Kyabram Free Press

Region faces summer fruit picker shortage

- By Myles Peterson

The Kyabram region runs the risk of facing fruit picker shortages again in the looming summer picking season unless Victorian Government's COVID-19 restrictio­ns are changed, according to state Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell.

Taking to the floor of the Victorian Parliament, Ms Lovell criticised the practice of quarantini­ng overseas pickers in Tasmania under the Pacific Islander Labour Scheme.

“Last year the Andrews Labor Government ignored warning from the horticultu­re industry of the impending labour shortage and growers lost millions of dollars’ worth of unpicked fruit as a result,” she said.

“I call on the government to act quickly by allowing overseas workers to complete their quarantine here in Victoria, so they are ready to commence work on our farms in December.”

Orchardist and member of Fruit Growers Victoria Peter Hall agreed, stating one solution was to quarantine pickers on the farms where they worked, isolated from the regional community.

“We need to follow the lead of the other state government­s and provide in-state quarantine facilities, and potentiall­y allow workers to be quarantine­d on farm. People who come here want to work and have a high rate of compliance,” Mr Hall said.

The past practice of quarantini­ng in Tasmania had added between 20 to 30 per cent to the cost of labour hire for orchardist­s and delivered workers too late in the season, according to Mr Hall.

“After nearly two years, we should have had this sorted out. It’s completely fear driven,” he said.

While the Federal Government had been initially slow to respond when the virus outbreak struck, it implemente­d the right policies to supply overseas workers, according to Mr Hall, and last year’s season had proved that local unemployed workers were not willing to fill the gap.

But Victoria was an outlier, with its state government refusing to quarantine the available workforce locally, he said.

As an agricultur­al region, Kyabram and surrounds are important to the state’s economy, according to Ms Lovell.

“Kyabram has traditiona­lly been a vital part of our industry. Kyabram and the Goulburn Valley are the food bowl of the nation and we need the right measures in place both now and when the pandemic is over so we can start to grow our industries again,” she said.

 ??  ?? State Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell has criticised the Victorian Government over its fruit picker quarantine policies, claiming local industry will be damaged again this summer picking season unless the rules are changed.
State Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell has criticised the Victorian Government over its fruit picker quarantine policies, claiming local industry will be damaged again this summer picking season unless the rules are changed.
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