National Cabinet on notice to end quarantine quagmire

Federal and state farming bodies are calling on National Cabinet to end the stalemate and agree on a consistent and safe approach to quarantine arrangements for foreign workers.

The National Farmers Federation is supported in its call by its state-based members: AgForce Queensland Farmers Ltd, NSW Farmers, NT Farmers, Primary Producers South Australia, Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association, Victorian Farmers Federation and WA Farmers as well as the NFF Horticulture Council.

In August, the Federal Government gave the green light to a COVID-safe restart of the Pacific Workers and Seasonal Worker Visa programs, putting the onus on states and territories to submit a plan that satisfied public health protocols.

Despite all jurisdictions having submitted satisfactory plans, except Victoria, almost six months on only about 1500 international workers have arrived, well short of the 26,000 expected to be needed come March.

“We believe much of the consternation from state leaders relates to quarantine arrangements: indecision and stubbornness about where workers should spend their mandatory quarantine period, and who should pay for it,” NFF CEO Tony Mahar said.

To date Queensland is the only state to deploy on-farm quarantining, a model that is supported by AgForce and which is widely viewed as the preferred approach. Especially for states with a need for workers in very remote areas, such as Western Australia, where it is possible to safely quarantine and work at the same time.

“While our leaders squabble over who should bear the cost, farmers are bleeding.

“Already fruit and vegetable growers alone, report to have lost $38 million worth of crop due to labour shortages,” Mr Mahar said.

NSW Farmers CEO Peter Arkle said farmers were pleading with National Cabinet to put their heads together and come up with a workable solution that would meet health protocols and help ease the dire worker shortage.

“Right now, fruit and vegetables are being left to rot on the vine, and some growers are making the decision not to replant, fearing they won’t have the people power to get the job done any time soon.

“A quarantine cost-sharing arrangement between the federal and state and territory governments is surely a logical solution to the deadlock. Farmers are also prepared to do their bit,” Mr Arkle said.

Victorian Farmers Federation President, Emma Germano, herself a vegetable grower, said the Victoria Government, must do better.

“The state government assured us a plan would be submitted to the Federal Government in December, we’re yet to see that delivered.

“Farmers are dismayed when they see the ease in which tennis players are able to arrive in the country, yet when it comes to the people who are integral to putting food on our shelves, there’s utter silence from Premier Andrews.”

Mr Mahar said all states had to pay the issue the attention it deserved at National Cabinet tomorrow.

“An acceptable arrangement for the quarantining of foreign workers must be a priority agenda item.

“Farmers and the rural communities are hurting without the seasonal workforce they depend on.

“If a solution isn’t found, inevitably it will be all Australians who feel the pain, as supply tightens and supermarket prices rise, at a time when many Australians can least afford it.”

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