Something that has been advocated loudly for by Member for Mallee, Anne Webster, is for the Federal Government to introduce an ‘Ag Visa’ to enable seasonal workers from more countries to come to Australia to fill the on-farm labor shortages in our region.
Dr Webster said that she is delighted that Minister for Agriculture the Nationals’ David Littleproud has negotiated with the Liberal Party to push for the Ag Visa.
“This is of course what we have wanted for some time and producers have been desperate for,” she said.
“I am over-the-moon that this has taken place. We now have 10 countries who will be able to opt into the Ag Visa. This will build on the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) which is already in place and has particular criteria around labour market testing.
“People can only come to registered farming businesses or labour hire companies, and the employment conditions will be as per the SWP and these obligations will be monitored and employment conditions enforced by the Fair Work Ombudsmen.
“It is a wonderful advancement, it’s certainly something I’ve pushed for in the seasonal worker policy I’ve developed and put up as a motion at the Federal Conference this year and it’s something I had as part of the Ag 2030 goal for the strategic workforce.”
Dr Webster said that the Indo-Pacific nations are already a part of the SWP, however the ASEAN countries which are the ones that have been excluded and has been a sore-point for farmers for a long time, will now be included.
“Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are all included and it will make a huge difference to our workforce going forward,” she said.
“Farmers have told me for some time that COVID has made life unbelievably difficult with the shortages in workforce.
“We still have COVID, but I take solace in the fact that South Australia for example, has setup the Paringa quarantine facilities, which have worked well for the Pacific labour group and seasonal workers and now what we need is Victoria and other states to approve quarantine measures for farmed labour.”
Dr Webster also commented briefly on the announcement that an ‘in principle’ Free Trade Agreement with the United Kingdom has been achieved after long negotiations, the news coming after Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, met with British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in London following the G7 summit.
Part of the negotiations will see the Australian government agreeing to scrap a requirement for British backpackers to pick fruit before extending their working holidays.
“The FTA with the UK can only be a good thing,” Dr Webster said.
“It’s critical, absolutely, it’s something that brings back the good old days of the 1970s and earlier, where we had that agreement with the UK and where we had young people travelling – going from one country to the other − there was open trade.
“Effectively we are the first country to set up an FTA with the UK and it’s a huge milestone for both countries. It will improve year-by-year as tariffs are eliminated and it will all increase overtime.”