1 December 2020

Transcript of Senate Speech

I want to take a few minutes today to speak on the report that was tabled by Senator Davey in respect of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration about the Working Holiday Maker program.

The Working Holiday Maker program is undoubtedly a significant contributor to many regional communities around Australia. Founded as a means to facilitate cultural exchange, the Working Holiday Maker program has allowed millions of young people from all around the world to travel to Australia and, in many cases, establish lifelong bonds with our people and our great places. But today the program has become more than just about cultural exchange—rather, it has turned into something which has become, unashamedly, an unregulated labour scheme.

Travelling throughout regional Australia and meeting with primary producers, you come to appreciate just how important this program is, particularly to horticulturalists, who rely on these young travellers to ensure that our fruit and veggies are picked, packed and made ready for market in our supermarkets. This reliance, however, has come as a result of the failure of successive Liberal and National governments to systematically address labour supply issues.

It is incumbent upon all of us in this place—indeed, incumbent upon this government—to develop meaningful solutions to the problems that arise in our community, and we have heard many, many examples of this throughout the course of the last couple of years. Whilst I acknowledge that there are certainly recommendations in this report which, if implemented, will improve the circumstances of those who need labour and those who supply it, it should be noted that too often many people who work under this program face exploitation, unfortunately, by a lot of employers. These workers are seeking help and, quite frankly, are lacking in support from many government institutions and agencies. Unfortunately, these people are abused—economically, physically and sexually. And I’m afraid that there is still much more to be done in this policy space.

But, putting all that to one side, the issues that were raised by many stakeholders in the course of the committee’s inquiry are real and concerning, and they deserve thoughtful and considered solutions. No doubt, this place will have many more discussions about this through the temporary migration inquiry, chaired by the opposition, by me—and by yourself, Madam Acting Deputy President Chandler, as deputy—where those issues will be fleshed out in greater detail.

Simply expanding the size of the Working Holiday Maker program isn’t going to give our farmers the certainty that they need, nor will it do anything to systematically address the circumstances of exploitation that workers still face. Nonetheless, I thank my colleagues on the committee, especially the chair, the member for Berowra, and the deputy chair, the member for Calwell, for the good faith in which we have worked together throughout the course of the inquiry.