16 January 2020
The Morrison Government’s lack of action to address the harvest labour shortages in the Mallee is completely inadequate and frustrating farmers.
In yesterday’s Sunraysia Daily, the Member for Mallee, Dr Anne Webster promised that there are hundreds of workers on their way, but the reality is this Liberal National Government has spent the last 18 months flip-flopping on its commitment to resolve the systemic labour shortage issues in the horticultural industry.
“Farmers are right to be sceptical of Dr Webster given this Government’s record of backflips and broken promises. Sadly, I doubt much will change for farmers this harvest season,” Senator Ciccone said.
In October 2018, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, promised to establish a dedicated agriculture visa.
In March 2019, the Prime Minister backflipped on this commitment only to be contradicted one month later by the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack.
After eight months of inaction, the Agriculture Minister, Senator Bridget McKenzie, further promised the industry that the Government would address the labour shortage by improving access to the Seasonal Worker Programme.
Now, in January 2020, the Member for Mallee is celebrating the arrival of just three seasonal workers to the region, suggesting the industry just waits to “see how it all plays out” this harvest season. “A mere three workers and more unfilled visa allocations are hardly something to celebrate when farmers face the prospect of valuable fruit rotting yet again this season due to a lack of workers to harvest,” Senator Ciccone said.
Appendix: A history of Government backflips on agriculture workers.
18 October 2018: Prime Minister promises agricultural visa
“Our government does support moving towards an agricultural visa. There has never been any question about that.”
March 2019: Prime Minister walks back commitment
“We already have one. It already works that way. This is just a semantic discussion about titles.”
30 April 2019: Deputy Prime Minister reiterates agricultural visa promise.
“When we are re-elected we will revisit it […]We just need to work out the best and most viable way to do it and we’ll get it done.”
19 November 2019: Minister McKenzie commits to solving labour shortages by extending the Seasonal Worker Programme
“This package is about getting the right labour at the right time at the right place.”
18 December 2019: Victorian Farmers Federation describes Dr Webster as out of touch with horticulturalists
“The industry is beyond frustrated with being ignored time and time again. We are well and truly over having programs and schemes pushed on to industry that do nothing to fix the issue. It is time for the government to sit down with industry and create a tailored solution to assist with a transition to compliance.”
15 January 2019: Dr Webster promises hundreds of workers to come through the Seasonal Worker Programme
“I think the critical point will probably come over the next month and we will just see how it all plays out.”