The NSW Nationals have successfully moved to call for a dedicated agriculture visa and a regional visa, which would require immigrants to live and work outside the major cities.

The motion, passed by the Federal Council of the National Party in Canberra on Saturday, was aimed at ensuring regional areas had the labour needed to grow. It comes after concerns about the number of new Australians moving directly to Sydney and Melbourne, further congesting those cities while the regions continued to lose young people to metropolitan areas.

The motion:
That this Federal Council call on the Federal Government to introduce two new visa categories: an agriculture visa, which would allow willing and able workers, from all countries, to engage in farm work; and a regional work visa that would be aimed at specific job categories where there are labour shortages in regional and rural Australia.

Rural and regional Australia is suffering from population decline, with an ageing workforce and large numbers of young Australians migrating to metropolitan areas. Furthermore, the Australian workforce is relatively geographically immobile, meaning that people are reluctant to move around for work. This makes it difficult for agricultural businesses to find seasonal workers in Australia, making it heavily reliant on temporary migrant workers.

Working holiday makers, such as backpackers, account for one of the largest portions of overseas workers in Australia and make up about 25 per cent of the agriculture sector’s total workforce. But they are an inherently “short term” option, and therefore do not provide any continuity in the workforce. The worker cannot develop experience and each must be retrained and go through an ‘initiation’ period before they are fully productive.

The labour needs of farmers would be better addressed with a dedicated Agricultural Visa, which can be tailored to meet the sector’s needs while addressing problems which are endemic in the current arrangements (such as worker exploitation).

The NSW Nationals are committed to building the wealth and prosperity of our regions by ensuring that the people who are willing to have a go can find work. Our regions, in particular places like Griffith, have a proud tradition of migrant workers who have made a great contribution. We are pleased the Federal Council of the National party has backed our motion and we will continue to advocate for the needs of regional NSW.