IN THE BERRY BATCH: Like Jeff McMahon, many Granite Belt farms take on backpackers, but could employment now be causing more harm than good? Photo Lisa Googe / Stanthorpe Border Post
IN THE BERRY BATCH: Like Jeff McMahon, many Granite Belt farms take on backpackers, but could employment now be causing more harm than good? Photo Lisa Googe / Stanthorpe Border Post

Backpackers not welcome during coronavirus crisis

AFTER a year marred by drought and bushfires, backpackers were once needed to kickstart the Southern Downs agricultural economy.

But now some travellers are being shown the door by residents with a growing contempt for suspected carriers.

Backpackers of Queensland hostel owner Michele Gee said she stopped taking in new visitors last week but was still knocking back hundreds of inquiries.

“We’re trying to make the message clear that people should be staying put but we’re still fielding at least a 100 a day wanting to come to the region, wanting somewhere to work or stay,” she said.

“People are being too complacent and it’s not being taken seriously enough. We said we were closed and someone said ‘because of that coronavirus thing?’

“Yes because of that coronavirus thing. It’s very serious. Everyone in Stanthorpe is doing their best to limit the risk.

“We’ve seen the debacle at Bondi, we don’t want that here.”

Resident Lisa Salter said she was growing concerned by the number of backpackers still actively searching in Facebook pages such as Stanthorpe Backpackers, Queensland.

“There are many asking daily it’s very alarming, also a lot moving here then looking for work,” she said.

As of March 26, Stanthorpe had been lucky enough to avoid a coronavirus outbreak.

While Ms Gee implored upon her current tenants to keep safe, they were only so many measures she could enforce.

“I’m just trying to educate people to only go out if you need and to wipe down the trolleys at the supermarkets but we don’t know where they’ve been and for what amount of time,” she said.

“We can’t control them outside the hostel.”

President of the Granite Belt Growers Association Angus Ferrier said it was unlikely farmers would be taking on new workers this time of year as it was.

“The peak workforce for the Stanthorpe growing season is already employed,” he said.

“While there might be plenty of backpackers looking, there’s no jobs going for those who are producing in Autumn.”

Mr Ferrier said he was confident Granite Belt producers were prepared for the virus in the short term but looked to the government for more decisive information.

“There are measures in place to ensure supply has adequate labour over the next six months, but we’re looking for support and guidance as to continue understanding what is the best practice in managing risk and procedure for managing an outbreak,” he said.

“Just because you can get the workers and adopt all reasonable practices to keep workers safe, there is still the risk the virus can infiltrate towns and individual businesses and affect the ability to to harvest and sell crops.”

The outrage comes as a backpacker tested positive on Wednesday for coronavirus after attending a party in Bondi with hundreds of people.