A des­per­ate call for new ag visa

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - News - Na­talie Kot­sios and Kate Dowler news@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

AN IN­CREAS­INGLY des­per­ate hor­ti­cul­ture sec­tor is warn­ing the Fed­eral Govern­ment it risks the fu­ture of the en­tire in­dus­try if there is no so­lu­tion to its labour short­age woes.

Grow­ers fear they will strug­gle to find enough work­ers for the sea­son, with hopes of an agri­cul­ture­spe­cific work visa fad­ing fast.

Na­tion­als leader Michael Mc­Cor­mack and Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud have both backed away from their ear­lier com­mit­ments to have the visa in place this sea­son, in the face of op­po­si­tion from their Lib­eral part­ners.

Both in­sist the Govern­ment is still con­sid­er­ing its op­tions. But a full ag visa is look­ing in­creas­ingly less likely, with in­di­ca­tions grow­ing of a fu­ture re­gional visa in­stead – which in­dus­try ar­gues will still not fit agri­cul­ture’s unique needs.

“My fear is this is go­ing to be­come a politi­cised is­sue once again, and they (the Govern­ment) will start play­ing pol­i­tics in­stead of get­ting fruit and veg har­vested,” VFF hor­ti­cul­ture pres­i­dent Emma Ger­mano said.

“We still need a so­lu­tion – noth­ing has changed in the sys­tem, it’s only get­ting tighter.”

At a min­i­mum, in­dus­try wants to see a trial visa this com­ing sea­son, or for the ex­ist­ing visa sys­tem to be tweaked to:

■ Open the sea­sonal worker pro­gram to more coun­tries;

■ Al­low for porta­bil­ity of work­ers un­der the sea­sonal worker pro­gram, rather than ty­ing them to one farm; and

■ Scrap­ping rules that stop work­ing hol­i­day-mak­ers from stay­ing at one em­ployer for longer than six months.

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