Regional lobby's plan to bring permanent migrants to labour-starved bush

Filipino woman Marilyn Fernandez says her job on a pig farm in the regional Victorian town of Pyramid Hill has been an ‘overwhelming’ opportunity

Migrant workers in regional Australia.

Migrant workers in regional Australia. Source: SBS News

A regional think tank is calling on the Turnbull government to develop a “match-making system” to pair migrant workers with opportunities in labour-starved rural towns, winning the support of senior Nationals politicians.  

The Regional Australia Institute wants another 3,000 permanent migrants to come to rural towns every year to counteract population decline.

“We know there are refugee families who come from rural backgrounds in the cities who would love to be in a rural area – but how do they identify which town is the right one for them?” the institute’s CEO Jack Archer said.

The group took its pitch to Parliament House on Tuesday, using the example of Pyramid Hill in Victoria where there are now 100 Filipinos among a total population of 550 people.

Among them is Marilyn Fernandez, a Filipino woman who moved to Australia around a decade ago and now works on the Kia Ora piggery.

“Australia is generous,” she told SBS News. “It's just overwhelming. For me, Pyramid Hill is special.”

Ms Fernandez’s boss, Tom Smith, said the arrival of the Filipino workers on his farm “changed the attitude” of his other staff.

“We had these guys who wanted to work there, that were reliable all the time, so the benchmark was raised because of their being there,” Mr Smith said.

“To do a good job with anything, you need good quality staff. And we really did struggle to be able to keep good quality staff.”

Mr Smith said the pathway to permanent residency and eventually citizenship needed to be maintained and made a “lot easier” to attract quality workers from overseas.

While there have been successful regional migration projects scattered across Australia, with some small towns increasing their population by 15 per cent, the institute said a national approach was needed.

Nationals leader Michael McCormack agreed it was time to “connect the dots” and link migrant workers with jobs in the regions.


His Nationals colleague Damien Drum said Pyramid Hill was a “fantastic example”.

“Business has been held back because we can't find the people to fill those positions, so it's a big issue,” Mr Drum said.

“The Filipinos are really putting themselves head and shoulders above anybody else at the moment, including the Australians.”

3 min read
Published 22 May 2018 at 7:12am
By Marija Zivic, James Elton-Pym