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Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Page: 2595

Mr DRUM (NichollsChief Nationals Whip) (19:44): For many months now it's been apparent that in places like the Goulburn Valley, that I represent, there is a real difference when it comes to our labour force and ability to get appropriate labour than in most other regions throughout Australia. Whilst we do have five per cent unemployment, we have at least more than five per cent of jobs that are available. Our biggest problem in the region is that there is a whole raft of employment opportunities and sectors that are not able to get the labour that they are looking for. It has caused the councils from around the Goulburn Valley to band together to try and reach an agreement, known as a DAMA. This agreement is to try and get that special opportunity to bring in from overseas the labour that we need. We need a genuine understanding that, whether in the agricultural sector or the processing sector, or in steel fabrication or aged care, there is a whole raft of jobs where people in the cities—in Melbourne and Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide—would easily be able to fill those roles but out in regional Australia, in dynamic cities, those positions are nearly impossible to fill. We need people in Melbourne and Sydney to understand that in the regions, if we are going to drive our Australian businesses forward, we need to be able to access overseas workers. We have a range of opportunities to do that.

We have the backpackers arrangement, where our tourists can come in and make money and then spend that money in Australia. In the Goulburn Valley we open our arms to the backpackers. We also have the Seasonal Worker Program, which is partly to help us get our fruit off the trees. It's also very much a humanitarian program that enables many of our neighbouring Pacific Island nations to send their workers out to Australia where they are able to be of fantastic benefit to us in the regions that grow fruit and they are able to make some significant money to send home to their families. They are also able to return home after six or nine months of work, spend time with their families and then come back, quite often, to the same farm the following year.

We also have an opportunity to expand upon the two-year visas and the four-year visas for the skills shortages. These opportunities also need to be encouraged because, again, they offer some of the only opportunities that our Australian businesses have in the Goulburn Valley—and right throughout regional Australia. I don't think the Goulburn Valley is that different to many other dynamic regions around Australia.

We have to get away from the concept that if we bring somebody in from overseas to fill a role in a given sector that somehow or other we're taking away a job from an Australian. Already we have so many businesses that are advertising and advertising and trying and trying to get those jobs filled from within Australia, but to no avail. We can't just get on our high horse and say we're not going to engage with some of these countries which offer a fantastic workforce—whether it be the Philippines, Vietnam or Malaysia. They've got an amazing record of being able to provide the workers that we need to take our Australian businesses forward to another level.

Certainly, most of our abattoirs around the nation are going at about 66 per cent to 70 per cent of capacity. They're all roughly in the same boat, primarily because they cannot get the work to actually take their businesses to the level that they have the demand for. We have our food processing. We have some rather highly qualified roles, such as food technicians—a role that needs a university degree. It's very difficult to get people to come into the regions in the role of a food technician because we simply can't attract those people into the regions.

As I said earlier, there are some of these other jobs—motor mechanics and diesel mechanics. When I was growing up all of my mates were in those types of roles and filled those jobs with great pride, yet, right now, some of leading motor garages and truck garages in the Goulburn Valley are struggling to get the people that they need to fill those roles.

Again, I'm asking the ministers, including Minister Coleman, to do everything they can to assist places like the Goulburn Valley, the Campaspe Shire, the City of Greater Shepparton and the Moira Shire. We're banding to try to get our special arrangement and a DAMA to help fix our labour problem.