Quiet Aus-UK Free Trade clause will ‘decimate’ regional economies
A SNEAKY clause included in the Australia-UK Free Trade agreement has regional Australia feeling anxious about its future workforce supply with Kennedy MP Bob Katter calling for either a “handbrake” on the deal or a government-funded campaign to address labour shortage concerns.
The bilateral agreement which came into effect on May 31, has been sold to the public as a “gold standard trade deal that delivers benefits for all Australians – including manufacturers, workers, farmers, tradies, innovators, families, and students.”
However, from July 1, 2024, an additional clause will come into effect allowing UK passport holders to be “granted up to three Working Holiday visas without having to meet any specified work requirements.”
Previously, UK passport holders (backpackers) were required to complete at least 88 days of “specified work” which included service in regional and rural parts of the country – underpinning the workforce for small-town hospitality venues as well as fruit-picking farms.
In North Queensland, owner of the Barron Valley Hotel at Atherton, Michael Nasser, said “cutting off the backpackers would decimate the region.”
“To put it simply, if they’re no longer required to come out here, the beaches of Sydney and Gold Coast are far more appealing than the bush,” Mr Nasser said.
“For perspective, at the moment I’m getting about 100 inquiries per week from UK backpackers for work. We employ about 50 people here at the hotel at the moment I’ve got 14 backpackers.
“But they go on to all the farms around here as well, and I get inquiries from farmers about them as well. Because they’re willing to work, hospitality jobs – Australians don’t want to do them because it interferes with their social life – weekends, split shifts, late nights.
“Of course there are some, but most Australians don’t want to do them, and it’s not just us here (in Atherton), ask any pub or roadhouse in regional Australia.”
Mr Nasser while there were working holiday visa applicants from other countries, the ability to speak English was an important requirement and employers shouldn’t be confined to employing people from a government-restricted pool.
“So you take the UK out – who I believe are the best workers, we’re screwed. And no doubt, there’ll be a ripple effect, all of Europe will want the same deal.”
Mr Katter said regional Australia and Kennedy had long been suffering from a labour shortage in many industries and the trade agreement would further add stress on rural economies.
“Backpackers add vibrancy to towns (throughout my electorate) such as Mission Beach, they spend money at our cafes, they’re a hell of a lot of fun and make it fun for us Australians and they do meaningful work during their stay,” he said.
Mr Katter said he was seeking an “urgent meeting” with the Minister for Trade and Tourism to “make it compulsory for UK backpackers do rural service for at least three months.”
“We have world-class tourism here, and when they come to our electorate, they realise that.
“We’re seeking an urgent meeting with the minister because we desperately still need our economic recovery since Covid, we’re a long way off and the backpackers were a serious component of that.”
Mr Katter said failing a reversal of the decision, he wanted the Federal Government to campaign rural and regional Australia to working holiday visa holders to partly offset the losses to the regions.
Change starts with you