President of the Gumlu Bowen Growers Association Carl Walker says the industry needs to prepare for staff shortages in the future and called for visa extensions.
President of the Gumlu Bowen Growers Association Carl Walker says the industry needs to prepare for staff shortages in the future and called for visa extensions.

Calls to extend visas to bolster next year’s picking season

AN INDUSTRY leader says visa extensions for backpackers propping up the picking industry are vital in ensuring farms continue to operate in the future amid travel restrictions.

Bowen Gumlu Growers Association president Carl Walker said the industry had "just managed to get through" this picking season.

However, he said 2021 would prove difficult with international border unlikely to open soon.

Mr Walker estimated about 75 per cent of the picking workforce in the Bowen region were from overseas.

While the Gumlu Growers Association are working on incentives to bolster the domestic picking market, including programs for school leavers, Mr Walker said this would not be enough.

President of the Bowen Gumlu Growers Association Carl Walker, Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner with Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan, Mr Susumu Hamamura, and Consul-General Mr Kazunari Tanaka.
President of the Bowen Gumlu Growers Association Carl Walker, Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner with Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan, Mr Susumu Hamamura, and Consul-General Mr Kazunari Tanaka.

Instead, he has called for visa extensions for international workers in the industry to ensure farms across the region have enough numbers for upcoming seasons.

"The backpacker industry creates jobs, they still go diving, they still do sailing, they still do backpacker trips, they stay in the hostels, it's all creating jobs and money," he said.

"In between that, they're actually picking and doing work that no one else wants to do and creating more money and more wealth for everyone else.

"They're a resource we should not let go."

In April, the Australian Government announced temporary changes to visa arrangements that would allow workers from the Pacific Islands to continue working in the agriculture sector until the coronavirus crisis has passed.

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However, Mr Walker said the emphasis on the Pacific Island workforce was "too narrow minded and too short sighted".

"We're also forgetting that so far the islands have missed this pandemic … but if we put all our eggs in one basket and something happens on the islands then we're in trouble," he said.

Mr Walker's push for extensions come as other farms in the state have reported a "chronic shortage" in workers, that has left produce "rotting" in the ground.

"I think we should be having every option on the table," Mr Walker said.

"We shouldn't be allowing ourselves to get pigeonholed into saying we need all backpackers or we need all Australians or we need all Pacific Islanders, we need a balance between all the options."


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