Crucial backpacker labour clause removed in new Aus-UK Free Trade Bill

Nov 21, 2022

Crucial backpacker labour clause removed in new Aus-UK Free Trade Bill

Nov 21, 2022

AUSTRALIAN farmers already suffering from worker shortages will be dealt a major blow after the Federal Government moved to remove important labour requirements that obliged backpackers to serve time in rural and regional areas.  

Kennedy MP Bob Katter raised concerns about the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill which will result in English backpackers, crucial to the farming industry, no longer required to work in country areas upon arrival.  

Mr Katter pushed for amendments to the legislation and called on the government to note that currently the Australian agricultural sector was experiencing critical workforce shortages and the impact of the removal of the 88-day farm work clause for backpackers in the proposed free trade bill was significant.  

While the Free Trade Deal was signed between Australia and the UK in September 2021, crucially, the UK was yet to move the legislation to ratify the deal. Until then, the Australian Government could accept Mr Katter’s amendment and leave the “backpacker clause” untouched.  

He said without this requirement there would be little, if any, incentive for backpackers to come, let alone stay, working in regional communities for the length of time needed for their training to be a viable option for farmers.  

Mr Katter also said the legislation had failed to explain or adequately address the significant impacts to regional economies as a result of the removal of the 88-day clause.  

His amendments called on the government to: 

(a)         Provide evidence that the United Kingdom has requested this clause be omitted and provide evidence supporting the concerns regarding the backpacker on-farm workforce; 

(b)        Ensure a proper and thorough analysis is undertaken into the financial impacts to farmers and regional tourism economies as result of this clause being removed; and 

(c)        Deploy a highly specific advertising program in all major metropolitan centres focused on attracting backpackers to work on farms in regional areas”. 

Mr Katter said the onus should be on the government to “build the means of production” however, pointed out both major parties with their free-trade policies were destroying the agriculture sector.  

“What you’ve done here is effectively take out the United Kingdom workers completely, they vanish because there’s no way they’re going to go to a place they’ve never heard of before in their life, when they can go to Sydney and hang around on Bondi Beach,” he said.  

“I represent about 6 to 7 per cent of Australia’s fruit and vegetable production. But thanks to your free trade deals, we have been for 10 years, a net importer of fruit and vegetables.  

“Australia’s rural industries have been for 100 or 200 years, wool, cattle, grain and cane, with Australia always being self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables  

“Thirty years ago the free-market paradigm was imposed so now whenever rural industry takes a hit – fire, flood, drought – causing market crash, where the government had intervened to help the farmers restore their numbers, their cultivation land, this does not now happen.  

“Sheep numbers are down 72 per cent, cattle down 23 per cent, the dairy herd, following deregulation, is down 17 per cent, cane production following Australia’s failure to move to ethanol- has fallen 15 per cent. And with fruit and vegetables, believe it or not, Aust has become a net importer and has been for nearly a decade.”