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Education and Employment References Committee
Australia's temporary work visa programs

WILSON-BROWN, Mrs Traci Michele, Office Manager, Willing Workers on Organic Farms Pty Ltd

Committee met at 09:33

CHAIR ( Senator Lines ): The committee will now commence its inquiry into the impact of Australia's temporary worker visa programs on the Australian labour market and on the temporary worker visa holders. I now welcome Mrs Traci Wilson-Brown from Willing Workers on Organic Farms. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. I now invite you to make a short opening statement of no more than a few minutes. At the conclusion of your remarks, I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : We run a program for volunteers to volunteer on organic farms all over Australia. We have about 2,800 hosts, who cover pretty much every part of Australia, and the volunteers who join our program come from all over the world. About 11 per cent of them are Australians, and the rest of them come from overseas. In a normal year we would have about 12,000 volunteers join our program. The way the program works is: when they join, they get access to a list of these hosts and a short bit of information about each farm and what they do. They contact the farms themselves and they volunteer four to six hours each day in exchange for all their meals and accommodation. The biggest part of the program is a sort of education program, where the volunteers learn about sustainable agriculture and methods of farming and they have a cultural exchange where they can improve their English and improve their skills and make themselves a lot more employable.

Senator O'NEILL: Thanks for the outline of the program and how it operates. One of the concerns that I have as a consequence of hearings is about the ethical behaviour of everybody who is engaged in the scheme. I do not doubt for a minute that there are wonderful, ethical practitioners and that this is an opportunity for international cultural dialogue and all those benefits are there, but what protections are in place against people of ill fame or poor character, or indeed criminal record, availing themselves of this workforce?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : We have a system in place where everybody who joins has to give us their ID. So, whether that is a volunteer or a host, we check their ID. And we have a pretty rigorous complaints process, where any complaints that come in, from both hosts and volunteers, come through our office. I have brought a copy of our complaints process for you, but generally what happens is that all complaints have to be in writing and they have to outline exactly what happened—

Senator O'NEILL: So proper formal grievance processes.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : There is a proper formal grievance process. We contact either the host or the volunteer and we generally ask them for other people who they have had an interaction with. If it is a volunteer, we ask them for other hosts that they have visited and we talk to them about how this volunteer was. Often we find the problems are just a cultural misunderstanding, but if it is a serious complaint—and sometimes we deal with the police if it is a serious complaint—we are very quick to act and we actually remove the host from our program. We have a website where we put up a list of all of the deleted hosts. They are put on an amendment sheet that says that they are no longer accepting WWOOFers. We have an online forum. They are immediately taken off there. We have a mobile phone app now, and all of the hosts are in that. So, as soon as a host is deleted, they are no longer in that app. They are instantly removed.

Senator O'NEILL: Can I just go back a couple of steps, right to the beginning? You do pretty rigorous security checks, you say. Do you check people for criminal record?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : No.

Senator O'NEILL: That would cost, wouldn't it?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : It would make the program very expensive if we checked every host. The other thing is that a police check is only valid on the day that it is done, so somebody could go out and commit a crime the day after they have done the police check and, unless you had hosts being police-checked every year or every month, you would never know if that is still valid. It is the same with volunteers: if they do a police check when they arrive in Australia, it only checks from the time they arrived in Australia; it does not check the country that they have come from. So, unless they all had to arrive with a police check that was done the day they left the country they were coming from, it would not necessarily be valid.

Senator O'NEILL: There are restrictions, I understand, but I am thinking about people who have found themselves employed by somebody who has a criminal record. That can happen currently, can't it?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: That is concerning, and I think it deserves to be noted. That is the first thing. The second thing is moving along to the grievance processes. As you go through the grievance process—which sounds very fulsome—you remove people from your website. I am delighted to hear that you have an app, because I am sure that will be very well received and used, but the process of deleting takes away the information about people who you have found unsuitable for the program from those who are using your app.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: Why did you determine to do that rather than have a list of people who are no longer with the program?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : There is also a list on the website of people who are no longer in the program.

Senator O'NEILL: Not on the app but in the website?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : On the website we have a list of deleted hosts which is updated. Every time we delete a host, we add them to that list. This is the WWOOF Book, which precedes the app, and people still use this. I will hand these around. This has a list of all the hosts and a description of their properties. Anyone who has the book can email us any time they like for a fresh amendment sheet, which gives them any deleted hosts, which they can then cross out of their book. If they have the app they are already removed. People with the app can email us for that, too. The deleted hosts are also listed on our website, by host number and page number in the edition of each book. It works for anyone who has a book.

Senator O'NEILL: With that information, which is a service you are providing—of filtration—do you communicate it to the government in any formal way? They have never sought that—

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Occasionally we have contact from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection or the police, if there is an issue. They will contact us to ask if somebody is a host and we will check our database to see if they are or if they ever have been. Generally, we will give them whatever information they are requesting. It is pretty rare, but it does happen occasionally.

Senator O'NEILL: Could you take me through an example of some serious allegations that were made, and your response? If you could give me an idea of the range of things you would consider a serious allegation.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : It does not happen very often—

Senator O'NEILL: That is a good thing to hear.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : It is very rare. Out of 2,700 or 2,800 hosts we would maybe get 10 or 12 complaints a year, of which maybe one would be serious. We might actually remove three or four hosts a year from the program. Generally they are more because we have had repeated complaints about them—maybe the conditions are not great, the food is not great or the accommodation is not very clean. It would be those sorts of things. Or perhaps they are just not great hosts because they do not treat their WWOOFers as guests so much. They might not interact with them very well or they might be a bit bossy or a bit demanding. It depends on what the complaint is. If we have three complaints of that nature, usually that is enough. We would say to them that over the last three years we have had three different people tell us the same story so we believe it is really inappropriate to keep listing them as a host.

In the case where we have something more serious, say, if there is sexual abuse, often we will hear about it more from the police. We always tell people that if they have a complaint like that the first port of call is to go to the police. To us it is a criminal matter and they should take it through the correct channels. We are not the police and we cannot deal with that. Generally, if that happens the police will contact us and tell us they have had a complaint about a person they believe to be a host. We then take them out of the program straight away. We believe that if the police are dealing with it, it is serious enough—and usually they will tell us they believe it is serious enough that we should take the person out of the program. We straight away let the host know that we have removed them from the program and we will not be listing them any longer. We put them straight on our website and on our amendment sheet and they will be removed immediately from the app.

Senator O'NEILL: Has that happened?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : That has happened once, about a year and a half or two ago. It is very rare.

Senator O'NEILL: Do you know what happened with that case?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : No, we do not get a follow-up from the police.

Senator O'NEILL: And no follow-up from the student or the—

Mrs Wilson-Brown : No. But I think they were quite relieved that we had taken them out of the program.

Senator O'NEILL: How many people are involved in your program?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Staff-wise?

Senator O'NEILL: Yes.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Until the changes in the second working holiday visa we had six staff. We are down to five part-time staff—almost four. We sort of leapfrog. I work four days a week, we have four people who work three days a week, and our managing director works three or four days a week.

Senator O'NEILL: Is it a private business?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: How many people are you dealing with, both those seeking a workforce and those who participate?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : The most we had in one year was 16,000 volunteers. Generally, 11,000 or 12,000 is more normal. They would volunteer for anything from a week to a year, but on average more like two months would be normal. They might just go to one farm or they might go to a series of farms. Sometimes they will come back for a second year and do another set of farms, depending on how interested they are in doing it and how much they enjoy the program.

Senator O'NEILL: So you were able to create this private business in the context of this visa opportunity for young people?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : This program has been operating for 34 years, which was a long time before there was ever a second working holiday visa. It started out with 45 volunteers and maybe 100 hosts, if that. In 34 years we have never advertised for hosts. All of our hosts have come to the program through word of mouth. Generally what happens is a farmer has a great time and really enjoys his WWOOFers; he talks to the farmer next door, who he thinks would be a great host; he says, 'You should get some WWOOFers, because it's a great program and I think you would be a really good host.' So he would contact us. Most of it is referral from other hosts, which I think is why we have so few complaints. If they have a neighbour who they know is a bit of a ratbag, they are not going to tell them about it, because they do not want them in the program.

Senator O'NEILL: They are not going to volunteer it, because they do not want to spoil the pool for themselves. What share do you have of the market of people who could potentially come and undertake this program?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : I have no idea. I guess the world is your oyster. We have what we have. We do not compare ourselves to other programs. I am not sure how big they are.

Senator O'NEILL: Are you aware of other programs?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : There are other programs. There are things like HelpX, which has organic farms, but they are not strictly organic farms—you can come and babysit or house sit or do all sorts of different things with HelpX. They are just helpers who are volunteers. They do a similar kind of meals-and-accommodation type exchange. There are a few that I know of. Workabout is one of them. There are quite a lot of programs like this. WWOOF has been going since 1971 worldwide, and there are about 55 or 60 WWOOF groups all around the world. We are one of the biggest in the world. The USA might have just topped us, but we probably have as many WWOOFers and as many hosts as the US, or very close to it.

Senator O'NEILL: You made a comment about the changes in the temporary work visa program impacting on you. Could you speak to that a little more fully?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : The second working holiday visa program began in about 2006. We did not know anything about it. A lot of our volunteers were on working holiday visas initially, and at that point you could only get one of them, for one year. The government brought in a second working holiday visa so that people who did 88 days work in a rural area, doing the right sort of work, could qualify to get a second visa.

When they brought it in they said that you could do this for pay or not for pay. It was totally up to you whether you did it as a volunteer or as paid work. That was the first we heard of it, when people were contacting us to say, 'We want to do WWOOFing to get our second visa.' We then investigated and found out how that worked. It gradually became quite a big part of our program, but our volunteer numbers did not really change drastically because of it. They were the same people who would have been volunteering anyway, but they had the advantage of being able to get this second visa doing it.

That went merrily along for about six years, and the immigration department was happy for people to do the normal WWOOFing hours as the industry standard, because it is a world-wide WWOOFing industry standard of four to six hours a day in exchange for all your meals and accommodation. But anybody who was working had to do full-time work. So in 2012 the government decided that if they were volunteering they had to do the same hours as anybody else who was applying for this visa—they would have to do full-time hours, 35 to 38 hours a week, and they would have to do those hours in five days each week and have two days off.

So we rejigged how our program worked. Up until then all of our WWOOFers could work the same hours for the same host, and it did not really matter when they started and stopped. They would work together. Suddenly we had two classes of WWOOFers: the ones who wanted to get their second visa, who had to work 7½ to eight hours a day and then have two days off, and the other ones who could just work four to six hours and it did not matter. We said to our hosts, 'If you are going to do this, you need to provide them with seven days meals and accommodation and they have two days off. They are actually working a similar number of hours to your other WWOOFers, who could do four to six hours, which is a maximum of 42 hours a week.' The hours were similar, but it was structured differently. They have been doing that ever since.

Then, on 1 May, Michaelia Cash announced a change to the second working holiday visa program. It was upcoming and at that point had no date that it was going to be implemented, but they were no longer going to accept volunteers for the second visa program. When that was implemented everybody would have to have a pay slip to prove that they had worked wherever they had worked.

In May, from the day that that started, we instantly had a 39 per cent drop in volunteers applying. Our phones rang off the hook day and night—we would come into work and there would be a raft of answering machine messages from distraught hosts and distraught volunteers who were really concerned about those changes. We had two people in the office answering hundreds of calls from people who were desperately wondering how on earth they were going to keep their farms if they did not have the volunteers. The volunteers who were doing their second visa had gradually become a very important part of our program because they would stay a lot longer. Most volunteers that joined WWOOF on a holiday will come and visit a farm and stay two weeks, then they will visit another farm and stay for two weeks, then they will flit off and do something else, then come back to a different farm and do two weeks. The ones who were doing it for their visa, because they needed to get 88 days, would often join because they had tried desperately to find paid work and not been able to find it. They would often come to us for the last three months of their first visa and do all of their WWOOFing in one block at one farm. They would learn really well how that farm ran and they would become part of the farm and become very useful. They would develop some really good skills for that farm. Over the last nine years since 2006 a lot of the farms have gradually become quite reliant on these volunteers.

Senator O'NEILL: So they are unpaid, but—

Mrs Wilson-Brown : They are unpaid, but there is a massive exchange. There is a lot of cultural exchange. They become part of the family. It is a really safe way to travel. They get really looked after by their hosts.

Senator RICE: Can I explore a bit more what the impact on the working holiday-maker and the farms is going to be if continues to be the case that the volunteer work is not eligible?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : The feedback that we have had so far from a large number of our hosts is that since May they have had no calls at all. Not one. Where they were scheduling WWOOFers to come and stay months in advance, and often had two or three at a time, they now had none. They have no help at all. Everything is starting to go backwards on their farm and they can only get done what they can do as one person. A lot of them are small farms with one person working off the farm to keep the farm going financially and the other one working there on their own. So they have a problem OHS-wise because there is a farmer working there on their own and there is no-one to call an ambulance if someone something goes wrong. There is the issue of them being really isolated. A lot of them are getting really depressed. I have to say that their mental health is suffering hugely. A lot of them are really concerned that they are going to lose their farms and they do not know how they are going to carry on. If they are lucky, they will get short-term WWOOFers who will come for a week or two. They will just get trained up and they will leave. From the host's point of view that is a very widespread picture. We are getting that story from lots and lots of our hosts. I speak to a lot of them every week, and they are all telling me that same story

From the volunteers' point of view, I can really only tell you about what they told me before this program changed, because now a lot of them are just not joining. The ones that I have spoken to and had letters from about this have told me that they have sometimes spent six or eight months going through all the areas where there are harvest trails and all these other things trying to get paid work, and they just cannot get it. So, instead of having this great cultural exchange visiting Australia and getting a good experience of Australia, they spend nearly the whole of their first-year visa desperately trying to get work so that they can get a second year. It is such a waste.

Senator RICE: Because they cannot get their 88 days of volunteer work, do you think they are actually at risk of being exploited and taking work with poor conditions?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Absolutely. It forces them into that position, where all that they can get is all that they can get. So they will take anything that they can get, especially when they get towards that last three months, where they are desperate to get their 88 days. They might have got a little bit of it here and a little bit of it there, but they still have to finish it off. They do not want to waste the bit that they have done or all the time that they have spent trying to get work, so they will take anything that they can get. We hear a lot of stories about the sort of work they can get and how badly treated they are.

Senator RICE: Can you share with us some examples of what people are doing who would otherwise have been volunteers?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Bundaberg was a classic example. There were lots of farmers in Bundaberg who we had heard about. These people would have to book into a hostel and they would have to pay two weeks in advance at the hostel, at exorbitant rates, to be given the opportunity to then be taken to one of these farms which was an hour from the hostel. They would get crammed into a bus and taken out to a farm. They would get to the farm and there would be 15 of them in the bus, and the farmer would say, 'We only we need 10,' so the other five would not get work that day. The 10 that did would get their day's work and the others would get bussed back to town. This would happen every day. It was a lottery whether they would get work or not.

We had a host who joined our program because she had been on the other end of that stick getting people from labour hire companies. She would have a bus come with 10 people who were to be her pickers for the day, or whatever they were doing, and she would say, 'But I showed you how to do this yesterday,' and they would say, 'No, I wasn't here yesterday, I was somewhere else.' She was getting a different set of 10 people every day from those labour hire companies. She had no idea who they were. She had no connection with them. They all looked the same; they were all Asian, so she did not know who any of them were.

She joined WWOOF and she said it was the most wonderful thing for because she could connect with these people. She would learn about their culture and they would learn about hers. They would stay with her for a long period of time. She would really get to know them and they her. She was so relieved to be out of that system and now she is faced with going back to it. She still needs this work to be done. She is going to lose out on the exchange that she was getting from these people and she is going to be back in the hands of the labour hire companies to get the people she needs to do this seasonal work.

Senator RICE: It sounds that by getting rid of the volunteer labour there has been this unintended consequence of forcing more people into unsatisfactory and illegal work practices. You have talked about your evaluation and complaints processes. Do the volunteers ask to evaluate their stay? What processes do you have in place to make sure that the volunteers are not being exploited?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : We have an online forum, which all the hosts are on and WWOOFers can choose to use or not, and there is a section where they can put a story about the best host they have visited and the hosts can put a story about the best WWOOFers they visited. Each person on that forum has a profile where they can put feedback from other hosts and WWOOFers about what they have done. Generally, if a WWOOFer sends us really good feedback about a host, we will place that onto the host's profile as well, just so that is there for other volunteers to see.

Volunteers talk to each other really well. When they are travelling, they will say, 'I visited this wonderful host in so and so, and you have to go and see them.' The really good hosts get so many WWOOFers because the WWOOFers talk to each other. The really bad hosts just do not. So they tend to drop out because they do not get the volunteers because the WWOOFers will tell each other. Even if they do not tell us, they will tell each other about it. It seems to work quite well as far as feedback is concerned.

Senator RICE: On the basis of reputation and because they are volunteers, they can just get up and go.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Yes, that is right. The way that we structure the program is that the minimum stay is two nights. People cannot just arrive, eat and leave; they have to have at least one day of helping the host in exchange for their meal and bed. But the host can ask the volunteer to leave. If the volunteer does not abide by the house rules and the WWOOF guidelines, then the host is within their rights at any time to ask the WWOOFer to leave and take them back to the nearest hostel or bus, not just put them out the front and say, 'Off you go.' They have to be responsible about helping them find accommodation somewhere else and taking them back to town or getting them to a hostel.

By the same token the WWOOFer can, and sometimes will, leave them the minute they arrive at the farm. Sometimes it is a cultural thing. You will get somebody who has come from, say, Singapore where everything is pristine and everybody wears white gloves at all times, and they get to a farm and there is a cobweb on the light or they see something like a spider or a snake, which are common on farms, and they cannot cope with it. It is a cultural thing where they cannot cope with that level of dirt. Sometimes we get complaints about that.

We had one complaint the other day from someone from Singapore who visited a host who has been in the program for 15 years—and we have had amazing feedback about them from lots of their WWOOFers over that time—and we had a complaint about how filthy the farm was. They sent us these photos, and it was pristine. The host said: 'We didn't really know what to do. This WWOOFer was absolutely paranoid about the slightest bit of dirt, and she wanted to clean our entire house from top to bottom because she thought it was filthy, and we'd just cleaned it.' You get that sort of cultural thing occasionally. With a volunteer program, it is totally up to the WWOOFers. If they do not feel comfortable somewhere, we say to them: 'Leave. Don't stay there. You are under no obligation to stay.' And they do. If they do not feel comfortable or they feel a bit vulnerable, they will leave.

CHAIR: Thanks for your evidence, Mrs Wilson-Brown. I think the committee can empathise with where you are at, but the committee has also heard shocking evidence of exploitation, so I guess it is a bit like managing the whole, recognising that it can affect the sort of work you are doing. You made a couple of statements that some farms are now struggling because they are not getting the volunteers, but, at the end of the day, this is a volunteer program. It is not something farms ought be relying on. Even though you are saying you are getting fewer volunteers, you are also saying that people do not necessarily stay on particular farms—because it does not suit them or for whatever reasons, because at the end of the day they are volunteers.

Whilst I can appreciate that taking the voluntary work out of the visa system has made it more difficult for you, I am not quite sure how you can say that it has made it extremely difficult, given that we are talking about a volunteer program where, in your own evidence, you are saying people have left farms in any event. I do not see that farms should be relying on volunteer labour. I am a Labor senator; I do not often support what the government does, but I certainly support this move to take the volunteering out of the visas, because we have seen the most horrific exploitation of overseas workers, who really are guests in our country. If you can put to the committee a way that we can deal with your situation that does not lead to exploitation—we have got very, very clever labour market hire companies ready to pounce on the slightest loophole in legislation, and that needs to be shut so that we never have the level of exploitation we have seen occurring here.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Absolutely, and I totally concur. For years, we have had our hosts rescuing people from that system.

CHAIR: If there is something concrete you can put to the committee that would not create a loophole but would allow a volunteer program to run, we would be happy to look at that.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : What we have always considered would be the best solution—certainly for us, and we think for our volunteers—would be for the government to accept accredited or recognised volunteer programs, so that they said you had to do it using this, this or this volunteer program: 'You have to be a registered member of this program; they have guidelines that you have to follow.' We have WWOOFer guidelines; we have host guidelines. Both have to follow these guidelines. They are different, obviously, because one is a host and one is a volunteer. We proposed a volunteer payslip. That sets out the days and the dates that they worked and what they did for that—because it has to be the specified work for this visa. It sets out in detail what they do; the host signs it; the WWOOFer signs it. The whole volunteer program is an agreement between the host and the WWOOFer that this is their exchange and that they are happy to do that. They do not have to join our program. They do it voluntarily. They are grown-ups.

CHAIR: No; of course not. You can just knock on a door and say—

Mrs Wilson-Brown : That is right. Of their own volition, they are joining a volunteer program because they want to volunteer. We would ask that they accept volunteer programs, and maybe they have to scrutinise the volunteer programs that they accept.

Senator McKENZIE: My question to that was: in your own evidence about internal audit processes et cetera, having an online chat opportunity for hosts and WWOOFers as your quality control system might not be exactly what a government would seek as confidence and a robust methodology around ensuring integrity for the workers. What you have to say about that? Would you be happy to have an internal audit process that government could use to rely on the fact that you had procedures and processes internally within your organisation to assure government that workers were not being exploited?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Certainly. If they felt that there was a more robust way that we could do that so that they were confident in our process we would certainly be happy to look at something like that.

CHAIR: Because you really are an unintended consequence of closing the loophole. I think we all recognise that—

Senator McKENZIE: But I do not think, as you said, Senator Lines, that keeping the loophole open to save the WWOOFers was tenable.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : I absolutely agree, and I really understand the reasons that they have done what they have done, and I absolutely agree that it needed to be done. It was a terrible thing that was going on, and our hosts have been aware of it for a long time, and we have because a lot of the volunteers who join a program have been through this whole process.

Senator McKENZIE: I know the NFF is doing a lot of work in that space with their members, and so is the VFF. What interaction does your organisation have with the national and state-based farmer bodies?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : We have not had an interaction with the NFF.

Senator McKENZIE: Or the VFF or any state-based farming body?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : No.

CHAIR: Maybe that is a place to start because they probably have more resources than you have, and they might be able to pose some solutions.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : The WWOOF program has never had any government funding ever.


Mrs Wilson-Brown : It is totally funded by both the hosts and the volunteers. They each pay a small membership and that funds the whole program.

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, well I do not think the farmers' bodies are government funded either—just FYI.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Yes. We have had interaction with the Organic Federation of Australia. We have a bit to do with the organic movement.

CHAIR: Yes, I think we are alive to the issue you are putting forward—

Senator McKENZIE: Yes. They are doing a lot of work already in that space.

CHAIR: It is whether it is possible to craft a solution that then does not give one little millimetre of a loophole too. Because the labour-hire companies are absolutely unscrupulous. I am sure I do not need to tell you that. Obviously you are quite close to it. That is the issue that I have, not that we want to exclude people, because you are in a sense providing that cultural exchange. People are making their own choices et cetera. It is how we allow that volunteering to continue.

Senator O'NEILL: The interesting thing is that the protections you have put around that I think are actually quite instructive. The app and the vetting process are structural things that need consideration at a higher level, and I think that is very valuable in your evidence today. And I think it is also important that, in spite of those more careful protections than currently exist with the working visa program for people who have genuinely been working and not volunteering, as you have been, there is no process. There is no protection—

Mrs Wilson-Brown : There is no process. They have no-one to go to other than Fair Work Australia, if they are game to do that.

Senator O'NEILL: Which is fraught with all sorts of difficulties, and they have major resourcing issues clearly, from our inquiries elsewhere, so I think it is very instructive—some of the processes that you have put on the record today—about possible electronic ways in which people can be guided and given a bit more support.

Senator McKENZIE: You stated that many working holiday-maker visa holders will struggle to find the 88 days of paid work, as they have little or no experience with farm work, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. What evidence do you have for that?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : I will give you some paperwork. We have letters from the volunteers who have struggled trying to get paid work. We have spoken to hundreds of them who have really struggled to find the work. A lot of them are 18 and have come straight from school, and some of them have never left the city before. A lot of them have never walked on dirt and they have never seen stars, so if you suddenly put them on a farm they would not know a carrot from a weed, and they really do not have these skills. They have skills, book-learning that they have done in school, but they have never really been in a rural area. A lot of them have never been outside a city—probably the majority of them.

Senator McKENZIE: So is it about making sure they are educated of their obligations under the visa they have applied for—that they will have to go to a rural area and will have to work on a farm—

Mrs Wilson-Brown : They do not have to work on a farm.

Senator McKENZIE: rather than them assuming that that is not part of what they have applied for?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : I think when they get their first working visa, a lot of them do not even know that they are going to be able to get a second visa. They sort of find that out later and sometimes they do not find out until they have had half a year or so on their first visa, and then they find out they can qualify for a second one.

Senator McKENZIE: But isn't that a personal decision?

Mrs Wilson-Brown : It is a personal decision.

Senator McKENZIE: To get my second visa, I need to go and work on a farm, and that means this: dirt under my fingernails and 'deciphering' carrots from wheat.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : They can do other things, like mining or construction; there are quite a few other things. But I think about 70 per cent of them do it on farms, so the bulk of them do it that way.

Senator McKENZIE: That evidence just is not what we have heard. We have had this inquiry right around Australia and when we have talked to farmers and farmer lobby groups we heard that there is a dearth of the workers that they need. This—that is, they cannot get a job working on a farm—flies in the face, I guess, of the rest of the evidence that we have heard.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : They are having awful trouble. I am not talking only about ones who have no English—

Senator McKENZIE: No, I know; you are saying there are hundreds.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : I have spoken to lots who have really good English. I have spoken to Americans, Canadians, people from England, people from Germany who have really good English. They have explained and articulated really well the trouble that they have had trying to get work. They have followed the harvest trail; they have gone to the places where there should be fruit picking and they have just had awful trouble getting work.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you; that is interesting.

CHAIR: Thanks very much, Mrs Wilson-Brown, for your evidence today. We certainly appreciate and understand the dilemma you are in.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : Thank you very much for inviting us. We are really grateful.

CHAIR: You can thank Senator Rice for that.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : I would like to leave you, if I can, with some documentation.

CHAIR: Sure.

Mrs Wilson-Brown : This has the statistics of our volunteer numbers and how they have fallen since the announcement. It is gradually creeping up little now, but they dropped down to less than 50 per cent of what we were getting in previous years. Our numbers have fallen drastically. There are four copies of a WWOOF book—I thought you might like to have a copy each—and there are half-a-dozen copies of our issues paper that we presented in Canberra, as well as some of the letters and things.

CHAIR: Thanks very much.

Proceedings suspended from 12:12 to 12 : 46