Interview on 3AW Breakfast with Russel Howcroft
Russel Howcroft: Young New Zealanders will be encouraged to travel to Australia over summer to help fill labour shortages on farms and in regional tourism towns as part of an ad campaign to try and offset the impacts of the international border closures because of COVID-19.
Joining us on the line this morning is the Federal Minister for Trade and Tourism, Simon Birmingham. Good morning to you, Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning. Thanks for having us on.
Russel Howcroft: So the Kiwis, they're going to be the answer, are they? Firstly, how easy is it for them to travel over here over the summer and do the jobs we're hoping they can do?
Simon Birmingham: Nearly all Australian states and territories are open to New Zealand and have Kiwis come without the need for quarantine because, of course, they have done an exceptional job, just like Australia, in suppressing the spread of COVID.
So we can welcome them into the country safely, confidently that they pose no greater threat than we would to them. And so, we really want to make sure that those backpackers who would come and stay usually for three, six, 12 months or even longer sometimes know that the borders are open. They can come, and if they were thinking about it, a young Kiwi having a, a gap year, well, now's the time to come to Australia.
It's about the only country in the world that they probably can safely go to and do so with confidence, travel around our country, fill some jobs that, that need and usually have backpackers doing them. At this time of year, we usually have around 135,000 backpackers in Australia, now, it's down to about 50,000 who stayed since the start of the pandemic. And these people, they spend pretty much every dollar they earn, they bring some savings that they spend, they often go back and get mum or dad to send them some more money that they can spend while they're here. So they're pretty good high spending tourists to have, and we hope that we can get a few thousand Kiwis across to help fill the jobs, but also support our tourism industry.
Russel Howcroft: So Simon, how dire is the problem here? And what does it mean for our fruit and veg over summer?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, there are real labour shortages. And, and in talking to an Australian audience right now, I'd say that the same encouragement exists. If you are a young Australian who'd been thinking about getting out on a gap year, well, why not do it at home? Head off, travel around our country, do a bit of work while you can, pay your way around the country and you will have a fantastic time — there are the job opportunities there. For some, there's even a relocation incentive of up to $6000 to help people get out into the regions and do these jobs.
Russel Howcroft: It’s- if you could sort, Minister, fact from fiction, the only stories we tend to get about fruit picking are horror stories about labour, the people providing labour getting horribly ripped off, living in dreadful conditions. So tell us, is that more or less the truth to, why the reluctance of young Australians that is, going out and doing this kind of work?
Simon Birmingham: Look, unfortunately, there's always the odd rotten apple in the barrel somewhere. And, and so here we've seen this over the years that, yes, there are some unscrupulous people who do the wrong thing. But the reason we have hundreds of thousands of backpackers who come back to Australia time and time again is because the vast majority have a really positive experience.
Russel Howcroft: But we never seem to see those in any media. Do we? It's always – and I know the bad news sells and all of that sort of thing, but I'd, I'd love to see a story about, I worked at this place, they looked out for us, we were paid the right money. We just don't see those stories.
Simon Birmingham: Yeah, absolutely. And look, that is the reason why, you know, why in this campaign, I guess we're trying to go spruik to Kiwis about the positive experiences. And, and as part of it, there will be people telling stories as employers, as employees about the type of experiences that they have had. And so, we do do that — probably predominantly in the international markets — so- because usually what we're doing is trying to attract backpackers to Australia.
But fair point that perhaps we need to make sure that Australians know that, really, working in this sector is not unlike any other part of the Australian economy. Sometimes bad behaviour will need to be called out. That's why we funded the Fair Work Ombudsman, and why we tell people that if something goes wrong in the workplace that is against the standards, you need to get in touch, call it out, and action will be taken, prosecutions will occur. We do do that and we certainly, for people who come from overseas, especially from different language backgrounds, make sure we give them plenty of information to ensure that they get the same rights as any other person doing those jobs should.
Russel Howcroft: Simon, speaking of international markets, we read yesterday that another Australian meat supplier was banned in China. We’ve got a couple of lamb suppliers banned from China today. Have they picked up the phone yet? When can we solve this problem? Because the list of our beautiful products getting banned by China is getting worse and worse by the day.
Simon Birmingham: It’s of, it's of real concern and it is deeply frustrating that, that China refuses to engage in the type of dialogue that could allow us to try to work through these issues. But we respect that China has their policies and processes, as we do. We're not about to change our values or our approaches to foreign investment or national security — we wouldn't do that for any country. And the approaches we take are not specific to any country, they’re just about protecting Australia's sovereignty, just as China does, does to themselves.
Russel Howcroft: How can we get them to answer the phone?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, that is a matter for, for China. We're going to, A, defend the integrity of our exporters and the fact they don't dump their products, they aren't subsidised, they're nothing but high quality, market-oriented producers around the world. We’ll do that through Chinese processes, we’ll do that through the independent umpire — the World Trade Organisation. And we will keep reinforcing to China that we are willing to come to the table for the dialogue and to try to work through this.
But at the same time, we're going to keep supporting our producers to access all of the other countries that we've done trade agreements with as well; Japan, Korea, Canada, Mexico, United States, Vietnam, Indonesia. There's a range of opportunities for Australian exporters, and of course, we're pursuing new ones with the European Union, with the UK, and we want to make sure that Australian businesses have grown trade — not just to China, but to many of those other countries in recent years.
Russel Howcroft: Good on you, Simon. We have to leave it there. But thank you very much for your time. The Minister for Trade and Tourism, the Federal Minister, Simon Birmingham.