National Farmers' Federation

Rudderless PALM on the road to ruin

The NFF Horticulture Council has today rung the alarm bells loud and clear that the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme is now heading toward calamity. 

Consultation has just closed on a series of dramatic changes to the rules and requirements placed on employers that will see many of them walk away from the scheme.  

And the national peak horticulture body is attributing its troubling trajectory to a lack of ownership and direction from the highest levels of government. 

Horticulture Council spokesperson Rachel Chambers said it was increasingly clear relevant ministers aren’t working together to ensure the scheme meets the long-terms interests of the Pacific and Australian industries it’s meant to serve.  

“Farmers are increasingly frustrated that no senior minister is effectively accountable and taking responsibility for fixing the PALM. 

“Instead, we have buck passing and finger pointing across portfolios, and farmers and pacific nations both becoming increasingly dissatisfied with how the PALM is run.” 

Ms Chambers said changes to scheme proposed through consultation and now likely to come into effect risked a mass exodus of participants. 

“We’ve warned for years against putting all our eggs in the PALM basket, given how challenging it is for small businesses to engage with. 

“Now, instead of making it easier for small business, we have a suite of changes that would effectively lock them out of the PALM. 

“Most alarmingly, some of these changes appear to be a proxy for wider ideological industrial relations reforms and fulfilling a shopping list of demands from the union movement. 

“From the outside, it appears that the ACTU is running the show, making decisions which will send the PALM into meltdown and damage our ties in the Pacific. 

“Australia’s Pacific diplomacy is being outsourced to the ACTU and they’re botching it big time.”   

Members of the Council are reporting that employers within the scheme, both long-term participants and those who’ve joined recently due to COVID workforce shortages, have taken a look at the proposed changes to the scheme Deed and Guidelines due to be enforced from next month and are readying to walk away. 

“The dramatic growth in the PALM scheme over the COVID period, in the absence of any other labour options, has clearly given the government the very false sense that they can saddle up employers with ever greater burdens”, said Richard Shannon, Executive Officer to the Council.  

“The return of backpackers to pre-COVID numbers has not gone unnoticed by employers. Growers are readying themselves to walk away in big numbers. 

“We also don’t want to damage Australia’s relationship with Pacific through a mass exodus of farms from the program, but at this point we’d have to encourage farmers to explore their options carefully. 

“Instead of the Albanese Government enforcing existing standards within the PALM scheme by stamping out rogue labour hire employers and penalising employers who engage PALM workers outside of the program guidelines, the lazy approach here has been to simply increase the administrative burden on compliant employers. 

“We’re encouraging all impacted parties, growers and workers alike, to write formally to government to put on the record our dismay at these proposed changes. 

“PALM has an essential part to play in our labour supply mix and is now too important to fail. So, someone has to step up and chart a reasonable path forward, that strikes a better balance between the competing interests in the PALM scheme, otherwise it will continue on a road to ruin.”