IN AN attempt to address the seasonal worker shortage in Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced that the Government would allow 1500 Pacific Islanders into Victoria after quarantining in Tasmania.

The news is likely to be cold comfort for the grape growers in Sunraysia who recently expressed their concerns with the lack of available workers due to the absence of the usual backpacker workforce.

But with huge gaps in the workforce remaining, Victoria’s Agriculture Minister, Mary-Anne Thomas, has called for the Federal Government to provide JobSeeker support for short-term farm workers.

Under the deal, announced after last week’s national cabinet meeting, Tasmania will quarantine the 1,500 workers for two weeks before they are allowed onto Victorian farms.

In exchange, Victoria will take Tasmania’s 330-person commitment for returned travellers in Melbourne hotels.

Minister Thomas said she expected the workers to be on farms by the end of next month, pending visa approval. While she said the deal would be welcomed by growers, she said there was still “more to be done”.

“I call on the Federal Government to expedite processing of visas for these workers so that we can get our Pacific Island neighbours on-farm as soon as possible,” Minister Thomas said.

Workers from Pacific nations, which are are considered a lower COVID-19 risk than other countries, do regular farm work in Australia under the Pacific Labour Mobility scheme and Seasonal Worker program. In usual times more than 3,000 Pacific Islanders would be on hand to harvest crops.

Walsh slams the Premier’s plan

Victorian deputy Opposition Leader, Peter Walsh was scathing of the Premier, citing the situation with tennis players coming into Australia for the Australian Open.

“In contrast, Daniel Andrews has prioritised 1200 players and staff for February’s Australian Open,” Mr Walsh said.

“Our growers needed these workers months ago, but the Andrews Government has confirmed workers will only be made available “over the first half of 2021”.

“There’s still no detail on how much of the bill the agriculture industry will be forced to foot, raising serious questions as to the viability of Labor’s long overdue announcement.”

Mr Walsh said the premier could have adopted industry’s proposal in October last year to quarantine workers at a purpose-built facility in Mildura, instead he has arrogantly denied farmers the workers they desperately needed.

“Labor has risked our $8.5 billion horticulture industry, despite finding a way to open our state to a tennis tournament that brings in $387 million,” he said.

“Industry is predicting a further eight-week wait for these workers to actually arrive in Victoria, meaning more growers will have to make the heartbreaking decision to destroy their livelihood or leave high-quality fruit and vegetables to rot.

“Farmers who have already been forced to watch a year’s work ploughed into the ground aren’t celebrating this announcement – they’re demanding an explanation of why Daniel Andrews didn’t act sooner.”

Daniel Andrews has said the agreement was a critical step towards filling the workforce gap. “This arrangement isn’t a silver bullet in addressing this season’s challenges, but it will ease some of the pressure being felt by farmers,” the Premier told the media.