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Visa changes to benefit backpackers -

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Broadcast: 29/06/2006

Visa changes to benefit backpackers

Reporter: Ros Childs

KERRY O'BRIEN: Anytime of the year, wherever you go in Australia, you're bound to encounter
backpackers. The tourist industry says they play a vital role in Australia's economy, not just
because of the dollars they spend, but also because they're a much needed source of labour,
especially in regional Australia. To encourage backpackers to stay in jobs longer - particularly
regional jobs - the terms of the working holiday visa will change this coming weekend, allowing
backpackers to stay twice as long with the same employer. But not everyone is happy to lay out the
red carpet. It seems some residents near popular backpacker haunts can't wait to see the back of
them. Ros Childs reports.

ROS CHILDS: It's the end of a long flight from the UK and Nicola Mason and Lee Batty are relieved
to have reached their destination. They're here for a year long working holiday and at least the
first contact is a friendly face - Bryce Youngman who works for a Sydney company that arranges
transfers, accommodation and helps backpackers to find work.

BRYCE YOUNGMAN: Fruit picking is a very popular way for backpackers to kind of work their way
around, earn a bit of cash.

NICOLA MASON: Are there any spiders? I'll do absolutely anything, I don't care.

LEE BATTY; Labouring, bar. Yeah, basically anything, isn't it? Anything we can get our hands on.

BRYCE YOUNGMAN: The bridge runs north-south, so it joins north and south together. The Opera House
is always on the south.

MATTHEW HINGERTY, AUSTRALIAN TOURISM EXPORT COUNCIL: Last year over 500,000 backpackers visited
Australia. They spent $2.3 billion and stayed over 30 million nights, so they're vital in economic
terms.

ROS CHILDS: They're a huge money spinner for some, and a nightmare for others. While Nicola Mason
and Lee Batty check into a Sydney hostel, it's not always so orderly and structured. Elsewhere, the
backpacker boom has exposed some major shortfalls with the way Australia is dealing with the
influx.

DR FIONA ALLON, CENTRE FOR CULTURAL RESEARCH, UWS: There's drunkenness, there's urination in the
streets, there's dumping of cars and rubbish, general amenity problems. And these residents feel
very confronted by the levels of abuse and antisocial behaviour that they're receiving from
backpackers.

MARILYN FLAX: When I see backpackers walking along Bondi Beach, I just think, "You're not welcome
here. You're upsetting all the residents."

ROS CHILDS: On average, backpackers spend twice as much as other international tourists while
they're here. But it's not just the money that's important. It's the jobs they fill around the
country that make them an important resource.

MATTHEW HINGERTY: We have a labour crisis in the tourism industry, particularly in regional and
remote Australia and backpackers are a vital part of solving that crisis.

ROS CHILDS: Matthew Hingerty of the Australian Tourism Export Council. It's Matthew Hingerty's job
to keep backpackers coming to Australia.

MATTHEW HINGERTY: We need them. Without them a lot of those businesses will fail.

ROS CHILDS: It's day five of Nicola Mason and Lee Batty's Australian adventure and they're visiting
a backpacker job centre. From hospitality to labouring, with so many jobs on offer, the couple are
confident they'll find work soon.

NICOLA MASON: Everyone said it would be easy, but I didn't think it would be this easy.

ROS CHILDS: For now, they want to stay in the city, but if they chose to travel further afield,
they'll find a warm welcome from country employers.

MICHAEL IERANO, FARMER: We had locals working for us and then they sent some backpackers over, and
we found that they stayed a lot longer, so we just set up a little working farm hostel, and it's
worked out pretty good.

ROS CHILDS: Michael Ierano has been employing backpackers in his farm in Leeton in country NSW for
the last 15 years. He currently has 11 staying with him, two work on his property. The others have
jobs at nearby farms.

MICHAEL IERANO: It's always a struggle getting people to stay to work on farms, cause it's not
really people's cup of tea to work on farms, and, um, backpackers think it's more of an adventure,
an extra dollar to travel.

STEVE MENDLER: I'm from Germany, near Leipzig. I love the country. I started my trip here. It's in
the middle of nowhere, but it's quiet and we have a lot of fun here.

ROS CHILDS: The backpackers in Leeton all have working holiday visas, which only allow them to work
with the same employer for three months. But from next weekend, backpackers will be allowed to stay
twice as long in the same job. It's a move designed to encourage them to spend more time working in
regional Australia.

MICHAEL IERANO: It'll be a good benefit where we can have backpackers staying longer to get crops
off, get jobs done.

ROS CHILDS: The backpackers who live and work here in Leeton are often welcomed with open arms by
the locals. They're a vital source of labour, and the money they spend goes into local pockets. But
it's not always the same story in Australia's cities. In parts of Sydney, for example, many
residents say the noise and the nuisance caused by backpackers means they can't wait to see the
back of their international neighbours.

FIONA ALLON: Welcome everyone. My name's Dr Fiona Allon and I'm one of a team of researchers based
at the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney.

ROS CHILDS: Dr Fiona Allon has been commissioned by five beachside councils in Sydney to research
the impact backpackers have on residential areas.

DR FIONA ALLON: I was incredibly shocked by the level of anger and hostility that these residents
felt towards backpackers and obviously, there is a major issue that needs to be solved there.

ROS CHILDS: Dr Allon has been holding regular meetings with locals to canvass opinion.

RESIDENT: These large numbers of people are stamping out the local residents. They're forcing them
out, destroying their quality of life.

MARILYN FLAX: They've kicked down our security door. We have to pay for that to get fixed and they
dump all their garbage.

DR FIONA ALLON: The main problem is that backpackers are living in shared accommodation, they're
living in shared houses, shared apartments. Often you'll find that there'll be 12 backpackers
living in a two bedroom apartment, even more.

MARILYN FLAX: I bought into Bondi Beach because I wanted to live here, I wanted the lifestyle. And
instead I lie awake all night listening to screams and shouts and music from our neighbours and
people walking past and breaking beer bottles.

ROS CHILDS: So you moved into your unit here in February last year. When did you realise you had a
problem?

MARILYN FLAX: The night I moved in.

ROS CHILDS: To her dismay, Marilyn Flax discovered that several units in her and the neighbouring
block were rented out to backpackers.

MARILYN FLAX: And I look out and there's all these people running up and down Bondi Beach and
swimming. And I look at them so enviously, and I think, "You don't live in Bondi. You come down to
Bondi because you've had a good night's sleep." And all the residents of Bondi Beach are just
absolutely exhausted.

ROS CHILDS: The problems of ad hoc accommodation and rowdy backpacker enclaves are being assessed
by a tourism industry task force. Now a year into its inquiry, patience is wearing thin.

MATTHEW HINGERTY: But where you have up to a dozen backpackers in one unit and up to 70 per cent of
a unit block taken up by backpackers, you're going to have problems in terms of safety and in terms
of residential amenity. We raised this issue exactly a year ago and little has been done.

ROS CHILDS: After just two weeks in Australia, Nicola Mason and Lee Batty haven't encountered
hostilities between some backpackers and local residents. For now, their efforts are going into the
search for work, and already it's paying off. Lee Batty has just finished four days work moving
furniture and Nicola Mason is waiting to hear if she's landed a three month sales contract.

NICOLA MASON: We're not going to cause trouble. We're still, like, working. All we're doing is just
treat it as a long holiday.

(c) 2006 ABC