of the time, locals don't want to do. So, I just wonder what kind of impact it's going to have when you look at things like, you know, our mango pickers, for example.

Tehan: Exactly. And, you know, we've been struggling to get the workforce we need for picking mangoes, picking other types of fruit, working, whether it be in our cafes or our bars, that's what the backpackers do. They love doing it. It's part of their whole holiday experience. And there seems to be this push at the moment by the Albanese Government that everyone who comes here has to be permanent, and we've got 1.5 million people over the next five years coming here, and yet the backpackers who come, help, contribute to the economy, do the jobs that others won’t and then go - so they don’t put the pressure on the rentals, they don't put the housing pressures on - they're the ones they seem to be targeting, and we just can't understand why. We think this is a very bad policy. We've called on the government to say they will not adopt the one-year rule because that will mean backpackers will look elsewhere. And also to say that this is the last time they're going to increase this backpacker visa cost until it's competitive with other countries because otherwise, we're going to have less backpackers, less people to do the work that we need doing, and it will really harm, especially northern Australia, where so many of the backpackers go.

Woolf: I did just speak to the Minister for Business here in the Northern Territory, and you know, I put this to him and, and you know, he said that there does need to be some further discussions on this one. Look, I truly do wonder what kind of impact it's going to have for us in the territory. But I know that there'll be some people listening to this morning thinking, you know, come on, it's only an extra $130. What do you say to them?

Tehan: Well, I would say to them, you need to talk to the backpackers themselves because when they're making a decision as to where they go, they’re facing the cost of living pressures wherever they've come from, whether it be Europe or anywhere else around the world. And they look, and they say, okay, where can I go where I know I'm not going to have to pay too much for a visa? They already know if they make that choice to come to Australia, the airfare is significantly higher than what it is in most other places so they add the costs of these things up and they go, Well, maybe I'll go to the States, or maybe I'll go to Europe, or maybe I'll go to Latin America. So, we've got to remember we compete for backpackers. And the more costs you put on, especially when you've got cost of living out of control, the more likely they're going to say, well, maybe I should go somewhere where it's cheaper. And not only that, if they know that they can go somewhere where they can get a second year. And yet, here in Australia, we're going to turf them out after one year, then they're likely to go elsewhere, and we're already facing workforce shortages. So we don't want to be doing anything to make the backpackers go anywhere else. As a matter of fact, we want to be making sure that they're going to continue to come here because otherwise, I don't know who's going to staff our cafes, our bars, who's going to pick our fruit. As I've said, 80% of our fruit is picked by backpackers. So, if we don't have them, that's just going to add to the costs that we will be paying for our fruit and veg in the supermarket.

Woolf: So Dan Tehan, where to from here? From the Federal Opposition's perspective, I mean it sounds as though this is going ahead. It looks as though these costs are going to go up from Saturday.

Tehan: Well, so two things. First of all, the Government has to rule out that it will limit the backpackers to one year. That would just be so detrimental and such a silly thing to do. So we want them to come out today or tomorrow and say, no, we're not going to take up that recommendation that's been given to us by the panel that we self-selected to do this review. So, they should just hit that on the head straight away. And then what they should do is commit to saying they're going to make the backpacker visa comparable with what it is in other countries. So let's rule out making any more increases and say, really, if they're going to do anything else, it will either hold it where it is or decrease it. So when you get those two commitments, I think that would be a good start. And then they need to just give an explanation as to why it is they're doing this; what have they got against backpackers? That's what everyone that I've spoken to wants to know what has the government got against backpackers? And I think if they could do those three things, explain what they've got against backpackers, say that they won't limit the amount of time backpackers can come to one year and then say that they won't increase the backpacker visa by any more, that would be a really good start.

Woolf: Well, Dan Tehan, the Federal Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. Appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for joining us on the show.

Tehan: It's been a pleasure, it’s a really important issue, and I really appreciate your interest here.

Woolf: Thank you. Thanks so much.

Media contact | Cate Mercer-Grant 0408 564 232