Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said the Labor government’s two-pronged attack on backpackers is terrible news for the Parkes electorate and the local economy.

He said the government’s increased cost of the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa from $130 to $640, made it the highest fee visa of its kind in the world.

The federal member said the government was also considering cutting the WHM visa to one year and removing any regional work requirements.

Mr Coulton said the electorate of Parkes relied on backpackers to work in essential industries and support businesses by spending their money locally.

“By making the Working Holiday Maker visa so expensive it will discourage backpackers from coming to Australia, which means fewer workers helping out in agriculture and hospitality jobs and fewer visitors supporting our tourism businesses,” Mr Coulton said.

“If Labor cuts the backpacker visa to just one year it will hurt our local economy as well as other regional economies around the country.

There are more than 137,000 WHM visa holders currently in Australia who are spending money on holidays and working in critical industries. WHM visa holders make up to 80 per cent of the harvest labour force in horticulture, while in other commodities they account for 5-15 per cent of the junior, casual and seasonal workforce.

Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Dan Tehan said regional and rural Australia was bracing itself for worker shortages.

“Labor’s one-size-fits-all approach will have a devastating impact on regional businesses and the migrant workers who live in country towns,” Mr Tehan said. “The government was warned about the impact of this change but they ploughed on anyway because it keeps the unions happy.”

When asked about visa fee increases at a recent press conference in Adelaide, federal Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said the shadow minister was completely all over the shop when it comes to his approach to migration policy.

“One day he’s saying that too many people are coming here; today he’s pressing a whole lot of concern that people won’t come here,” he said.

“What I know is that we’ve been absolutely focused on cleaning up the extraordinary mess that was left for us just over a year ago when we came into government with nearly a million visas waiting to be processed.

“We’ve made the investments necessary to get our system moving, and that’s been particularly important when it comes to backpacker visas, which are now being turned around in two days – a stark contrast to the record of the former government.

“To make sure that we continue to deliver this service we are making the necessary investments to ensure we’ve got a migration service that’s fit for purpose.”

Mr Giles said the visa application fee has been subject to an increase, which he described as a normal process.

“What we are determined to do is to make sure that we’ve got those rules right to ensure that we have a migration system that operates efficiently,” he said.

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