Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has lashed out at federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud’s new agriculture visa program, labelling it “a fantasy”.

Key points:

  • Victorian Premier says the federal government’s agriculture visa is “a fantasy” unless quarantine solutions are found
  • The new visa allows foreigners to work on Australian farms and will be in place from late next month
  • Worker shortages pre-date the pandemic and farmers have long called for a specific visa to attract workers to help harvest crops

The federal government says the new visa would allow foreigners to work on Australian farms as well as in forestry, meat-processing and fisheries.

However, it is not known which overseas countries will sign on, nor how soon the workers could arrive.

On Monday, Mr Littleproud told the ABC’s Victorian Country Hour that the availability of workers in time for the busy summer harvest would depend on the availability of quarantine facilities operated by the states and territories, but that workers were unlikely to arrive until at least the end of the year.

Mr Andrews shot back on Tuesday, with interest.

“The notion that there is unlimited capacity to quarantine people — no.” 

Mr Andrews said the states were not consulted ahead of the announcement.

“I don’t think any ag minister knew about this … at National Cabinet on Friday there was no mention of this at all,” he said.

A man with brown hair and glasses wearing a white shirt and dark striped tie

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says the new agriculture visa will benefit farmers.(

ABC News: Adam Kennedy

)

‘Vehicle to help farmers’

However, Mr Littleproud said the idea of flying in workers had been discussed with the states as an option to fix the worker shortage.

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“The scale of the need hasn’t changed since this was last discussed at National Cabinet in December, 2020, when premiers reaffirmed their desire to maintain control of quarantining,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Dan Andrews obviously understood the scale of Victoria’s requirements then, when he quantified his quarantine task after that meeting.

Mr Andrews said other options — such as having a travel bubble for Pacific Islander workers — would better suit. 

“I’ve said on more than one occasion at National Cabinet, there are a whole lot of Pacific Islands that, if only they had a slightly higher testing rates, they would be green countries,” Mr Andrews said.

“We could have a bubble with them and people could move here without having to be quarantined, but they are orange because their community testing is not high enough.” 

Travel bubble for workers

Mr Andrews said he had suggested processing Pacific Island country’s tests in Australia to the federal government, to lift those country’s testing numbers. 

“Why don’t we go and set up testing clinics in some of these countries? We’ve talked about all of these things,” he said.

A worker picks grapes at a vineyard.

Australia’s horticulture industry is supported yearly by a seasonal workforce.(

ABC News: Jessica Hayes

)

“This is not just about issuing visas and then handballing it to state governments who are apparently in charge of quarantine. It will always be limited by the number of quarantine spots we have.

“If not, this sort of grandstanding achieves nothing at all. They’re just words.” 

Mr Andrews said state and federal leaders should be focused on helping farmers rather than playing politics. 

“I’d encourage all of us to work together and not play silly political games because they don’t achieve anything,” Mr Andrews said. 

“I reckon farmers and regional communities have tried very hard to get locals or people from Melbourne to do some of this work.

A gloved worker picks fruit at a strawberry farm

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says there is not enough space in quarantine to support the federal government’s agriculture visa program.(

ABC: Kallee Buchanan

)

The federal government has touted the new agriculture visa as the biggest structural change to the farm workforce in the nation’s history.

It would supply much-needed overseas workers in the farming, fisheries, forestry and meat-processing sectors and could provide a pathway to permanent residency or regional settlement.

No countries or workers have yet signed up for the visa, and the current shortage of flights into Australia is also likely to be a hurdle for the program.

The worker shortage pre-dates the pandemic and farmers have long called for a specific visa that would attract workers to help harvest their crops.

Posted , updated 

Agriculture visa ‘a fantasy’ without quarantine solution
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