Today’s announcement from Prime Minister Morrison to force social welfare recipients on Australian farms is a slap in the face.
It’s a slap in the face not only to growers who will be forced to leave fruit and vegetables to rot if they cannot access a suitable and reliable workforce this season, but to our entire industry which cannot reach its full potential due to a chronic shortage of labour.
What we need is a workforce that wants to work on farms. As it stands growers lack confidence to plant more crops or plant labour-intensive crops because they won’t be able to harvest them.
Australian growers will always have a preference to develop a community of local labour. However, the reality is that we can’t find enough locals to work on farms and forcing them to do so to access benefits is not a long-term solution to a critical issue affecting farming businesses across the country.
Farming businesses are the backbone of many of our regional communities – if they are forced to rely on workers who do not want to be on farms they will not be productive and could leave these businesses and their communities vulnerable to an unreliable and inadequate workforce.
Previous schemes to force local workers on farms through the threat of removing benefit payments, such as the Seasonal workers incentive scheme from the Centre Alliance (formally the Nick Xenophon Team), have been tried and failed to solve the problems that growers are facing on-the-ground.
We need to address the critical shortage of farm labour now, and the best solution that we have is a dedicated Agricultural Visa.
The agriculture industry has been calling for this visa for over a year and for over a year it seems we have been ignored. We have been talking to the Government – putting forward a strong case and clearly demonstrating the need for measures that will genuinely address the problem.
Today’s announcement suggests that the government does not understand the problem of our labour shortage and is not listening to farmers and regional and rural communities that rely on a strong and productive agriculture industry.
Farmers deserve better than this and should be entitled to access a workforce that wants to work on their farms.
We have provided the Government with a practical solution that addresses our labour concerns and we are willing to work with the Government to also look at existing visa programs to get more workers on farms.