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Outback businesses lobby for easier access to overseas labour

An outback business group says it’s hoping to expand its new regional migration agreement to help fix chronic labour shortages impacting some of Western Australia’s premier tourism towns. 

The East Kimberley Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EKCCI) hopes to extend its Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) to encompass the whole Kimberley region, as it currently only includes the Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley.

The arrangement allows employers to access workers across a broader range of occupations than under standard skilled migration programs and provides significant concessions to attract workers.

The region has experienced a bumper dry season, and businesses have struggled to keep pace with the influx of visitors and attract skilled and unskilled workers across hospitality, transport, health, agriculture, and aged care.

Clare Smith sitting at a desk in front of a computer in an office.
East Kimberley Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Clare Smith.(ABC Kimberley: Jessica Hayes)

“Every town in the Kimberley probably deserves to be on this DAMA and to have this possibility to help bring more staff in on a longer-term basis,” EKCCI chief executive officer Clare Smith said.

Business buy-in needed

EKCCI is the ‘designated area representative’ for the DAMA and can apply for a variation to the agreement annually throughout the life of the five-year arrangement, including adding new job categories and changing its boundary.

It will survey businesses in the coming weeks before submitting its variation request to the federal Department of Home Affairs later this year.

“In order to do that we will need significant business buy-in across the Kimberley to undertake a survey,” Ms Smith said.

“From that, we can compile a list and look at the various concessions, for example, in terms of age and English language concessions, that can be associated with each occupation.”

The East Kimberley is one of 12 regions with DAMAs in place across Australia. 

A cake board sign with a 'not available, sorry, short staff' sign on it.
Many Kimberley businesses are experiencing staff shortages.(ABC Kimberley: Hannah Barry)

‘Glimmer of hope’

Tania Mesch runs a fast food franchise in Broome in the West Kimberley — a town currently peppered with ‘help wanted’ signs and businesses apologising for shortening their hours or closing due to staff shortages.

She said a DAMA agreement stretching to the West Kimberley would provide much-needed relief to one of the region’s busiest towns.

“We are constantly advertising, we’re constantly looking for opportunities to employ more people. The biggest problem we’re finding right now is that there are not the bodies in Broome to fill the positions,” she said.

“Everybody is in the same position and it’s not allowing any of our businesses to grow, it’s not allowing any of our people to develop, and it’s just burning out the people that we have.

“The process of having a DAMA in play enables us to have a glimmer of hope in getting some qualified people into the business.”

Playing the long game

The East Kimberley DAMA arrangements are geared toward attracting long-term workers to the region, rather than filling seasonal positions.

Ms Mesch said expanding the scheme would also create opportunities for locals.

“This is by no means something that should replace growing, hiring, and developing locals,” she said.

“But to develop people we need to train them, and what excites me is bringing in the qualifications and the skills.”

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