Federal Budget: Visa price hike to hit agribusiness / Bunbury Outer Ring Road completion ignored

The South West of Western Australia produces some of the best food and wine in the nation.

Members already know of the iconic Margaret River and Geographe wine regions, but they should also be aware of the fruit and vegetables, dairy products and beef and lamb which mark the south-west of Western Australia as one of Australia’s finest and most efficient food producing regions.

If you are not aware, perhaps you should come along to my South West Sensations Showcase, to be held here at Parliament House on 18 June, where you will receive a taste of what the region has to offer.

To produce many of these products requires a workforce, and in many cases the workforce cannot be found locally. Agricultural areas in regional Australia might be areas of high production but they are not areas of high population.

They often struggle to find workers in sufficient numbers. An obvious answer might seem to be to move Australians from areas of unemployment in our cities to the regions where the jobs are. But usually they will not go.

So producers have for a generation had to source their workforce from overseas. There was no other choice. Many have sponsored workers on 457 visas in order to get their harvest done. Otherwise, you do not have a harvest.

Backpackers have also contributed. They have filled fruit bins in Donnybrook, Manjimup, Busselton, Harvey and Margaret River for decades on their travels around Australia.

However, backpackers alone are not the answer. Many arrive on farms unskilled and have to be taught the basics of picking. And then, having upskilled, they sometimes work for only a week or so before moving on.

That is why a combination of short- and long-term workers is essential, and that is why access to 457 visa workers is vital to the rural industries. You only have to go out into my south-west to find out how vital they are.

Talk to the growers. Ask them how they are able to actually get their crops. They will say to you it is only through a combination of backpackers and 457 visa holders.

Recently there has been a surplus of backpacker workers in some areas, which, in conjunction with long-term staff, has assisted in taking some of the pressure off some producers.

As soon as that happened, the Labor government jumped in—unfortunately—to make it harder again. Doubling the price of 457 visas from $450 to $900 is just another slap in the face for regional producers who feed the nation quality food.

It is another example—as if we need it—of Labor’s contempt, and I would say absolute contempt, for the farming, rural and regional communities. It is contempt. It is also another practical example—if we needed that—of budget mismanagement by the Gillard Labor government.

We already have the example of gross debt reaching $356 billion, requiring another blow-out in the nation’s debt ceiling; and a net debt reaching $191 billion. We have a Labor Treasurer who promised a budget surplus this year but will deliver a $19 billion deficit.

This Treasurer will never deliver a budget surplus. This was the Treasurer who promised that the budget last year would deliver a surplus this year on time, and surpluses the year after that, strengthening over time. The Treasurer also promised that the deficit years of the global recession were behind us and the surplus years were here. We are still waiting, Mr Treasurer.

I look at all this debt, deficit and broken promises and I think: was there some funding in all of that for the completion of the Bunbury Outer Ring Road? It is nearly two-thirds built. It is unfinished.

The final stage was originally budgeted at $260 million. It is probably now over $300 million. That is an urgently needed piece of infrastructure that deserves state and federal funding support.

This is a practical way the government could have assisted in my part of the world, right throughout this process; instead, we have seen nothing but waste and mismanagement, and debt and deficit, which will be the signature of this Labor government and its legacy to this nation.