Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (12:25): I was very pleased when Minister Hawke announced on Tuesday some variation to the Working Holiday Maker program and some additions to the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List. The shortage of skilled and unskilled labour in my electorate is absolutely acute. It seems to be acute right across Australia. I guess it’s some kind of reflection of the very rapid recovery of the Australian economy, but there are areas where these concerns are much more long term and deep seated. It is the remote areas of Australia and of my electorate of Grey, when you get into inland Australia, or what is universally known—or at least known around the world, if not the universe—as the Australian outback. Once we get north of Port Augusta, in Grey, and even west of Port Augusta, there are regions that are considered remote by the Australian Bureau of Statistics map of remoteness.
The Working Holiday Maker program allows applicants a 12-month extension if they’ve worked for three years in regional Australia in certain industries—largely, agriculture and mining. They can get another 12-month visa, and, if they work for six months in regional Australia in those industries, they can get another extension, so they can end up on a three-year working-holiday visa.
Above the Tropic of Capricorn, those specified industries and specified jobs actually include some things that are not below the Tropic of Capricorn, including hospitality, tourism and aged-care workers. It occurred to me that that’s an unfair line for those areas that are remote by anybody’s standards, so I put in a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s inquiry into the working holiday visa—and, before I put that submission in, I sought the support of the members for Durack, O’Connor, Parkes and Maranoa, as, between us and the member for Lingiari, we pretty much cover all of remote Australia—that those same exceptions that apply above the Tropic of Capricorn should apply in the remote areas on the ABS map. I’m very pleased that that was adopted unanimously by the committee and has now been accepted by the government. On Tuesday, Minister Hawke made those announcements.
I’m looking at a map here now. Most of us would have seen it. It’s used for all kinds of things on a regular basis by those of us who deal with inland Australia, whether as to the Remote Airstrip Upgrade Program or where they’re eligible to import doctors to and from or a whole host of other things. I could probably draw a better line on the map to suit my electorate, but, of course, once you put pen to paper, it doesn’t matter where you put a line on the map; some will be advantaged and some will be disadvantaged.
I understand there are not a lot of working holiday-makers around at the moment, so there’s a shortage anyhow, but this is a long-term reform that will make a material difference to those places where we just cannot seem to get Australians to go and live and work. I’m sorry we can’t, because they’re missing out on a great experience that I think would greatly enhance their life prospects, particularly if they’re unemployed, but we have tried and tried and we need our businesses to have a workforce.
The other thing that’s been updated is the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List or PMSOL. It now includes chefs and a whole range of engineers that were not able to get in before now. For those who do not know, this list allows applicants to access permits to get into Australia with the COVID restrictions at the moment. Whilst somebody might get a visa to work in Australia, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll get to Australia unless they’re on this priority list. That priority list has now been broadened. There are a lot of tight spots, as I spoke about at the beginning of the speech. I think this will help.
I think the minister has shown on a recurring basis that his ears are open to the problems that we are facing in providing workforces in all areas of Australia, particularly in the more regional areas, which of course my electorate covers. I’ve had a lot of good feedback in the lead up to this. I had been telling my electorate what I have been up to. I’m really looking forward to getting the news out to them and saying, ‘Mission accomplished.’