Australia’s peak national grain grower group is cautiously optimistic about the Federal Government’s announcement today of new details in the ongoing process to deliver an Agricultural Worker Visa.
Grain Producers Australia Chair, Andrew Weidemann, said he welcomed statements about the visa’s future operations; especially its ability to give farmers greater certainty with access to skilled workers from ASEAN countries and others such as the UK.
But he said whether it can make a genuine difference to the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Australia’s grain producers and the communities they support, remains to be seen.
“A critical issue facing Australian grain producers today is the supply of workers with the skill and experience needed to operate heavy machinery and meet surge capacity during peak periods such as harvest and seeding,” he said.
“Traditionally these workers have come from Northern Hemisphere countries such as Canada and Europe but the second year of COVID-19 travel restrictions has severely limited this option.
“We are yet to see any evidence that this new Agricultural Visa will support grain producers, especially in WA, who are facing serious labour shortages ahead of this year’s harvest.
“However, we are encouraged by positive statements from Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud that the Agricultural Visa is being designed to provide future access to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers, out of South East Asian countries.
“If this is the biggest structural reform to Australian agricultural labour in our nation's history, to grow agriculture and regional Australia, as boldly claimed by the Federal Government, it must deliver outcomes which serve the long-term needs of Australia’s grain farming businesses.”
Mr Weidemann said he noted statements made with today’s visa announcement that:
· The Federal Government will immediately commence industry consultations to understand needs across the agricultural sector.
· That the regulations to enable the creation of the Agricultural Visa will be in place by the end of September 2021.
· The visa’s operation will depend on negotiations with partner countries and these bilateral negotiations will start “straightaway”.
· And full conditions will be developed and implemented over the next three years, as the “demand-driven” visa is operationalised.
Mr Weidemann said GPA will also continue promoting short-term actions to help bolster the supply of local workers, such as connecting stood-down airline workers with farmers in need, or incentivising retirees and students, to help deliver this year’s harvest.
He said he also urged State and Federal Governments to work continue working cooperatively to ensure the movement and flow of farm workers between various jurisdictions, to where they’re needed most; especially cohesion with managing specific quarantine arrangements.
“With a forecast return of about $15 billion for grains, pulses and oilseeds this harvest, it’s critical we have the workers needed to optimise the value of this crop, to help support ongoing social and economic recovery from drought in many farming communities,” he said.