Backpackers sort through the apples at Gran Elly Orchard.
Backpackers sort through the apples at Gran Elly Orchard.

‘Aussies first’: Wine boss says look after backyard first

SOME horticulture producers continue to roll out the welcome mat for backpackers but one wine boss has taken a different stance.

President of the Queensland Wine Industry Association and Sirromet's chief winemaker Mike Hayes said backpackers should not be welcomed, instead suggesting local jobs must be set aside for local workers.

"I categorically disagree with bringing the backpackers in," Mr Hayes said.

"We're at present facing an enormous amount of people out of work in our country and in our own town and community.

"They're living on the fringe of complete poverty at the present time and we should be encouraging jobs for our locals.

"There's people who've lost jobs in pubs and clubs, businesses around town. They come from the land and we should be supporting them," he said.

 

Granite Belt Growers Association president Angus Ferrier last week argued that backpackers should still be welcomed, so long as they'd prearranged work before arriving in the region.

"We don't want to give the impressions backpackers are not welcome," he said.

 

Chief winemaker Mike Hayes at Sirromet. Pic Peter Wallis
Chief winemaker Mike Hayes at Sirromet. Pic Peter Wallis

 

But Mr Hayes argued it was a 'biosecurity risk' to continue employing them.

"To even think about encouraging people to come in (during this pandemic) is not good.

"We must be looking after our own backyard.

"This is one of the most serious threats we've ever seen in Australia and it's going to be a long time before we come out of it."

Some people have argued that Granite Belt people don't want Granite Belt farm jobs.

Mr Hayes disagreed, saying some locals would kill for a job during these uncertain times.

"We have unwarrantedly put ourselves in a position we're we are making it attractive, before the coronavirus and before the stimulus package, that some people would not want to work and prefer to stay home and watch television and collect benefits.

"Having said that, there's an enormous amount of people in our own community out of jobs."

Sirromet Wines themselves have had to stand down 8-9 workers locally.

Mr Hayes said they've had to temporarily let go nearly 90 per cent of staff at their Mt Cotton operation in Brisbane as well.

"They would die for jobs. They'd love to have a job at the present time," he said.

"I can tell you one thing … there will be no international workers coming onto our (Sirromet's) vineyards. It's too risky and I don't want to put my fellow workers at risk.

"We've got to look at our own backyard first before we even dream of bringing anyone else in.

"Lets employ Australian's and keep the country going."

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