The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) welcomes the Government’s review of the migration system, which represents a critical juncture that must be capitalised on to produce real and constructive changes, that consider the needs of the agriculture industry.
NFF Chief Executive Officer Tony Mahar said the industry had long called for a purpose-built migration system designed to meet its labour and skills demands, rather than the current mixture of haphazard solutions.
A key theme of the review has been a move away from temporary to permanent migration. Mr Mahar notes the NFF has strongly supported helping those who have made significant contributions to the industry, through the WHM or PALM programs, with pathways to permanent residency.
“If workers want to come and make a contribution to agriculture and regional communities, they deserve a pathway to call Australia home.
“We have also pushed for PALM workers’ efforts to be prioritised within the Pacific Engagement Visa.”
However, while pathways to permanent residency are encouraged, it shouldn’t be assumed that migrants want to stay permanently, and temporary schemes do benefit both employees and employers in many circumstances.
Mr Mahar said there was real concern among industry regarding the review’s recommendation to limit or even scrap the requirement for Working Holiday Makers to work on farm.
“While this measure was implemented to provide temporary relief to the industry, it has become an incredibly important source of seasonal labour for farmers.
“Abandoning this without an alternative visa stream in place would be a disastrous outcome, deepening the farm labour crisis at critical seasonal times.”
Other migration streams used by agriculture, such as the PALM, are also not designed directly for agriculture.
“Farmers can’t just carry the can for Australia’s diplomatic relations efforts. These concerns must be balanced with practical understanding of the workforce needs across the food and fibre supply chain.
“The PALM is also simply not relevant or accessible to smaller growers – any suggestions that is demonstrates a lack of understanding of the industry. The Federal Government reneging on its election commitment to support smaller growers by covering the worker’s upfront costs has only made this harder.”
Farmers continue to call for faster processing times of visa applications, which often leave them in limbo awaiting decisions on indefinite timelines. There must also be assurances that the Skilling Australians Fund (SAF) levy forked out upfront by employers is in fact being utilised to benefit the agricultural workforce.
The Review also recommended the system “allow temporary migrant workers to move from their current employment to find work with another employer within the same sector or job family”.
“The NFF is supportive of measures that will encourage increasingly mobile migrant workers without direct sponsorship arrangements so long as the employer’s upfront costs are protected,” Mr Mahar said.
The Review makes further note of how the “current migration system is undermining opportunities to strengthen ties in our region and explores ways this can be turned around”.
This is pertinent to Pacific nations concerns of ‘brain drain’ from the PALM scheme, with the scheme criticised for overdrawing skills and labour from these countries struggling with their own domestic labour market challenges.
Mr Mahar said the agriculture industry had long been in favour of expanding migration to countries beyond the Pacific, with many previously expressing an interest in participating in a dedicated Ag Visa.
“This review must produce purpose-built migration streams accessible to the agriculture industry, nothing less.”