Changes are needed to Australia’s immigration rules to address a shortage of graduates in the country’s agricultural industry, it is claimed.
A group of 30 agribusiness leaders have joined together to put over their point of view. They say that there are 60,000 unfilled jobs in the Australian agriculture sector but only 500 graduates every year to fill them.
One solution is to encourage more suitably qualifies people from overseas and to change the immigration rules to help them enter the country. They also want a Senate inquiry to find out what is wrong and what else can be done to diminish the shortfall.
Liberal Senator Chris Back said that the Federal Government must make it appealing for students to study in regional areas, and make it easier to hire agriculture graduates from countries like Ireland and South Africa.
‘We’ve got a radical shortage of agronomists. When they make application to come to Australia, unless they are regarded by Australia as having a position or having a skill set or a qualification that is very much in demand in Australia, then they don’t get up,’ he explained.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans said he was aware of the demand for agricultural graduates but explained that the Migration Occupation in Demand list is not determined by the Federal Government.
He added that while migration is part of the answer, it would be good to give Australians the skills to pick up those jobs.
According to the South Australia Farmers Federation the average age of Australia’s farmers has risen to between 50 and 55, with a significant proportion over the age of 65. SAFF president Peter White says the shortfall is a real issue for South Australia.
He said the recent drought had been a big contributing factor in driving people away from agriculture. ‘It has had a pretty big impact on it. We saw the situation where a lot of farm employees and sons who would have come back home to the farm just couldn’t during that period. They went off and got some other form of employment,’ he explained.
The country’s booming mining industry has been attracting a lot of people because the pay is better and White added that agriculture has not been promoted well as a career opportunity. ‘There is an enormous future in agriculture with technology changes and so forth. It’s going to need young, bright, well educated people to manage the agriculture system into the future and I think the sooner we can actually address that and get them back into the industry, so much the better,’ he explained.
White said the Federal Government should provide incentives to get young people into rural areas. He suggested a scheme akin to a first farm buyers’ grant, similar to the first homebuyers’ grant, could be an option, along with tax incentives for those who chose agriculture as a career.
‘It costs a fair bit more to live out in the country with food and fuel and those sort of expenses, so I think there needs to be some more incentives to live in rural areas. If you look at the average age of a farmer and what’s expected of agriculture in the future, without young people we’re in trouble,’ he added.