In a monumental commitment, the Federal Government has delivered on the National Farmers’ Federation’s long called-for Agriculture-specific Visa (Ag Visa) to provide real long-term workforce relief to Australian farmers.
“The NFF has been unrelenting in its call to Government for the introduction of an Agriculture-specific Visa to give farmers access to the workforce they need,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.
“Today, thanks to the leadership and commitment of Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, NFF’s calls have been answered. This is a significant step towards solving the farm sector’s enduring workforce crisis with a bespoke visa designed to meet the industry’s many and varied skill needs.
“There will be a sigh of relief from farmers from the very northern tip of our country to those in the most southerly parts of Tasmania.”
The Ag Visa, as announced by Minister Littleproud, will widen the recruitment opportunities for an uncapped number of low to highly skilled workers from ASEAN countries. The NFF believes negotiations are well under way to extend the visa to other countries. The visa will be operational from 30 September 2021.
“The start date is extremely good news for farmers across the nation who are right now struggling to know how they will harvest, pick and pack this year’s crop,” Ms Simson said.
“The onus is now on state and territory governments and their chief health officers to approve quarantine arrangements to safely house incoming foreign workers.
“We recognise the development of joint state, territory and Commonwealth quarantine facilities such as the Bladin Village in the Northern Territory, where workers will quarantine before heading to Western Australian to help with this year’s forecast record grain harvest. We hope to see more collaborations like this in the very near future,” Ms Simson said.
The idea of an Ag Visa was conceived by the NFF and its members in 2016. Prime Minister Morrison first expressed his support for the visa at NFF’s National Conference in 2018.
“There is no question an inadequate workforce is a hand-break to agriculture’s growth and to the prosperity of the regional communities who depend on the farm sector,” Ms Simson said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus, farmers’ reliance on an international workforce, particularly during the peak seasonal work periods.
“Farmers would always prefer to employ local workers, but the reality is agriculture depends on a combination of domestic and international labour.
“The Seasonal Workers Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme are very positive programs that are well utilised by large fruit and vegetable farms. We expect both these programs will continue to grow and deliver on their mission to strengthen ties with our Pacific neighbours. However, the costs involved and the requirement to provide many months of work to sponsored workers, mean they don’t suit most farms.
“A bespoke Ag Visa, tailored to meet the labour requirements of farmers, will allow family farmers, which make up the lion’s share of Australian agriculture, to recruit the workers with the skills they need, for the time they need them. It will be flexible enough to evolve to suit the operations of all most all commodities including grain, wool, dairy, pork, fishing, forestry, fruit and vegetables.
“To be most effective the visa must allow workers to move between farms based on work demand,” Ms Simson said.
“Solving agriculture’s worker deficit is of paramount importance to agriculture achieving a farm gate output value of $100 billion by 2030 and a key component of NFF’s 2030 Roadmap.
“We thank Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud for his dogged commitment to NFF’s Agriculture Visa and the Government’s consultation with the NFF and the wider industry to arrive at today’s landmark outcome. We look forward to continuing to work together towards the operation of an Ag Visa by 30 September 2021.
“During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, agriculture continues to be the engine room of the economy. Farmers have not missed a beat in keeping supermarket shelves stocked in support of all Australians.
“We hope farmers across the country can expect the full support of the Australian Parliament in making the Ag Visa a reality,” Ms Simson said.