Visa Announcement A Huge Boost To Thoroughbred Industry

Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, pictured with prominent breeders at the 2018 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.

Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud (second from left) visited the recent Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale to meet with breeders.


Stud farms and racing stables throughout Australia have welcomed (and with considerable relief) the Federal Government’s announcement regarding enhanced access to 457 visas.

The decision has come about following a determined lobbying campaign – led by Thoroughbred Breeders Australia – to place the ‘Horse Breeder’ occupation category on the medium and long term strategic skills list (MTSSL).

Under the 457 ruling, visa holders can work in Australia for up to four years and also have a path to permanent residency, rather than being required to leave the country after just two years under existing arrangements.

Segenhoe Stud’s General Manager, Peter O’Brien, has long been an advocate for 457 visas and a driving force behind its continuation.

“This is absolutely vital for the horse breeding industry and perhaps even more so for racing stables,” O’Brien enthused. “We are talking about millions upon millions of dollars of investment in horse flesh and you simply need the appropriate skill set to protect that investment.

“The important thing to note is that this is not about taking jobs from Australian workers … far from it. There is hardly a week goes by up here in the Hunter Valley where farms are seeking to fill positions, yet don’t have applicants to take up those roles.

“Look, in an ideal world, they would all be Australian and that is the aim … you have people like John Sunderland (General Manager of Darley’s Woodlands division) actively attending career seminars and going to high schools to encourage young people into the industry and imparting years of industry experience.

“The ‘457s’ are all about enhancing, as opposed to denying opportunities – there’s nothing we want more than the building up the skill sets for Australian workers … it’s a natural progression, but without those visas we wouldn’t be able to survive.”

O’Brien, who came to Australia in the early 1980s and was General Manager at Coolmore Australia before re-locating to Segenhoe, was a beneficiary of the 457 visa as were leading players at Coolmore, Arrowfield and Yarraman Park Stud.

“Special thanks go to the three Government ministers (Barnaby Joyce [Deputy Prime Minister], Peter Dutton [Home Affairs] and David Littleproud [Agriculture]) who not only listened to our concerns but acted on them,” O’Brien adds.

“Barnaby is the local member up here and more than familiar with the problems we face in terms of skilled staff shortage and is doing his utmost to rectify the situation.”

Thoroughbred Breeders Australia CEO, Tom Reilly, believes the announcement is a tremendous step in the right direction and lauded the work of both the lobbying group and ministers.

“Peter (O’Brien) has been a passionate supporter and, quite obviously, is an embodiment of the benefits of 457 visas,” Reilly points out. “He was one of several breeders to assist TBA in our lobbying efforts, personally making submissions on the industry’s behalf.

Reilly also points out that the number of staff recruited from overseas to fill these visa positions has been relatively small, but the value of these skilled and experienced staff is enormous: “They fill key roles such as stallion managers, yearling managers and foal managers and are responsible for horses worth many millions of dollars.”

In a survey of Australian breeders undertaken by TBA last year, 95% of breeders stated that the supply of competent staff is a critical issue in the Australian breeding industry. Some 85% of breeders also indicated that, compared to 10 years ago, it is much harder to find competent staff.
TBA is also mindful of opening up opportunities for local staff. At the end of last year Skills Impact Australia signed off on a new Certificate III in horse breeding, following input from TBA.

This new course will enable TAFEs to offer apprenticeship level programs in breeding which have not been available in some years.

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