• Loddon Herald

Visa move a great step


AUGUST 22 was a monumental day for Australian agriculture.

It was a great day for broad-acre farmers, for dairy farmers, and for growers of fresh produce in horticulture and agriculture.  It was a great day because the Liberal National Government delivered a history making Agriculture visa.   

The Nationals have been advocating for an Agriculture visa for years.  We have listened to our primary producers and have now delivered on what has been requested the country over.  

This visa is about providing a long-term, reliable workforce for our critical industries, while solving one of the greatest challenges facing food and fibre production in regional Australia. It’s about structural change, which will give primary producers the confidence to grow into the future.  The visa will be in place by September 30, with full implementation within three years. 

The visa will be demand driven.  In other words, there will be no limitation on the number of workers brought in. Australia will welcome as many workers as is needed. Importantly, it will be available to skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers, from a range of countries. 

The Ag visa will provide workers for meat processing, fisheries and forestry sectors, and undergird and secure the growth of our primary industries.  

Since being elected to Parliament, I have worked closely with primary producers in Mallee.

It became quickly apparent that a sustainable solution for workforce challenges was urgently needed. 

I’ve spoken with producers in citrus, table grapes, stone fruit, almonds, dried fruits, carrots, meat processing, and broad acre crops – all in the Mallee.  These industries are unique, and the challenges they face are varied.  

Citrus and stone fruit producers need a great number of workers to harvest the fruit off the tree, whereas broadacre farmers need skilled workers to operate complex machinery. The visa is solutions focused and can be tailored to solve these differing challenges. 

I’m excited about the visa announcement because it reflects the culmination of a body of work undertaken by the Nationals for several years.   

The implementation of an agriculture visa was a key recommendation of the Inquiry into growing Australian Agriculture to $100 billion by 2030, completed by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources, of which I am a member.  

It was also a recommendation of my personal seasonal workforce Policy that I developed after significant collaboration with local industries.

Not only will this visa help growers, but it will also help the workers too.  It will reduce exploitation in agricultural industries because it creates a legal avenue through which farmers can more easily access the workers they desperately need. The visa will also have the right protections in place to ensure that exploitation does not occur under the new program. 

The Commonwealth is also working with state and territory partners on options for national labour hire licencing to stamp out illegal behaviour.  

The workforce shortages in our agriculture sector are real and they are urgent. Unfortunately, state and territory quarantine capacity remains the key constraint to bringing workers into the country.

At the beginning of the pandemic, National Cabinet agreed state governments would manage the quarantine of international arrivals. It is imperative states and territories do much more to support their agriculture sectors by developing quarantine solutions in time for the implementation of the new visa.

* Dr Webster is the member for Mallee

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