Backpackers to lead bushfire rebuild
Backpackers will be encouraged to come to Australia to help rebuild bushfire-ravaged ares through a new special visa.
Under a retooling of the working holidaymaker program aimed at fast-tracking reconstruction and boosting tourism, working holiday-makers will be allowed to claim volunteering as "specific work" towards securing second and third-year visas.
The Australian reports the move is designed to bring backpackers to the 45 declared disaster zones across seven states and territories.
The National Bushfire Recovery Agency urged the government to make the changes to help breathe life back into towns and regions smashed by the bushfires.
More than 209,000 working holiday visas were lodged in 2018-19.
Backpackers working in bushfire zones will now be allowed to work for the same employer for 12 months, rather than six months under the old regime.
And the new visa will possibly be used in other disaster affected areas, such as flooding, in the future.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said working holiday-makers would be able to get on to properties and help with a range of reconstruction activities, such as demolition and land clearing, as well as repairing dams, roads and railways.
He said the changes had been ushered in to help farmers and regional businesses.
"These hardworking Australians have been hit by the recent bushfires, but from today they can employ backpackers for six months longer, helping them at a critical time in the recovery effort," he told The Australian.
"This recovery will be driven locally, by local workers and communities. But this will be a massive recovery effort and we want businesses and charitable organisations to have as many boots on the ground as they need."
BlazeAid president Kevin Butler urged the government to make the visa changes after he was swamped with requests from backpackers who wanted to help out.
"We need young people with young muscles to do the hard yards. The bushfires hit hardest in some very rugged areas and these backpackers have the energy to do it," he said.
"A lot of the backpackers are going up and down the coast and being turned away from jobs because of the drought and bushfires. This is an opportunity for them, and the farmers.
"We have 2500 farmers signed up to BlazeAid for the help these volunteers are providing. It's just common sense and we should have done this a long time ago.
"It's a great move by the Morrison government."
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, who announced a $76m tourism recovery package last month as part of the government's bushfire response, said "every extra working holidaymaker that we can get into these communities is one extra visitor to help protect local jobs and keep local businesses alive".
Senator Birmingham said tourism businesses in fire-affected communities were "doing it tough.
"The more tourism dollars that these working holiday-makers can inject into these economies, the quicker these businesses can get back on their feet."
The majority of working holiday visas are granted to backpackers from countries such as Britain, France, Germany, South Korea and Taiwan.
Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said those coming to help from overseas would be greeted with open arms: "They'll come as holiday-makers but will leave as life long friends."