Country News

Visa changes to aid farm jobs

By Geoff Adams

Backpackers and other visitors on working holidays will be able to stay in Australia longer under a federal government plan to help farmers fill job shortages.

Pacific islanders taking up seasonal work will be able to stay three months more and the age limit for working holiday visas for some countries will be lifted to 35.

Backpackers will no longer need to leave jobs every six months and will be able to triple the length of their stay if they do extra agricultural work.The changes come after the Nationals failed to deliver a promised agricultural visa and an attempt to force jobless Australians to pick fruit and tend to animals was dismissed by the industry.Prime Minister Scott Morrison is visiting a strawberry farm in southeast Queensland to outline the changes.

"Australians filling Australian jobs is my No.1 priority, but when this isn't possible we need to ensure our farmers aren't left high and dry with rotting crops, especially in the strawberry industry," he told The Courier-Mail.

Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh was sceptical about what he described as a "short-sighted" announcement.A report published last week found backpackers in Australia, about a third of whom are paid less than $12 an hour, are owed billion dollars in unpaid wages.

"The government needs to be very clear about how it's going to deal with those abuses and how it's going to create more opportunities for Australians to work in agricultural work," Dr Leigh told Sky News.