Migrant workers helping grow regional towns
It’s been a non-stop month and I’m excited to report that RAI’s work on supporting regional migration is now well underway.
In the last newsletter, I told you about my planned visits to Stawell, Rupanyup and Horsham – all towns in western Victoria. This trip allowed me to meet many amazing people who live and work in these towns and understand not just the benefits that migrants can bring, but how in some places migrants are integral to the very survival of a business or even the town itself.
In Horsham, the owner of a national furniture manufacturing business (that has been family-run since 1958) told me how tough he has found it to get people to move to the country to take up jobs and how he relies on migrants to fill many positions.
At a nearby native flower farm, I met a man who had lived for 28 years in a refugee camp on the Burmese-Thai border and who now has a key position in the business. He expressed how happy he was and mentioned how his daughter was on school camp with the local primary school – already just another little Aussie kid!
The owner of the flower farm bluntly told me that without migrants and refugees filling her jobs, she would no longer have a business to run. It’s a story that is echoed in many parts of rural Australia. What we are seeing is that migrants are mobile, and often less connected to one place in Australia, and ready to travel for work.
Last week, I headed over to South Australia, where RAI is working with Primary Industries and Regions SA on a migrant attraction and retention strategy for the Limestone Coast region. At one meat-processing plant, there are over 30 nationalities on the processing floor! These are a mix from all corners of the globe: -skilled, semi or unskilled migrants, refugees, backpackers and Pacific Islanders. They work side by side with local born workers and help keep a vital Australian industry going.
In many cases, skilled migrants are using their own knowledge, to help upskill other locals. In Mt Gambier, a cake shop owner had to look to the Philippines to source a qualified pastry chef. The chef now has local young people as apprentices, ensuring that there is an ongoing source of talent and skills within the community.
I’ve been overwhelmed during my travels at witnessing the generosity and welcome of everyday Australians. There are so many local volunteers who organise English conversation classes for new arrivals, help with driving lessons, and hold social events.
I’ve seen school Principals who go out of their way and well beyond their working hours to make sure that migrant parents understand excursion and camp notices – and who make sure young migrants learn to swim.
I visited a medical clinic which sends its reception staff to cross-cultural training, to ensure that a migrant patient is better served when they walk through the door.
It’s evident when you travel to many parts of regional Australia, employers really value their refugee workers. Local councils actively want to make their town welcoming for migrants.
It’s inspiring work and I can’t wait for the coming month when I travel further afield to St George in Queensland and the Orana region in NSW. Both are regions which need migrant workers and want to ensure that the experience is positive and sustainable for both migrants as well as for the local community.
And finally, I’d like to thank all the attendees who travelled to Canberra this week to be part of a roundtable for organisations involved in regional migration held at the RAI’s Regional Australia Hub. It’s hoped this open discussion ensures that our work moving forward complements and strengthens all projects, and ensures the maximum benefit to local communities and migrants.
Regional Australia Institute
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