Calls to cut working holiday makers sell regions short


By Ken Morrison*

Australia is undergoing a period of transition and our economy must move with the times. While the mining investment boom is waning, the people boom from Asia is just beginning and Australia is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this opportunity, offering a range of services including tourism.

Tourism directly employs more than 530,000 Australians across the country, with at least 2400 tourism jobs in every federal electorate. It generates more than $100 billion in consumption every year and is Australia’s largest services export, with $28 billion in export earnings. But with the growth in the Asian middle class, Australia’s economy could benefit even more from tourism. A growing segment of international visitors to Australia is working holiday makers.

The average working holiday maker spends more than $13,000 during their eight-month stay, adding demand for goods and services to the Australian economy and helping to support tourism jobs and businesses as they travel around the country.  This helps to spread the economic benefits to regional and rural parts of the country, with many working holiday makers spending time working in sectors like agriculture and forestry, allowing them to qualify for a 12-month visa extension.

Working holiday maker visas also provide an entrée to Australia that can result in lifelong engagement with our country and deliver significant additional value, both cultural and financial. Working holiday makers get to know our country and our culture during a formative part of their lives and many come back in later life with fond memories of Australia and the time they spent here. They may return for holidays, invest in Australia, do business with Australian companies or send their children here to university.

There have been a number of recent claims that too many working holiday makers are coming to Australia and that they are taking jobs that would otherwise go to young Australians. This has prompted calls from some quarters for any expansion of the scheme to cease and for negotiations with prospective partner countries to be put on hold. Not only is this a very short-sighted and narrow perspective, but the evidence is to the contrary.

Far from taking jobs from young Australians, expenditure by working holiday makers creates business and employment opportunities across Australia.  Indeed, Immigration Department research indicates that for every 100 working holiday-makers arriving in Australia, there is a net gain to the Australian economy of 6.3 full-time jobs. So with around 260,000 working holiday visas granted in 2012-13, this added more than 16,000 full-time jobs across Australia.

Rather than cutting the scheme, we see significant potential in expanding the working holiday maker scheme to other countries aligned with our broader international engagement and we are urging the federal government to work towards lifting the cap on working holiday maker numbers from key markets in Asia, like Malaysia and Indonesia. We would also like to see the scheme extended to countries we are targeting with our tourism marketing, like China and India, giving young people from those countries the opportunity to get to know Australia intimately and form those lasting relationships that are so beneficial to our country.

The fact that a working holiday can open the door to a longer-term relationship could prove extremely valuable as we navigate our way through the Asian century. For some Asian cultures, building a friendship is central to forming a business relationship, meaning the connections forged by the working holiday maker scheme could give Australia a head start in this area, as well as sending a strong signal that we are part of Asia – and happily so.

Not only can tourism play a key role in our soft diplomacy, it can help to deliver future prosperity for people throughout Australia and working holiday makers are integral to that success.

*Ken Morrison is chief executive of the Tourism & Transport Forum.

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