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

MORTON, Mrs Jane, Isolated Children's Parents' Association


CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has received your submission—thank you. I invite you to make a short opening statement, and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mrs Morton : My short statement is that we have a shortage of nannies and distance ed tutors in rural areas. Our members have brought this to conference. At present, the work visa holders only include the rural workers. It does not cover child care or distance ed tutoring or anything in that frame at all. Even with those that do qualify for second-year visas or six-month visas on the properties for the rural work, it would be good if they could be a bit longer there. Six months to a year would be a bit more beneficial.

Senator McKENZIE: We have heard a lot of evidence around there being a workforce in rural and regional Australia that is willing and able to take a variety of roles and jobs up as the case may be, across different industries and sectors. You are coming to us from the heartland, if you will, from rural and regional Queensland, to say that that is not the case when it comes to childcare workers and teachers. Is that correct?

Mrs Morton : Yes. There is a shortage. There is even a shortage of stockmen and ringers and that too. For a lot of family businesses—I come from one—there just are not the people there, unless you use horses all the time; you have got a lot of keen jillaroos. It is very hard to get workers.

Senator McKENZIE: What impact does that have on the running of business and the education and development of the children of these families?

Mrs Morton : It is a battle trying to do everything, basically. Say you have got your first child who you are starting to supervise. They are not spending all the time on the computer with their distance ed—the schools are distance ed. That might only be for half an hour or an hour each day. The rest of the time they need to be supervised by the supervisor. If you have got toddlers there in the room too, you have got to watch them, of course. The men are out. You have got to feed them when they come in. Just helping to run the business gets very hard when you have to do all that.

Senator McKENZIE: It is a unique situation that you are talking about. Those of us here and people listening and maybe reading the Hansard later might not have a full appreciation of the context you are talking about. Do you want to flesh that out a bit for us?

Mrs Morton : We are mainly talking about families that have children who have no other choice. Most children go to boarding school when they are old enough for their secondary education, but for their primary education, a lot of these families are just too far away from the state schools, so they have to teach them by themselves.

Senator McKENZIE: Because they are so isolated—they are on a station too far away.

Mrs Morton : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you. Not everyone would actually understand that. I know that seems quite basic information. What impact does it have on the educational outcomes of these young people—not having access to the right skill set?

Mrs Morton : They work out pretty well. Obviously you have got a mother for whom education becomes the main priority. I know there are quite a few families there where, for the mother, it is very hard to actually raise their children and teach them as well. My eldest son had a hearing loss and he had bad squints as a child too. You have to spend a lot more time and effort, and you do not get that much support with that either. It is very hard trying to do all this and cope in the circumstances.

Senator McKENZIE: With the temporary worker program, would the station families be happy to provide Australian wages and conditions?

Mrs Morton : I think so, if it gives them more time to help the business. There are a lot of family businesses out there. There are a lot of families that do not work for big companies; they have their own property. But, because of the lack of workers, it would be good if they could spend more time doing the hands-on work and have someone to look after the children and teach them accordingly.

CHAIR: Thanks, Mrs Morton, for your submission. I appreciate the challenges you have. I note in your submission you talked about backpackers predominantly. That visa is a working holiday visa, but it seemed to me that your proposition was that it be a working visa. You cannot do a straight 12 months on a station or on a farm and be holidaying, so that did not seem to be the right visa category. What struck me about your submission was that it is a bit of an anomaly to say that you want these people for 12 months. Maybe that was just the visa you thought of.

Mrs Morton : If you take us, we used to spend most of our time mustering, or time that we were tracking our cattle, from July to September. There are certain times of the year when it would be really handy to get someone extra to help.

CHAIR: It seems to me, from what you said in evidence to Senator McKenzie, that there is a variety of workers that you need. You said, generally, there was a shortage of station hands and farmhands. But there is also this issue of children's education. What happens now? With the station hand roles, could that be permanent employment? Why do you think it is not attractive to local workers?

Mrs Morton : It is there. It is available, but there just aren't the workers. If you work horses all the time, you do attract more workers. But a lot of places now are just motorbikes, and they get the helicopter in to muster. If there are only a few workers, you have to do it that way.

CHAIR: It is also efficient doing it from a helicopter and a motorbike. It is quicker.

Mrs Morton : It is. It is quicker; although it is not always best for the stock. In dry times you can move them out a lot quicker too.

CHAIR: It must have been hard for you. I note that your submission talks about where you have students with disability, and you talked about your own situation. It must be very hard for parents. All parents want the best education for their children, but then they feel torn between the business and their children's education.

Mrs Morton : Yes.

CHAIR: Are there any other ways that we could grapple with this issue of making sure that children get the best education possible and are provided with that supervision on a daily basis?

Mrs Morton : I am not sure. I think maybe even a bit more help with in-home care looking after the younger ones would be helpful.

CHAIR: Yes. You mentioned that in your submission.

Mrs Morton : The nanny program sounds good too. But it sounded as though that is just for Australian citizens too. I think I am correct in saying that.

CHAIR: As an association, what is the biggest issue that you hear from your members? What would be the biggest issues?

Mrs Morton : Regarding the working visa, do you mean?

CHAIR: About the issues they face. Is it about that supervision?

Mrs Morton : Basically, yes. It would give them more time to do hands-on work on the property themselves.

CHAIR: When you employ someone to work with the children, what sort of qualifications are you after? What gives parents assurances and confidence?

Mrs Morton : First aid is important and to know where to get help at the appropriate time. But also—

Senator McKENZIE: Language?

Mrs Morton : Yes, the language.

CHAIR: We are all teachers sitting at the table, I think, so we will put our bias there. But, if you are working as a supervisor, do you need a knowledge of the curriculum and understanding of how children learn and those sorts of things?

Mrs Morton : Yes; you do.

CHAIR: And obviously you need some competency in English.

Mrs Morton : Yes.

CHAIR: Does that make it harder to attract the right person?

Mrs Morton : You would think so, yes.

Senator O'NEILL: I am very pleased that we have your submission, because even though there are challenges with the visas that I think have been highlighted by the question, the problem has not gone away, and it will continue to be a problem. By way of I guess a conversation with your members, I just want to let you know about a program we heard about this week in Broken Hill, which involves a kind of partnership with the University of Sydney for a service learning program in that community in Broken Hill. This service learning model is, 'What is a problem in the community that we can do something about, and how can we make it good for the learners'—who are the teachers in training or in this case speech pathologists in training—'and for the community as well?' The model they came up with was a partnership with the university where they have speech pathologists in training come out. They have a supervisor, and they actually give them the opportunity to work with the kids in the community, and it happens every term; they have these sorts of relationships.

I just offer that as an idea, because I know it has worked internationally, and I did some research on that before I left academia, and it was really great to see it actually working in Broken Hill. It gives those teachers an opportunity—and they are teachers in training, so if they were to come on a placement they would already have considerable skills in language and curriculum and pedagogy, and there could be lots of benefits. So, I encourage your organisation to think about maybe some relationships with some universities, because young Australian people also would like to see parts of our country that they do not get to, and they do not know how to get out there, sometimes. That was just an observation I thought you might be interested in. If I can take you to your submission, you are talking about a new designated education category.

Mrs Morton : Yes, that was really just in the rural work to include child care and distance education.

Senator O'NEILL: Is that based on any research where you sense that there are not enough teachers in Australia to fill these positions, or young people with education qualifications that are satisfactory to meet them?

Mrs Morton : It is not really the teachers; it is the supervisors we are after—the people who live in the family and supervise the children doing the schoolwork. The distance ed teachers as such are actually in the schools of distance education, but they have contact with them for only an hour or so a day. The rest of the time the supervisor has to help the student with work. They have to prepare the work and basically teach it. And they are not even recognised as teachers as such either. There is not even a recognition of prior learning, even if you have done it for years on end.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you very much.

CHAIR: We recognise that it is an issue for you, and I hope we can come up with some solutions. We certainly appreciate your submission and your coming along to give evidence for us today. Thank you very much. That concludes today's proceedings. I thank all witnesses who have given evidence to the committee today.

Committee adjourned at 12 : 04