Backpackers working on-farm are in the national spotlight with an emotional and potentially damaging crusade launched by Rosie Ayliffe, mother of a backpacker murdered in Queensland last year, and given significant publicity by ABC’s Australian Story.
The terrible murder of Mia Ayliffe-Chung and Tom Jackson by a French backpacker in a Home Hill hostel last year has been linked with the requirement for working holiday visa makers to work 88 days in agriculture to obtain a second year visa.
As an industry we have great sympathy for the families of these backpackers but it is frustrating that there has been little attempt to separate the emotion from the facts. The murders did not occur on a farm, nor were they perpetrated by a farmer or a farm worker. These murders could have occurred anywhere in the world.
As a consequence of her self-described mission to make meaning out of personal tragedy, Rosie Ayliffe is calling for significant but unspecified reforms to the 88-day visa extension program and recounting horror stories about working on Australian farms.
When you consider that more than 30,000 second year visas are granted annually it is essential we consider these serious allegations as the exception to the norm rather than a reflection of the industry and visa program as a whole.
That said, sadly a very small number of the stories are true and we will continue to work closely with government to identify how the system can be improved, such as national oversight of labour hire companies.
As an industry we are also taking proactive steps such as Growcom’s national Fair Farms Initiative which encompasses a range of measures to improve employer compliance with our existing workplace legislation and give good growers a mechanism to demonstrate compliance through certification.
Working holiday makers are vital to our industry. Any reform that reduces access to this important workforce or significantly increases costs will be firmly resisted.