Member for Mallee, Dr Anne Webster, left is pictured with Senator Bridget McKenzie, and CEO Citrus Australia, Nathan Hancock, during Senator McKenzie’s recent visit to the area. Dr Webster is calling on the government to do more to address labour hire issues facing the region.

THE Federal Member for Mallee has stepped up her campaign to have a solution found to the seasonal worker shortages affecting grower’s abilities to harvest their crops.

“Horticulture is a vital industry in Mallee, and it is essential that there are skilled workers on the ground for the upcoming harvest,” Dr Webster said.

“It must be a priority for the Federal Government. We must find a solution to the issue of visas and workers quickly, so we can save this season’s crop.”

The industry is facing increased pressure from the new State Horticultural Award, and changes to Victorian Labour Hire Contractor laws and ongoing workforce shortages.

Last week Dr Webster met with producers in and around Swan Hill who have estimated $50million worth of produce could rot on farm if something isn’t done to get workers into the region. 

“While the government have made positive steps to address the issue with amendments to the visa program, a solution to the ongoing workforce problem is imperative to avoid putting at risk an estimated $1billion horticulture industry, which is unacceptable,” Dr Webster said.

Since being elected in May, the new Member for Mallee has been calling on Australian Government Ministers to come to the region and look at this issue first-hand. 

Both the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and the Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie have been on the ground in Mallee recently talking with local producers and councils to gain an understanding of the severity of the risks.

In addition, Dr Webster has raised the issue with a number of Ministers in relevant portfolios to heighten awareness of the issue being faced by growers in Mallee.

“These Ministers are hearing from me that we must find a resolution to this issue quickly,” she said. 

In addition to this, Dr Webster will be presenting the issue to the Prime Minister next week.

During the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Vietnam, Australia announced that it was expanding the number of ‘Work and Holiday Maker’ visa places available to young Vietnamese, which will see the annual intake increase from 200 to 1500 a year.

Immigration Minister David Coleman said Work and Holiday visa-holders engaged in cropping, horticulture and livestock jobs in regional Australia would become eligible for a second and third visa to extend their stay for up to three years.

“The increase was mutually beneficial for Australia and Vietnam,” Mr Coleman said. “Demand for the Work and Holiday visas from Vietnamese nationals has been strong since the agreement began in 2017, with all 200 places allocated in the past two program years.”

This announcement comes in addition to the increases which began on July 1 this year, which will see the intake from Singapore increasing from 500 to 2500, and Malaysia from 100 to 1100. 

While this is good news, Dr Webster says the Government needs to do more to ensure workers are available in our key horticultural areas in time for this harvest season.