Federal government changes to visas that will allow backpackers and working holiday makers to work more often in regional areas have been welcomed by a local dairy industry leader.
Oonagh Kilpatrick, a Koroit dairy farmer and United Dairyfarmers of Victoria policy councillor, said the changes were "an excellent short term step that will help fill a very large gap for us in the south west /western Victoria."
"However we still need a agricultural visa that offers pathways to permanent residence," Mrs Kilpatrick said.
She said a special visa to draw agricultural workers from overseas would "attract the type of employee who is motivated and who identifies the opportunities offered via the dairy industry.
“Individuals who want to go on to farm ownership via pathways such as farm manager and share farm arrangements. Individuals who help build our industry that benefits our regional and rural communities.
"The power of dairy is such that for every dollar spent by dairy farmers another $4 is generated in the community," Mrs Kilpatrick said.
Many south-west dairy farmers have struggled to get skilled and unskilled workers to fill vacancies.
They have hired backpackers to fill unskilled positions for the short-term periods they are allowed to work and have looked to overseas to fill long-term skilled positions.
The changes announced by the federal government this week to the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa program aim to support regional and rural communities.
The changes seek to provide farmers with immediate access to workers in key parts of regional Australia and increase the number of Working Holiday Makers available for seasonal works.
Employers will be able to retain trained and experienced employees doing agricultural work for up to 12 months, rather than the previous six months.
Under the changes, the south-west has also been included in the regional areas where subclass 462-visa holders can work in agriculture to qualify for a second year of stay in Australia.
The south-west has also been included in the regional areas where the option of a third-year stay will be offered to subclass 417 and 462 visa holders who, after July 1 2019, undertake six months of specified work in a specified regional area during their second year of stay.