Prime Minister Scott Morrison has today emphasised there is no "shadow workforce" on hand to fill Australia's labour shortages due to the absenteeism wrought by COVID infections and isolation, but the next best thing appears to be international students and backpackers.
The PM has announced visa rebates for both these cohorts over the next two to four months, combined with a marketing program to entice travellers to come to Australia on working holidays.
"There are some 23,500 backpackers who have visas to come to Australia right now, and my message to them is come on down," he said.
"Enjoy a holiday here in Australia, move all the way around the country and at the same time join our workforce and help us in our agricultural sector and our hospitality sector and so many of the other parts of the economy that rely on that labour.
"We'll be supporting that with $3 million that we'll be giving to Tourism Australia to support a marketing program to target backpackers and students to get them out."
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Backpackers who arrive in Australia within the next 12 weeks will get their visa application fee rebated by the Department of Home Affairs, while the rebate will apply to international students for the coming eight weeks - a fee of around $630, according to the Prime Minister.
"There are around 150,000 students who have visas who we are encouraging to come back to be there for the start of their university or college year, and that is a thank you to them for coming back and continuing to choose Australia," the PM said.
"But we also want them to come here and be able to be filling some of these critical workforce shortages, particularly those who are working and being trained in health care, aged care, those types of sectors."
The Prime Minister also highlighted that to date Australia has had one of the lowest death rates in the world from the Omicron variant of COVID, along with one of the world's highest vaccination rates generally and among the fastest take-up rates for vaccines for children aged five to 11.
"As we face Omicron we must respect it, but we should not fear it. We must respect it with sensible balanced rules, sensible precautions, but at the same time not shutting Australia away; not locking ourselves up, not destroying people's livelihoods and bringing our society to a halt.
"That is not the future. That is the past.
"And one of the key reasons we can say that is because of the extraordinary work Australians have done and going out and getting vaccinated."
Updated at 10:38am AEDT on 19 January 2022.
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