Photo: AAP Image/Tim Marsden
BERT VAN MANEN MP, MEMBER FOR FORDE: Welcome to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, thank you Scott again for coming out to the electorate of Forde. We’re here at the Chambers Flat Strawberry Farm and it’s another demonstration of this government’s support for small to medium local businesses that each and every day employ hundreds of thousands of Australians across the country. Today is a terrific day because we’re going to make some new announcements about how we support the industry. I’d also like to recognise Rachel from Growcom and Belinda from AUSVEG, thank you for joining us. As well as Senator Amanda Stoker and in particular I’d like to thank Laura and Peter for hosting us here at Chambers Flat Strawberry Farm. Thank you so very, very much.
As I said, it’s a terrific day again for our agricultural industries and our local businesses and our communities and without stealing any of the PM’s thunder, I’d like to hand over to the Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Bert and Laura and Peter. Thanks very much for having us here at your place. Another great small family business and many generations, as you can see, still running around out here. We’ve got a future CEO of the farm down here I reckon, he’s pretty keen on the ice cream. It’s a pretty warm day up here in Queensland. It’s great to be here in Queensland, backing Queenslanders. I’d like to thank Mick Fanning’s mum for sending me this hat. She sent me this hat, backing in Australian companies as well.
What I’m here today to do is to talk about how we’re going to be supporting our regional communities, not just here in Bert’s community of Forde, not just here at this farm, but in farms like it and orchards and other horticultural operations all around the country. I said some weeks ago that we needed to ensure we could get the fruit off the vine, this was critically important to supporting our agricultural sector. I said at that time that we were working already on a program that would be dealing with getting them access to the labour they need to ensure their businesses can be successful.
Now, my view hasn't changed. We need to ensure that we get as many Australians into these jobs as we possibly can. I know Laura and Peter would want to see that as well. But we also have got to make sure that we actually get the job done. That's why I am announcing today that we are making some changes to the way the Working Holiday Visa program and the Seasonal Worker programs work.
What they mean is the following: The first is that we'll be extending the areas that qualify as regional to support those who are on working holiday visas, so they can get extensions into a second-year visa. It'll include places like exactly where we are today. The second thing that we're doing is we're allowing people to get up to 12 months working with the same employer now, not just the six months. Now, that's really important for this reason; because as I was just talking to Laura before, you get someone in, you train them, takes you a couple of months and then they can only then work for you for six months. Now, this means that they can go away and they can come back. They could go over to Laura and Peter's other place over at Stanthorpe and actually then work there are for a while and then come back here potentially. So it’s just a much more flexible operation. This is also true for abattoirs, where you have big companies who own abattoirs in other parts of the country. So those trained in one place, they're travelling around, or working somewhere and can't work in another part of the country. And the other thing we're doing is extending out an opportunity for a third-year visa for those who spend six months in their second year working in regional locations. For the Seasonal Workers Program coming from the Pacific, we're extending it out from six months to nine months, cutting the cost down to $300 and we’re also reducing a lot of the paperwork that they have to do as well.
All of this is designed to support small, family medium-sized businesses working in regional areas all around the country. You know, backpackers when they come to Australia - I know this from my time in tourism - they don't go home with any money in their pocket. Everything they earn here, they spend here. All the money goes back into the regional towns creating more and more jobs and a vibrant economy, all around the country. We want to see that continue. I want to see more than a billion dollars spent by backpackers in regional Australia. We're not quite at that mark yet, we’re around about $920 million or thereabouts. I want to see a billion dollars being spent by backpacker tourists in regional areas all across the country, putting real energy into those regional economies which means that there are more jobs, more security and that puts us on a road to an even stronger economy.
To support that, Tourism Australia is getting $5 million over two years to go out and further promote Australia to backpacker tourism. Now that's going to be great for Queensland. It's going to be great for the whole country but it’s particularly going to be great for Queensland, whether here where we are today or up further north -
No offence Sky News, I'll never hear the end of that from Boris - ensuring right up to the tip of Queensland, right out west, all the way down here to the Gold Coast and the Hinterlands and places like that that backpackers can come and have a great time in Australia. Move around, they can work and at the same time, every dollar they're earning they’re plugging back into those local economies as well. This is all about backing Queenslanders, it is about backing agriculture, it is about backing Australia's regional future. This is what we're committed to as a government. I've been listening, I've been hearing this and now we're doing it.
BELINDA ADAMS, DIRECTOR, GROWCOM: Thank you, Prime Minister. It’s really fantastic to hear this news today because as an industry we need to have a sustainable workforce and we know that there’s lots of challenges surrounding that. So to hear that we’re backing our local people into jobs as well as our visa opportunities, I myself run a small production site on the Gold Coast and we predominantly employ Working Holiday Visas as well as locals. So we’ve got about a 50/50 split. But to hear now that we’re going to be able to run out to 12 months with our staff, that’s fantastic news. Because with only six months we feel like we’re constantly having to train our staff. So employing locals is really important to our business as well, and then we’ve got obviously, our access to our visa staff to support the business.
Over and above the announcement of Fair Farms receiving $1.5 million to roll out their program nationally, is just such an exciting opportunity for us all. As growers, we have zero tolerance for unethical employment and we really want to see the rest of the industry stand up and be accountable for the fantastic people that we get to work with on a daily basis. My crew at work are great people, they’re part of an extended family, we want them to have an enjoyable time, so all of the opportunities that have been announced today will allow that to happen. So we really are thankful that the Government has listened to us and has responded in such a quick and efficient way. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER: Okay let’s take some questions on the announcement today and happy to deal with those issues, and related ones, and if there are other political issues you want to discuss we can deal with those then.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Nationals and some of the farmers were pushing for an agricultural visa, does that mean this is now off the table?
PRIME MINISTER: No, no. As a longer term, medium term plan, we’re still proofing up the case where the needs are and how something like that might work. What mattered most was right now and getting access to the labour that they needed right now, and that’s what I said. I said we would work on these answers first and these are answers that are being delivered right now. We’re also continuing to work on the measures that I announced a few weeks ago, which is wherever possible getting Australians into these jobs first. And longer term arrangements are ones we’ll continue to work on. What matters is getting the fruit off the tree, what matters is getting the strawberries off the field and getting them into the punnets and getting them out into the shops, getting them out there and getting them consumed. That's what today's announcement is really delivering on.
I really want to just mention again what was just stated about what's happening with Fair Farms. What the government will continue to do is make sure that people are being treated right when they come and work in Australia. This is important from a tourism industry point of view as well. People have got to be dealt with right. That's what our program is also supporting.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you as Treasurer introduced the backpacker’s tax, that was pretty unpopular with the tourism industry. Is that something that you could reconsider if you want backpackers to spend $1 billion here?
PRIME MINISTER: No.
JOURNALIST: Why not? If they spend all their money here, why are you taking -
PRIME MINISTER: Because when people come and they work they pay tax. We all pay tax when we work. If other people come here and work they pay tax too. They pay it at a concessional rate and I think it is a pretty fair deal.
JOURNALIST: On another issue, Prime Minister, is this the start of an election campaign?
PRIME MINISTER: This is me doing what I do - I'm out, I'm listening, I'm hearing and I'm doing. That's what I'm doing as a Prime Minister.
Whether it was the first time around when I heard, out of Queensland actually, about the real challenges that were being met by the strawberry industry, the strawberry sector, the strawberry farmers, I took immediate action. We passed laws through Parliament in about 36 hours. I'm always listening. I'm always looking to hear what those issues are. Where I can act, I will. I'll move straightaway. We've been working on this one over the last 10 weeks, ensuring we get the design of it right and make sure it links into what Tourism Australia is doing but as well how it links back into how Fair Farms operate and making sure people are getting treated right on farms. The package all has to come together. We have been listening. We have heard. And we are doing it.
JOURNALIST: Have we got any closer to finding out anything out about the needles in the strawberries?
PRIME MINISTER: I have no further update on that, no, I'm sorry.
JOURNALIST: The fact that these seats in Queensland, there’s eight of them, that are held with margins of less than five per cent for the LNP, does that factor into your visit at all?
PRIME MINISTER: The seat I started out in today is the seat of Moncrieff, which I don't know if you would count that as a marginal seat. It’s got a wonderful Member in Steven Ciobo. It’s about all of Queensland. I’m here to send a message to all of Queensland that I back Queenslanders. Yes, I may be from New South Wales, I may barrack for the Blues at State of Origin time, but Val Holmes does play for the Sharks so there you go. I am here to back Queenslanders because that's what our government does do. We get it. I get it. I mean, this is a state that has a go, always has had a go. I'm prepared to back that in. With the measures I've announced today, the measures I announced up in Townsville in terms of securing their water future with the pipeline project, the measures I announced today down on the Gold Coast for the extension of the Light Rail down into stage three, we're investing in the infrastructure that is dealing with the challenges that Queenslanders face. Whether it is on the water, on the roads or their rail or how their farms operate, we get it and we're getting on it.
JOURNALIST: Are you seeking donations from corporate Australia to the Liberal Party?
PRIME MINISTER: Have we finished dealing with issues on the ag visa and those sorts of things?
VAN MANEN: Can I just add to the Prime Minister's comments. It is not just his role now as Prime Minister, he’s been here in Queensland in his previous role as Treasurer and, prior to that, Immigration Minister, Scott has spent an enormous amount of time in Queensland, and a number of times in my electorate of Forde. So this is nothing new. He’s done it before. Yes, he has a new role -
PRIME MINISTER: And a bus. I have a bigger bus, the wheels are a bit different this time.
VAN MANEN: But he has frequently been in Queensland and supported Queensland and in particular supported me and my electorate of Forde.
JOURNALIST: This is a marginal electorate, is there anything that you're going to throw this way for this electorate?
PRIME MINISTER: Here I am announcing what we are today, Bert would have to be the most effective in Queensland when it comes to standing up for his constituents and he’s joined by every other member of the LNP standing up for Queensland. The LNP team in Canberra is a great team, they work together as a pack. They get together very, very often. They work through their priorities. I mean, that's how things like the M1 got funded. A billion dollars for the M1. Now, Bert led that charge. But that is obviously supporting a lot of other things happening up and down the coast. The work that's being down up with Luke Howarth in the north in the seat of Petrie, the work he’s done with Pete Dutton to ensure we’re getting important investment in roads north of Brisbane, then going up through the Sunshine Coast where I'm heading, look, Queensland has its challenges. It has its great future ahead of it. We want to make sure we're investing in things that realise Queenslanders futures.
JOURNALIST: Does losing your majority in the Parliament mean the Government is now more uncertain or more unstable?
PRIME MINISTER: I don't think a lot has changed in terms of how many votes we have to get to pass legislation, we still need 75. That's been the case for the entire time I've been Prime Minister, that will continue. We'll work, as I said we would, in the event that Wentworth were to fall to an independent. It's obviously easier if there is one extra, but with one less the Government will continue to function in the way you’d expect it to in a professional way and working closely with the crossbench.
JOURNALIST: So are you seeking donations from corporate Australia to the Liberal Party?
PRIME MINISTER: We seek support from everybody who believes in the same things we do.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that the corporate sector is getting distracted by social issues, rather than supporting the Liberal Party?
PRIME MINISTER: I get concerned when people get distracted by things that have nothing to do with the focus of my Government or the focus of Queenslanders or the focus of the Australian people. That’s what I’m focused on and I’m certainly not distracted by any of that.
JOURNALIST: Why the bus? It's a very opposition tactic to go around on a bus. Usually we see PM’s on planes.
PRIME MINISTER: People can talk about the tactics and the politics. I've just got a message that I want to convey to Queenslanders and that is we're backing them. That we're the Government. We're the party that can deliver a secure economic future for Queenslanders. Bill Shorten can't do that. I mean, Bill Shorten is out there today, Andrew Leigh was rubbishing Australia's economy in New York. So one of Bill Shorten's most important economic team members was actually out there bucketing Australia in New York and our economy. I mean, that's just shocking. That's not on. Bill should have pulled him into line. He's done nothing about it. He just shrugs his shoulders. Now we hear this same economic spokesman for the Labor Party, Andrew Leigh, wants to take the country back to industry wide bargaining, he wants to take us back to the industrial relations system of the 1970s. Talk about throwback. That's what Labor's policy is on industrial relations, throwback to the 1970s when there were strikes and there were stoppages and the produce of places like this and others rotted on the wharves. That's Bill Shorten's vision of an industrial future for Australia. I'm for a vision of Australia in the workplace which is bringing employees and employers together. Not following some militant union agenda which tries to drive people apart.
One of the reasons why small and family businesses are so successful is they just have no truck with any of that nonsense. I walk into small and family businesses all over the country, there's no pickets going on there, there's none of this industrial anger going on there. It is just people, Australians, working together for the success of that business and they all prosper together. That's why small and medium, family-sized businesses are doing so well in this country, because they shut out all of that nonsense that militant unionism wants to try and wreak havoc on the Australian economy. Bill Shorten will be going all the way along with it. He gives out life memberships to militant unionists. Imagine what he would do as a Prime Minister?
JOURNALIST: Do you expect businesses to be vocal in the support of Coalition policies?
PRIME MINISTER: I expect them to make the right choices for the success of their businesses. And what I know is this, is the Australian economy will be stronger under the Liberal and National Parties. I mean, under the Liberal and National Parties, we've got growth with a three in front of it. With the Liberal and National Parties we have the Budget coming back into surplus. Under the Liberal and National Parties we have had youth employment grow at the strongest level on economic record in Australia. More than a million people have got jobs. Our AAA credit rating has been endorsed and upgraded under our financial management. Under the Liberal and National parties, you will have a stronger economy, which means your job is more secure, your pay is more secure, and, importantly, the services you rely on, like Medicare and schools, and hospitals, they're more secure because without a strong economy you can't pay for all of that. You can't pay for it with higher taxes. $200 billion in higher taxes from Bill Shorten will crush our economy, it'll crush the Queensland economy. It will shut the Queensland economy out. What we need are the continued strong policies which grow our economy, because when you do that, everybody does better.
Okay thanks very much.