As the federal government confirms a new visa allowing foreigners to work on Australian farms will be in place from late next month, is New South Wales ready for those willing to come?

Key points:

  • A new visa allowing foreigners to work on Australian farms will be in place from late next month 
  • There will be no cap on the number of overseas workers to enter the country and processing the labourers will be each state’s responsibility
  • Unlike other states, New South Wales has no alternative processing system besides hotel quarantine in place

The state is already dealing with its highest numbers of COVID-19 cases as well as outbreaks in multiple remote and regional communities.

New South Wales’s hotel quarantine system is still processing Australians returning home from overseas, along with workers included in the Pacific Labour Scheme, who are only asked to pay half the price.

On top of that, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said there would not be a limit on the number of overseas workers coming into the country.

“It’ll be demand-driven, so there are no caps on this,” he said. “It’ll come down to the bilateral negotiations that will take place now.

“We’re trying to accelerate those [agreements] with countries that we have longstanding immigration relationships with, such as [the] Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam.”

How will quarantine hold up?

Mr Littleproud said it was up to the states to work out how they handled their quarantine arrangements.

A number of states have been trialling new quarantine methods and facilities to prepare to process more people coming in.

“In Queensland, they have done on-farm quarantining. In Victoria, they’ve got Tasmania to quarantine for them. In South Australia, they created their own facility to bring in 1,200 [workers],” he said.

There has been no word on whether additional quarantine facilities or methods were being put in place in New South Wales.

State Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall previously said the government was committed to subsidising quarantine costs for workers.

About 2,000 workers have already been processed under the scheme, at a cost of $3million, and there is another $6m available to continue.

There is also concern that Australians wanting to return home will be displaced by foreign workers under this new scheme.

That would not happen, Mr Littleproud said.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says It will be up to each state to determine how they will process incoming overseas workers.(

ABC News: Matt Roberts

)

Commonwealth ready to help

New South Wales senator Perin Davey said the federal government had provided support to states with feasible ideas for quarantining. 

“The federal government is looking at federal quarantine facilities where states have brought forward ideas,” Ms Davey said.

Areas such as Tamworth and Wagga Wagga have been flagged as potential regions that could provide a quarantine facility, however, Ms Davey said they would have to be within close proximity to an international airport and a tertiary medical facility to be considered.

“My first thought is [those centres are] too far from an international airport because you’d have to look at bussing people from their landing ground to a regional community,” she said.

A woman with suitcases outside a hotel, with a man and a woman in hi-vis vests behind her.

Sydney’s hotel quarantine is still processing Australian citizens returning home from overseas. (

AAP Image: Joel Carrett

)

Workers needed 

Mr Littleproud said foreign farm workers were desperately needed, with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Research, Economics and Sciences (ABARES) indicating to the government that there would be around a 30,000-person shortfall in horticultural workers by March, 2022.

“And that doesn’t take into account the other agricultural sectors, such as grain, beef and dairy and the meat-processing sector,” Mr Littleproud said.

Mr Littleproud said the jobs for foreign workers were market-tested, so Australians would get the first crack at any available jobs. However, he said, farmers could not wait any longer for support on their farms.

“Farmers have been patient [waiting for workers], but they can wait no longer. When they need to get their crop off … they need to have someone there to help them.”

Local and foreign workers picking blueberries off bushes on a farm.

Thousands of Pacific Islander workers are in the Coffs Coast region working on the blueberry harvest.(

ABC Lismore: Kim Honan

)

Berries Australia’s executive director, Rachel Mackenzie, said that getting a good supply of agricultural workers from overseas would actually generate permanent jobs for Australians.

“Fundamentally, if you can’t pick and pack, you don’t have a business. But once you have a successful business, that’s where you can employ people in a range of roles, from supervisors to truck drivers.”

There are currently around 2,000 Pacific Islander workers in the Coffs Coast area ahead of the region’s blueberry harvest.

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Can NSW hotel quarantine cope with more overseas workers?
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