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Mining bust not all bad -

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Mining bust not all bad

The World Today - Wednesday, 17 December , 2008 12:27:00

Reporter: Annie Guest

ELEANOR HALL: Unemployment in Australia is on the rise and the mining industry is the latest to lay
off staff. But for some, that's good news.

Farmers who struggled to find workers during the mining boom are welcoming employees into their
sector.

In Brisbane, Annie Guest reports.

ANNIE GUEST: Unemployment is on the rise and more and more companies are shedding jobs.

But for some, this festive season will bring more cheer than it has for a long time.

ANDREW WILSMORE: A lot of farmers will have a very happy Christmas.

ANNIE GUEST: Andrew Wilsmore is from the National Farmers' Federation.

While parts of south-eastern Australia in particular continue to struggle, some central and
northern areas are coming out of drought and producing good crops.

There's another reason for good cheer, farms can at last find workers.

ANDREW WILSMORE: We were hearing some very difficult stories of farmers having to take their
children out of school for the harvest, and you know, working themselves quite hard.

ANNIE GUEST: With the lure of super salaries in the mines, it seemed few people wanted farm work.

Now mining companies are shedding more than 500 jobs in Queensland, and more are expected to follow
elsewhere when Rio Tinto details its cuts.

It's not known how many will find jobs elsewhere. Before these people were laid off, unemployment
had already risen by 0.1 of a per cent to 4.4 per cent in November.

But the Farmers Federation's Andrew Wilsmore says miners are already moving from the tip truck to
the tractor.

ANDREW WILSMORE: Certainly those that are in non-drought areas, or have received some decent
rainfalls in the last season are having a burgeoning time of the mining workforce returning to
agriculture.

It has certainly been a Godsend, because they were living on the skin of their teeth in trying to
get crops put in the ground or getting them out, or looking after their cattle herds. So
significant return from the mining workforce back into agriculture.

ANNIE GUEST: Do you have any numbers on just how many ex-miners are now heading to farms for work,
and exactly whereabouts across Australia are you seeing this?

ANDREW WILSMORE: It's happening across most of the parts where we've had a good agricultural
season, and where there's a mining presence, so that's, it is happening in large parts of
Queensland, in areas like Emerald for example, parts of South Australia, it's also occurring in
Western Australia as well.

So it is certainly happening across the board, it's very difficult to put numbers to how many
people are moving from mining into agriculture, we've noticed the latest Australian Bureau of
Statistics indicated that our farm workforce has jumped by about 20,000 from earlier this year.

Now some of that will be attributable to the mining boom, but equally some of it is also attributed
to us having a very good season and needing staff to harvest it.

ANNIE GUEST: So that's 20,000 on top of a total workforce of how many?

ANDREW WILSMORE: 294,440 is how many were directly employed in the farm sector, so what... that
figures down about 90,000 from where we were pre-drought, so to see it rise by 20,000 is a strong
indication of our sector's versatility and growth.

ANNIE GUEST: In South Australia, the doors are still open for new workers.

Grant King is from the Limestone Coast Development Board, it covers an area in south-eastern South
Australia with a population of about 60,000 people.

GRANT KING: Our region continues to need plant operators and truck drivers; people to work in meat
processing plants, certainly the traditional trades, electrical engineers, mechanics, plumbers, the
like - are still in demand.

As are people in business administration and accounting.

ANNIE GUEST: Are those jobs still going to be on offer for now though with the downturn in the
economy?

GRANT KING: Look, I think it's fair to say there'll be some impact, usually this region in South
Australia is the last to feel any impact, again particularly with blue gum harvesting scheduled to
become quite a big industry in the next 12 months, that those opportunities will exist.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Grant King from South Australia's Limestone Coast Development Board, ending
that report from Annie Guest.