the budget promise that could work for some

the budget promise that could work for some
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“There’s a certain romance about being out in the fields,” said Mr Murday, 29. “You get to know who you’re working with pretty well because a lot of the time you’re living together and working together, all in a new place doing new things.”

The couple met five years ago and now run a farm that grows paw paw, cocoa, chillis and sugar cane near Mossman, in north Queensland.

Their encounter was more than an accident because Mr Murday’s father, John, helped bring them together.

“It was so unexpected for Jack and I,” said Ms Devine. “And it’s been great.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack drew groans from his opponents when he said the budget would encourage young Australians to “have a go” and head to regional Australia.

“Bring your mobile, have that Instagram moment up a ladder picking fruit, blue sky in the background, wonderful country breeze and wonderful friends around,” he said. “You’ll find more friends. You might find the love of your life.”

Australian Workers’ Union secretary Daniel Walton said the government idea was a “brain fart” that could push younger workers into a form of slavery.

Labor youth spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth said the Deputy Prime Minister’s claims about “Instagram snaps” made light of problems with transport, accommodation, working conditions and pay.

“There’s some pretty significant challenges out there, not only on farms but for young people, and probably he needs to take it a bit more seriously,” she said.

While JobSeeker recipients can earn $300 a fortnight without losing any of their unemployment benefits, which are worth $815 per fortnight including the temporary coronavirus supplement, the government will need bigger incentives to change a reluctance to go bush.

The government tried a Seasonal Work Incentives Trial three years ago to allow those on JobSeeker to earn $5000 on farms without losing any government benefits, but only 201 people signed up in the year to June 2019, when the program came to a halt.

“Take-up of the trial was much lower than anticipated,” the Department of Employment said in its annual report.

Labor social services spokeswoman Linda Burney said there were 28 people on JobSeeker for every job vacancy in regional Australia.

“The government is trying to conflate social security with its own failure to deliver a jobs plan to address labour shortages in agriculture,” she said.

But Ms Devine and Mr Murday never regretted staying in northern Queensland.

Their encounter was more than an accident because Mr Murday’s father, John, helped bring them together. Ms Devine, 26, from the southern Queensland town of St George, was travelling up the coast and took work at the Murday farm.

“I thought, well, I’ll give that a go,” she said. “It was just so random. And I started working and it was really good.”

The chilli and paw paw farm has been in Jack Murday's family for generations.  Jack met Isabelle when she was working on the farm picking fruit.

The chilli and paw paw farm has been in Jack Murday’s family for generations. Jack met Isabelle when she was working on the farm picking fruit.Credit:Brian Cassey

After six weeks, with much of the work finished, John kept Ms Devine on staff to make sure she met his son when he returned from travelling overseas.

“It’s just so much more relaxed up here,” said Ms Devine, who worked in Brisbane after leaving school. “Even now, with COVID, there are all these restrictions everywhere, and there are restrictions here too, but there’s more of a relaxed lifestyle.”

Mr Murday said there were jobs with good pay for those who willing to work. He said he paid himself and others $1 a kilo when picking chillis and it was possible to “just cruise” and do 20 kilos per hour. Those who work harder with a good yield could earn $40 or $50 an hour in season.

“Even if you just stopped here for six months or something, it does you good,” he said. “You can always go back to the city but it is definitely good for your health.”

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Another couple, Myriam and Troy, met in a banana packing shed near the Queensland town of Innisfail in 2007 when both were travelling. They fell in love, married in 2008 and now have two children.

Myriam, who was born in Germany and travelled to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef, only met Troy, who is from Melbourne, because she had to work in agriculture – it was a condition on her backpacker’s visa when she wanted to stay longer in Australia.

“I was going to go back working on the dive boats in Cairns but I met my husband and that was it,” she said.

Myriam, 39, who did not want her last name published for privacy reasons, said it might seem easier to stay unemployed in the cities but there were “life lessons” to be learned for those who joined fruit pickers from around the world.

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