Home / World News / Labor ‘breaks farmers’ hearts’ by announcing plans to ditch agriculture visa

Labor ‘breaks farmers’ hearts’ by announcing plans to ditch agriculture visa

Labor has “broken the hearts” of farmers hoping to attract skilled workers from South-East Asian countries by announcing it would axe the long-awaited agriculture visa before a single worker arrived under the scheme.

The Federal Opposition finally laid bare its stance on the nation’s agriculture visa this week after months of silence, confirming it would instead roll out a visa limited to workers from the Pacific Nations if elected on May 21.

The ag visa — for low and highly skilled workers — was announced to much fanfare on October 1 after trade negotiations with the UK led Canberra to remove a requirement for British backpackers to work on farms to extend their visas.

Before the pandemic, Australian farmers relied on the labour of up to 10,000 backpackers from the UK every year.

After months of refusing to share its stance on the visa, the Federal Opposition this week announced it would establish a new agriculture stream within the existing Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme, replacing the specific visa for forestry, fishery and farm workers announced by the Coalition last year.

Labor says it would also pay the up-front travel costs of Pacific workers travelling to Australia, allow Pacific workers to bring their families to live and work here, and promote permanent residency on a new Pacific Engagement Visa.

It is unclear if a Labor government would honour the MOU with Vietnam, which is the only country that has signed up to the scheme so far despite more than four months of negotiations.

International development shadow minister Pat Conroy announced Labor’s intentions for the visa in Darwin, rolling it into a broader announcement for more than $500 million in initiatives for the Pacific and Timor-Leste.

Shadow agriculture minister Julie Collins was not present, despite telling the National Press Club last week that farmers would be “very pleased” on Labor’s agriculture policies when they were eventually announced.

National Farmers Federation CEO Tony Mahar said Labor had “broken the hearts of farmers” with the announcement, by doing away with the “farmer-led” visa plan and disallowing industry to “cast a wider net” than the Pacific Nations for labour.

The new farm work visa was set to be offered to residents from 10 South-East Asian countries to help Australian farmers harvest their crops.

“The NFF and our members advocated for an Ag Visa for more than five years,” Mr Mahar said.

“The Australian Labor Party had a chance to demonstrate it had listened to farmers and was committed to a bright future for agriculture by backing the ag visa.

“Instead, Labor has turned its back on a chance to be part of a solution for the sector’s workforce crisis.”

Mr Mahar said Pacific workers were highly valued by Australian farmers but were already “well catered for” by the short-term seasonal worker program and the longer term Pacific Australia Labor Mobility Scheme.

“Labor buried its long-awaited position on the ag visa in a wide-ranging Pacific announcement made in Darwin,” he said.

Speaking from a Donnybrook apple farm on Tuesday, Federal Agriculture Minister Littleproud labelled Labor’s announcement a “retrograde step” and would simply extend the existing program with a “rename and rebadge”.

“They will limit the workers that can come to Australian agriculture to just Pacific Nations,” he said.

“We’ve said Australian agriculture needs more than that, it needs not just unskilled workers, it needs skilled and semi-skilled workers and that’s what the ag via provides.

“With Vietnam signed up… is Anthony Albanese going to go to the people of Vietnam and say sorry, even though you’re a sovereign country and you’ve signed up, we don’t want you.”

Mr Littleproud claimed the Australian Workers Union — which has been outspoken against the visa by claiming workers would be exploited — had been in Labor’s ear and would continue to “run agriculture” if elected.

“If they win, the AWU is going to be running Australian agriculture and just think about what that means for you and what that means for your family every time you go to the supermarket,” he said.

“This is a dangerous move by the Labor party.”

The AWU welcomed the move, saying Labor’s agriculture workforce policy contained a range of measures to secure the workforce Australian farms require, without “rolling out the welcome mat to more abuse and exploitation”.

“Employees will also have the right to change employer so they will no longer be accused of ‘absconding’ if they leave an exploitative employer,” AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said.

The NFF has campaigned for the Visa since 2016 to cater for low skilled to highly skilled farm workers from countries further afield than the Pacific.

About brandsauthority

Check Also

England lose international at Lords against India after controversial mankad incident for final wicket

India’s women’s team has sparked intense controversy over a dubious mankad incident to claim the …

%d bloggers like this: