Thanks to the Prime Minister and Treasurer for inviting us to the summit. I’m genuinely here to be constructive to try and help, particularly for regional Australians. The challenges that we face are real and they are unique and we want to be part of those solutions in a constructive way. And those numbers are real as the NFF and COSBOA articulated this morning, just to get food from a farmer’s paddock to your plate or about 172,000 workers short.
And I welcome the Federal Government’s continued support of the Pacific schemes. They are important, but they can’t do it all. And so we have to be pragmatic about how we achieve that, because I saw first-hand the human toll of this. Only last week in Western Australia, in Carnarvon, and there was a farmer that walked away from his property.
He was born on it. He simply didn’t have the confidence to plant a crop and then to be able to harvest it because there was no people. He didn’t have the investment confidence there. And those farmers that are there are really only planting 50-60% of their capacity.
So you’re not just going to have a cost of living crisis, you’re going to have a food security crisis unless we face this together and be pragmatic about this.
And it’s not just in the agricultural sector, in regional areas, it’s also in many of the skills, pubs, mechanics. We need a whole range of it. I’ve got pubs even in my own electorate of Barcaldine, the hometown of the Labor Party, where the pubs aren’t open for a feed at night. They simply can’t get cooks. These are the challenges we’re facing. They’re far more acute in regional Australia and that’s why I’m here wanting to be part of this solution.
And, and while we put the Ag Visa, and there’s many that have said that it’s solely focused on horticulture, it’s not it’s more broad than that. It was to go right through that supply chain from the paddock to the plate. And we need to understand how we’re going to fill those 120,000 jobs. Otherwise, we’re all going to pay for it.
And I think there are pragmatic ways. The Ag Visa, let me say, from what I’ve heard today, and a regional skills visa, we’re on the same unity ticket on a pathway to permanent residency. I want to see the next generation of migrants come to regional Australia not pass through. We’ve had enough of people just come in picking crops or being part of the processing sector and just coming and going.
We want them to live in regional Australia. We actually want them. That’s where we’ve been built. Built so strongly on has been because of migration. And we think if you allow them and we think there’s been moves by the Fair Work Commission that’s making sure that we have that minimum pay but it also it also gets rid of the exploitation if they’re invested in those communities, because, you know what? In small regional communities, they’re going to look after their mob. And if someone gets done over, I can tell you the whole town is going to make sure they get looked after. That’s how we operate and that’s the trust. But there are mechanisms that we continue to need to work on, and I’m pragmatic about that.
But don’t constrain us with that. And I think this is a real opportunity in terms of the migration piece, in understanding the challenges particularly and I think we should all acknowledge for Western Australians this is far more acute. There’s a lot of east coast politicians here, but we’ve got to understand Western Australia is feeling this bigger and worse than anyone else and we’ve got to appreciate and understand that. But there are pragmatic ways that we can do this together in doing that.
But can I also say migration, I don’t want to just sit here and think that we’re here just for migration. I think it is important we want to invest in Australians and we strongly believe in allowing pensioners, veterans, but also those that are on disability pensions to have a crack, to work a bit more, to be able to be part of the solution as well.
And investing in our young people incentivise, and I’m sorry Jim I’m going to spend a little bit of your money here. We started a program around paying the HECS debts of graduates, of doctors and nurse practitioners to come and work in the bush. And we pay their HECS debts. Well we should look at that where they’re skill shortages, not only in doctors, registered nurses that can go into our aged care facilities, pharmacists, be pragmatic around that in trying to incentivise our young people but also invest in our young people.
The regional university centres let me tell you, this is a great initiative that means that kids don’t have to go to big regional centres or capital cities to get to a university degree. There’s a little lady in Dirranbandi, she went to school in Dirranbandi, a town of 800 people finished off year 12 in St George, 320 kilometre round trip every afternoon to do year 11 and 12. She was flipping burgers at the local servo wanted to do something more.
We put in a regional university centre. She’s now studying nursing and working part time in the Dirranbandi Hospital. That’s what the empowerment of regional kids have been able to give them the opportunity to learn at home and be part of our community is so important.
And so can I say we’ll be part of the solution. And the other big piece I just wanted to touch on that wasn’t touched on yesterday around childcare. I welcome and understand the pressures of the Budget around bringing forward childcare, but just appreciate that in regional areas it’s not necessarily just about affordability, it’s actually about availability.
There are women that can’t get back into the workforce because there is no childcare places at all. And I think if we’re going to spend money, let’s not just tackle the affordability, let’s actually tackle the availability, don’t discriminate against anybody because I think if we do this together, we can solve this together in regional Australia.
Let me tell you, we’ll be part of that solution. Thanks for having me.