The National Farmers’ Federation is warning that changes to Australia’s migration settings coming into effect this Saturday could push food prices higher as farmers struggle to access workers to harvest produce.
NFF President Fiona Simson said the Government needed to urgently reverse a deteriorating workforce environment for farmers.
“This Saturday the starting gun fires on a swag of harmful changes coming to Australia’s migration system,” Ms Simson said.
1 July marks the following five milestones set to restrict a broad range of visa programs:
- a 25% increase in visa charges for Working Holiday Makers (making Australia up to 5 times more expensive than countries like Canada, New Zealand and Germany);
- inflexible hours, ‘Same Job Same Pay’ rules, and higher costs under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme (forcing farmers out of the scheme);
- a new wage threshold for temporary skilled migration which rules out 84% of agriculture workers without an alternative pathway;
- reintroduction of the cap on student visa working hours; and,
- the arrival of the first British backpackers who won’t be required to undertake specified regional work come 1 July 2024.
“It’s a recipe for deeper worker shortages. Every one of these measures makes it harder for people to come to Australia and contribute to our regions,” Ms Simson explained.
“Many of these proposals have been cheered on by a union movement desperate to halt temporary migration to regional Australia.
“The reality is every advanced economy relies on migrant workers for farm work. Australians just aren’t available and willing in sufficient numbers.
“The local workforce wasn’t there when unemployment was at 7.5%, and it’s certainly not there now we’re at 3.5%. By closing our doors to the world, all we’re doing is fuelling food prices.”
The NFF said the Government could not afford to sit back and watch the ACTU put Australia’s visa arrangements to the torch.
“At this point we’re begging the Government to do something. We’re witnessing a death by a thousand cuts to our workforce options, and there’s just no plan to make up the shortfall.
“It’s a shambles, and every policy misstep is just making it worse. Someone in the Government needs to step up and take some ownership. Work with industry to give us a visa pathway we can use.”
The NFF pointed to a languishing agreement with Vietnam as an easy win for the Government.
“Australia signed an agreement with Vietnam to send workers under the Ag Visa – an agreement this Government committed to honour despite axing that visa.
“Honouring that commitment to our partners in Vietnam, if it’s done quickly, might help mitigate some of this damage,” Ms Simson concluded.