NICK Xenophon Team (NXT) agricultural spokesperson Rebekah Sharkie says the new Seasonal Workers Incentives Trial is an example of her party’s work in action for the farm sector.
A deal struck by the NTX late last year with the government to help advance vexed negotiations on the backpacker tax will see the two-year Trial commence on July 1
Legislation underpinning the arrangement to allocate about $30 million passed through the Lower House last week.
Up to 6000 Australian job seekers will be permitted to do seasonal work and earn up to $5000 under the Trial, without being penalised in their Youth Allowance or Newstart Allowance support payments.
Ms Sharkie says the bill is also expected to gain the agreement of the Senate where her party has three Senators from SA on the influential crossbench.
“In our negotiations around the backpacker deal we were already talking with the other crossbenchers about it and I think the other crossbenchers were pretty keen on it and I think everybody wants to see Aussies on farms and that’s what this bill is about,” she said.
“I think it would be very difficult for Labor not to support something that allows a person who is on unemployment benefits, to earn up to $5000 without losing those benefits.”
Ms Sharkie said she and Senator Xenophon worked on the deal for “quite some time” after initially raising it with Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce and then Treasurer Scott Morrison.
“For Australians who are unemployed, it will lower the barrier to get into agriculture, which could be fruit picking, and if they like being on farm there’s lots of work to do and movement up the ladder,” she said.
“It’s a terrific measure.
“In my part of the world (Adelaide Hills), you can live in the metropolitan area and drive up to orchards easily.”
Ms Sharkie said the underpinning amendment legislation would see changes made to apportion about $30m for the two year trial, in the government’s budget.
She said in construction the Trial program, she analysed how the 417 working holiday visa was working and “what was really clear” was locations where a high need for backpackers existed also had high levels of unemployment.
“So I thought why aren’t we getting people who are on Newstart or Youth Allowance into this industry?” she said.
“This is an opportunity to try and find a solution and the workers are not going to lose Newstart and they won’t have to apply again.
“The can work from four to six weeks and earn up to $5000 and see what they think of it and if they like it, they can stay on.
“I’m hoping that by having a taste of real wages every week and being out in the open and doing enjoyable work on the farm, they’ll want more of it.
“It is hard work and I’m not denying it’s hard work and I’ve done lots of it myself but it’s good work and work to be proud of.”
Despite a compromise of a 15 per cent backpacker tax rate - down from the federal government’s 19pc stance - Mr Morrison announced the Coalition government would keep its agreement with the NXT to implement the Trial.
It will also offer an annual living away from home allowance of $300 if the seasonal work is more than 120 kilometres from a job seeker’s home.
People would also be exempt from job seeking or other mutual obligation requirements while undertaking seasonal work
Employment providers can also be eligible for incentive fees of up to $100 a week for six weeks for each trial participant they place in seasonal work.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the bill responded to concerns about the ability of the Australian horticulture industry to attract sufficient numbers of seasonal workers by introducing three incentives aimed at increasing the number of job seekers who undertake horticultural seasonal work.
He said the Trial would be capped at 7600 participants over the two years.
“Employment could be directly with a farmer or with a contractor/labour hire company where the principal business is the supply of labour for harvest,” he said in a speech on the bill.
“As an example, currently, a recipient of Newstart Allowance who is single and has no children can earn $104 a fortnight before their payment starts to be reduced and $1036.34 a fortnight before their Newstart Allowance reduces to nil.
“Under this measure, if the Newstart Allowance recipient participates in the trial, they could earn up to $5000 from qualifying horticultural seasonal work over a 12 month period and continue to receive the full rate of Newstart Allowance.”
In a speech on the bill, Jenny Macklin – the Labor Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services – said her party “certainly does support the importance of helping jobseekers to find work - that, of course, is why we will support the trial”.
“This is a small trial,” she said.
“It is worthy of support and we will support it.”