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Farmer push to base Fair Work Ombudsman in Bundaberg

Backpackers Letty Bell and Dylan Haywood say they were treated unfairly in Bundaberg, barely making enough to cover their rent.
Backpackers Letty Bell and Dylan Haywood say they were treated unfairly in Bundaberg, barely making enough to cover their rent. Eliza Goetze

"WE'RE the second biggest industry in Australia. We deserve the infrastructure we need to operate."

Local agriculture industry advocates including Allan Mahoney are pushing for the Federal Government to bring the office of the Fair Work Ombudsman to Bundaberg.

Mr Mahoney, along with Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers managing director Bree Grima, has met with Hinkler MP Keith Pitt to discuss the idea which would put the government's decentralisation policy into practice, bringing public service jobs - and hopefully, justice - to the region.

The push comes as the debate on backpacker welfare has flared up again.

Mr Mahoney appeared last night on ABC's Australian Story, which centred on a campaign by the mother of Home Hill murder victim Mia Ayliffe-Chung against what she claimed were "prison- like" conditions for backpackers on 457 visas.

"It's terribly sad two young people lost their lives," Mr Mahoney told the NewsMail.

"But this incident was at the hands of a French national with mental health issues, which has nothing to do with our visa system.

"Do I agree with our visa system? Not completely. It needs tweaking."

Unscrupulous labour hire contractors, growers, hostels and even other backpackers "preyed on the vulnerable", he said.

"But if I believed this industry was full of bad people I wouldn't be in it.

"We've used 370-400,000 backpackers a year in Australia - 5-7000 a day in Bundaberg - with very few issues."

He said the current modus operandi of the Fair Work department making visits to the region with several weeks' notice needed to change.

"Who are they going to catch? If you're going to catch a burglar you don't put your police light on.

"I was brutally honest," he added of his TV appearance. "I hope it triggers some change."

Keith Pitt did not confirm if he supported bringing the ombudsman here.

"I've discussed with Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers the decentralisation program and the benefits it could bring to the region," he said.

"Every part of Australia deserves the benefits of the economic growth and jobs that government agencies and jobs can deliver to local communities.

"Portfolio Ministers will need to report back to Cabinet by August on which of their departments are suitable to be moved to regional Australia (and file) business cases by December."

Mr Mahoney said he was grateful for government support but "frustrated" at the pace of progress.

Earlier this year two backpackers spoke out about what they said was deceiving and unfair treatment in their time picking fruit in Bundaberg.

Topics:  bundaberg decentralisation farming keith pitt mp



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