The New South Wales Farmers Association is calling on the state government to allow on-farm quarantine so the sector can bring in desperately needed workers for the grain harvest, meat works and horticultural crops.
- NSW, Victoria and Tasmania investigate on-farm quarantine to boost worker numbers
- On-farm quarantine may be too expensive
- Cherry and grain growers face second harvest without enough workers
Deputy Premier Paul Toole said finding more seasonal workers would be a priority for the new-look Coalition to ensure crops like cherries were not left to rot.
He said NSW, Victoria and Tasmania were looking at the option of bringing in foreign workers and quarantining them on farms.
But that approach is too expensive according to the NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall.
“It’s been incredibly costly and not used by industry because it’s actually cheaper in Queensland to bring them through the Brisbane hotel quarantine system.
“You have to have purpose-built facilities and cover the cost of state government authorities to do regular visits and inspections, Mr Marshall said.
The Queensland government has disputed that claim, however.
Figures from the office of Mark Furner, Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, indicate the cost of quarantine is between $1,000 and $4,000 depending on a wide range of factors, including local infrastructure, health requirements and location.
More than half of the 3,800 Pacific workers who have entered Queensland to work on farms and abattoirs have completed on-farm quarantine.
Pacific worker scheme no help to small farmers
NSW has chosen instead to subsidise the cost of hotel quarantine, but that isn’t helping Orange-based cherry grower Guy Gaeta.
His cherries have to be picked in five or six weeks and he has no-one on his books to harvest them.
Mr Gaeta needs 50 people for five or six weeks but he can’t use Pacific Islander workers or others coming in under the seasonal workers scheme.
“An agency … should be looking after the Pacific Islanders because they can move them around and give them six months’ work or more.”
So far, about 2,500 Pacific Islander workers have come into NSW — but the agriculture sector needs tens of thousands of people.
Border closures wreak havoc
Mr Gaeta wants the 417 visa reactivated.
That allows young Canadian, French and Irish travellers to extend their holiday in Australia if they do some work, but currently the international borders are closed.
Mr Gaeta can’t even get seasonal workers from other states due to COVID restrictions.
“We’ve got six pickers that come down every year from Queensland, [but] unless the borders are open they won’t come down because they won’t be able to get back into Queensland,” he said.
The cherry crop is looking pretty good at the moment but Mr Gaeta isn’t celebrating yet.
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