The week that was (23 April 2017)

- The big issue in hospitality this week was the Government abolishing the 457. Is this Mal just rearranging the red tape or are the ramifications far greater?
You will have likely read the details. In a nutshell, the 457 is to be replaced by a more restrictive "Temporary Skill Shortage" visa, available either short term (two years) or medium term (four years). The change brings tighter vocation parameters (cafes, bars and fast food are all at risk of losing access to TSS holders), longer work experience requirements and salary benchmarks. They have also removed some of the attractive elements of the old visa – like the possibility of a segue into permanent residency (now not available for the two year and with longer wait periods for the four). They're not saying no altogether, but they are making it significantly less attractive.
The hospo industry is one of the biggest users of the 457. I can’t think of a single kitchen without at least one 457 on the pans or on the floor. And so I was a little surprised by the rather pedestrian response from the AHA and R&CA, who, apparently, welcomed the idea. From the industry, the response was far less “welcoming” (watch the Mitchen’s vid here, or listen to the full ep they dedicate to it).
The change comes at a time when our industry is working harder than ever to find and maintain good staff (for example, read this delightful story about TafeTAS luring Alain Passard to Launceston to encourage kids to cook). Quite simply, there are not enough people in Australia to sustain our workforce and, more than that, most don’t want to do the job: the hours are gruelling, the tasks often thankless, the money not incredible. And, the thing is, they don’t have to, our unemployment rate is sitting at only 5.9%.

And so, I'm perplexed. Why wouldn’t we be doing everything we can to encourage skilled, or semi-skilled, employment from around the globe?
Let’s pause for a second to think about where our food culture comes from. We know tastes are culturally acquired and, in Australia, ours are woven from a tapestry of many nations. The Chinese immigration that accompanied the gold rush, the waves of immigrants post WWII who brought Baltic and Mediterranean sensibilities to our shores. These ideas were vastly at odds with Australia’s British tabletop traditions and yet the way they understood and cooked for their climates was much more in line with our weather. It was a culinary coup for our kitchens: a taste of their country, their region and of course their mother.
There were subsequent waves of immigration that rolled over ours shores from Asia, India and beyond. These immigrants brought different ideas of what constituted a meal, of what to grow, where to grow it and how to eat it. These people created the melting pot and open-mindedness that we now define ourselves, and our food, by. Remember that great article Huck wrote, a month or so back?  
I don’t know why we would feel the need to be more protectionist on an issue like this. It’s not nice,  it’s not convivial, and, quite frankly, I think it’s un-Australian … at least the Australia I would like to be affiliated with. I think we should make noise.
- The good news is, noise can work. This week Bangkok’s Metropolitan Administration announced they were waging war on street food in an effort to clean up the footpaths of Bangkok. DT wasn’t buying, and nor should he. ".. street food's not a fad, it's a community need. If you're poor in Thailand and you live in a small pokey room, you don't have room to cook. If they take away street food, the poor will have nowhere to eat. It's a desperately needed part of the community."
The news made headlines around the world, for perhaps slightly more selfish reasons, and the BMA are now back-tracking, saying that they were misquoted. The revised plans appear to focus on hygiene and pedestrian traffic flow in a few specific arterial roads only. Nice to see the pen is still mighty …
- And, while we’re at it, I noticed a flurry of stories on the importance of soil this week. There’s a lot to digest, but I like where it’s going. The argument about feeding future generations is on pretty high rotation in my beautiful little corner of Surry Hills. These articles take the dreamy approach I like to cling to, one where healthy soils, treated with minimal pesticides, polyfarms, run by small playersfeeding local mouths, could create viable alternatives to the large scale carry on. Nature as nature intended is at the heart of it all.
- Finally, let's spare a thought for the winemakers of France this week. The new growth of spring has been met with a late frost – a diabolical combination. The photos are beautiful, the reasons behind them heart breaking.