Farmers, foresters and the greater agriculture supply chain have applauded a commitment by National Cabinet today to develop a national Agricultural Worker Movement Code, following calls from the National Farmers’ Federation and state farming organisations.
Speaking after the meeting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said all states and territories had agreed to develop the Code within two weeks.
The NFF and leading state farming organisations, this week wrote to National Cabinet, urgently seeking a commitment to a national code to facilitate the safe interstate movement of agricultural workers, akin to that developed for the freight industry.
“Today’s announcement goes a long way to easing the angst felt by farmers, many who are right now, finding it difficult, if not impossible, to move across borders to check, feed and water livestock and to tend to crops,” NFF CEO Tony Mahar said.
“We value the importance National Cabinet has placed on finding a solution to the border restrictions.
“The NFF and our members look forward to working with the Commonwealth, states and territories over the coming fortnight to ensure the Code enables a safe and risk-based approach to the interstate movement of farm and forestry workers.”
The NFF also acknowledged a decision by the Queensland Government to extend the postcodes eligible for essential worker permits, but cautioned more detail was needed to determine the effectiveness of the extension.
Mr Mahar said the NFF understood the Agriculture Worker Movement Code would aim to articulate nationally consistent measures to be enforced by relevant states and territories through their Public Health Orders and emergency management measures and that it would apply to individuals with occupations deemed critical to ensure the continuity of the agricultural sector.
“It is also important that the Code acknowledges the different environment for agriculture where often workers are outdoors, able to self-isolate while not working and generally are in settings where social distancing is practiced.”
Mr Mahar said the agriculture and forestry sectors recognised the number one priority of governments must be to maintain the health of Australians and to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“However, all indications are that this virus and some associated precautions will be with us for many more months. It’s paramount now that governments shift from a crisis response to a more strategic, risk-based approach to safely managing the movement of people interstate, particularly for business, health and other essential purposes.
‘The heavy-handed restrictions, while apt for at the beginning of the pandemic, are now somewhat out of the step with the severity of the health problem.”
The NFF also welcomed the government’s announcement of plans to reduce international border restrictions on the operation of the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme.
“The sector is already starting to experience very serious seasonal worker shortages, and this could represent a very important part of the solution,” Mr Mahar said.
“Nonetheless, farms will have to continue encourage displaced Aussie workers into those roles, and look for other solutions.”
“We thank the Prime Minister, Agriculture Ministers and all state and territory leaders for today, working in the spirit of National Cabinet to find a pragmatic and safe solution to the farm and forestry sectors’ challenges,” Mr Mahar said.
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