SPECIAL GUEST: Vanuatu's Prime Minister Charlot Salwai (centre) spent the day in Stanthorpe visiting Ausfarm Fresh where several workers from Vanuatu are currently employed.
SPECIAL GUEST: Vanuatu's Prime Minister Charlot Salwai (centre) spent the day in Stanthorpe visiting Ausfarm Fresh where several workers from Vanuatu are currently employed. Contributed

Prime Minister pays a visit

WORKERS from Vanuatu currently employed at Stanthorpe's Ausfarm Fresh in Thulimbah were treated to a special visit this morning when their Prime Minister, Charlot Salwai, stopped by.

Joined by his wife on the trip, Mr Salwai was flanked by representatives from the Prime Ministers Department, the Department of Jobs and Small Business, Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian High Commissioner to Vanuatu Jenny Da Rin on his flight into Stanthorpe this morning.

"We are approved employers under the seasonal workers scheme, which is a scheme between the Australian Government and south-sea islands,” Ausfarm Fresh office manager Kathryn Watson said.

"We (Ausfarm Fresh) happened to pick Vanuatu, but there's numerous islands involved in it, to have their workers come over here for 6 months at a time. We're into our third cohort at the moment,” she said.

What's happening in this shed is a shift in the horticultural practices of Australia. Decades ago, long-term locals and new arrivals picked and packed. Then it was backpackers. Now, the Seasonal Worker Program is gaining traction, with Ausfarm Fresh the first in Stanthorpe to source workers through the scheme.

Vanuatu's Prime Minister Charlot Salwai visited Stanthorpe today. He was greeted at the Stanthorpe Aerodrome by Southern Downs mayor Tracy Dobie.
Vanuatu's Prime Minister Charlot Salwai visited Stanthorpe today. He was greeted at the Stanthorpe Aerodrome by Southern Downs mayor Tracy Dobie. Contributed

At present, they employ 14 ladies and 8 men from Vanuatu working both in the packing shed and on the farm.

"This is the first time, I believe, that the Prime Minister has been over here to talk to his people.”

Ms Watson said it was an exciting morning for the company.

"We had Federal Police, Stanthorpe Police, Queensland Police... there were so many people here.

"He did a tour of the farm and went down to visit the guys who are pruning apples at the moment.

"Then they stopped and all the girls and boys entertained him with some beautiful singing.”

She said he was "quite personable” and happy to learn about how the business works.

"The guys were just so excited and kept saying how much of an honour it was. It's the most exciting thing to happen to us out here - we're usually just packing apples.”

The Prime Minister enjoyed a BBQ lunch provided by Cafe 77 before departing.

Mr Salwai has had a busy schedule since arriving in the country, having held meetings with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Canberra on Tuesday before jetting up to Queensland.

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