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NFF seeks new farm worker visa -

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NFF seeks new farm worker visa

The World Today - Tuesday, 8 April , 2008 12:54:00

Reporter: Donna Field

ASHLEY HALL: The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) says there aren't enough Australians to keep
the nation's farms working, so it wants the Government to introduce a new visa so Pacific Islanders
can take the jobs.

The Federal Government says it will look at how a similar scheme is working in New Zealand before
making any decision. Workers from Pacific Islands helped establish Queensland's sugar industry in
the 1900s, but many of those people were brought to the country forcibly and used as slave labour.

The Farmers Federation says any new scheme would ensure the workers are treated and paid fairly.

Donna Field reports.

DONNA FIELD: The National Farmers' Federation says the need for extra seasonal labour in Australia
is dire, and without about 20,000 to 30,000 more workers, food won't make it to market.

DENITA WAWN: It's something that has been of concern in terms of labour shortages for the
horticulture sector for a number of years, but certainly it's becoming more acute as climate
conditions return to more normal levels, and hence there is significant concern held by the sector
that as production increases, they will simply not have the labour available to get that product
off farm and into the marketplace.

DONNA FIELD: Denita Wawn is the general manager of workplace relations at the National Farmers'
Federation. Ms Wawn says the organisation wants the Government to introduce a pilot program of a
new visa category for entry level workers.

DENITA WAWN: There's a call from many Pacific Island nations that they believe that they have an
opportunity to provide labour to Australia to meet our labour shortage needs. And the World Bank
has also endorsed that program to enable an increase in income in those countries, an increased in
agricultural training opportunities to take back to their own countries.

So, the plan is we focus on Pacific Island countries, particularly those receiving aid from
Australia, whereby they can be specifically selected to work in specifically selected districts in
Australia where there is a need that can't be met by Australians to work for three to six months
during a season.

And certainly the NFF believe strong safeguards need to be implemented to ensure that we are ...
there is no exploitation and that also Australians aren't displaced.

DONNA FIELD: Those safeguards include selecting workers who are unlikely to overstay, carefully
selecting employers and ensuring they pay market rates, provide good working conditions and are
constantly monitored.

When Kingsley Forrester's father was brought to Australia from a South Sea island in the early
1900s, there were no safeguards.

KINGSLEY FORRESTER: He was about 17, and he was the only one of that trip that was taken from
Mehetia Island, and brought to Bundaberg to work on the sugar cane. See in those days too they used
... the ships weren't all open, they had panels and that built in them, you know, where they put
blokes and lock him in there I suppose, so they can't jump ship. They were brought out here.

DONNA FIELD: And what was your father's experience when he got to Bundaberg? His working
conditions, that kind of thing?

KINGSLEY FORRESTER: Yeah, he said it wasn't very good at all. A lot of the times, they never got
much to eat and I think half of them never got paid.

DONNA FIELD: Like nearly 60,000 men over a 40-year period, Mr Forrester's father helped establish
Queensland's sugar industry. And despite his father's experience, Mr Forrester says the visa is a
good idea.

KINGSLEY FORRESTER: I think they'd snap up the idea of coming here and working, you know, and being
able to take money back to their own islands.

DONNA FIELD: And you don't see any problem with that that they might be treated badly by some
people in Australia or you think it would be a pretty good thing?

KINGSLEY FORRESTER: No, I think they would be pretty good now, yes. It would be excellent.

DONNA FIELD: So, we've come a long way sir?

KINGSLEY FORRESTER: Oh, we've come a long way yes, yeah a long, long way.

ASHLEY HALL: Kingsley Forrester ending Donna Field's report.