Labor has today broken the hearts of farmers and rural and regional communities battling workforce shortages, confirming it will not continue with the Ag Visa, despite tricky words to the contrary.
“Unfortunately, Labor has today confirmed its intention to do away with the farmer-developed Ag Visa,” NFF CEO Tony Mahar said.
“The NFF and our members advocated for an Ag Visa for more than five years. The Australian Labor Party had a chance to demonstrate it had listened to farmers and was committed to a bright future for agriculture by backing the Ag Visa. Instead, Labor has turned its back on a chance to be part of a solution for the sector’s workforce crisis.”
In tricky spin, Labor will keep the Ag Visa in name only, with the Visa to be limited to workers from Pacific nations.
“Pacific workers are highly valued by Australian farmers and are already well catered for by the short-term Seasonal Worker Program and the longer term Pacific Australia Labor Mobility Scheme.
“Today’s announcement is an insult to farmers and the rural communities in which they work and live, both in substance and form. Labor buried its long-awaited position on the Ag Visa in a wide-ranging Pacific announcement made in Darwin,” Mr Mahar said.
“Labor should have a policy on solving the farm labour crisis – a crisis which impacts each and every Australian at the supermarket checkout. Instead, this important issue has been reduced to a footnote in its Pacific Plan to play to the politics of the moment.
“Mr Albanese told the NFF National Conference two weeks ago, that Labor would have a new, better solution. Instead, today we got more of the same coupled with empty posturing.
“We couldn’t be more disappointed to see months of close engagement with Labor agriculture spokesperson Julie Collins and immigration spokesperson Kristina Keneally come to this.
Neither of these representatives were a part of today’s announcement in Darwin,” Mr Mahar said.
The NFF has campaigned for the Visa since 2016 to cater for low skilled to highly skilled farm workers from countries further afield than the Pacific.
“The lived experience of farmers across agriculture shows the PALM schemes, as effective as they are, do not adequately address farmer’s workforce requirements,” Mr Mahar said.
“We need a Visa that casts the net further. The NFF supported the Government’s focus on ASEAN nations and continues to encourage the expansion of the program to countries further afield to access the number of workers and diversity of skills needed.
“The NFF also continues to support initiatives to increase Australia’s domestic farm workforce, for example via leading the Government’s AgCAREERSTART Program.
“Farmers would always prefer to employ Australians but the reality is, for the foreseeable future, agriculture will rely on a combination of domestic and international workers.
“Labor’s non-Ag-Visa position as revealed today, unfortunately demonstrates a deaf ear when it comes to supporting farmers to access the workforce they need,” Mr Mahar said.