The WA government has admitted a plan to bring in skilled overseas farm workers in time for the state’s biggest-ever harvest has failed. 

Key points:

  • A lack of quarantine facilities has thwarted a plan to bring in skilled overseas workers
  • The severe worker shortage is threatening to derail WA’s biggest-ever harvest
  • The WA government says it is exploring other avenues to mobilise for the harvest

The sector had been crying out for the specialised workers to assist with a projected 20-million-tonne record harvest.  

WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan has told ABC’s Country Hour it will not happen. 

“It has just proved too difficult to do this unilaterally as a single state,” she said.

“We have tried to make this work, but we have got a pandemic and look, we’re pulling out every other stop that we can to mobilise for this harvest.”

Harvesting wheat at Meckering WA.

WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the government was pursuing other avenues to try and get ready for the harvest. (

Audience submitted.

)

Plans to quarantine workers fall over due to ‘clash of priorities’

The workers would have been used to drive combine harvesters. 

The government had attempted to work with the Commonwealth to bring them in via quarantine on Christmas Island.

Then there was a proposal to use Bladin Village in the Northern Territory. 

Ms MacTiernan said this ran into trouble because of an apparent clash of priorities. 

She said private providers had been “reluctant” to provide the necessary information around the facilities because they were also “working apparently with the Commonwealth who has got another project that will kick in later”.

She said the projected cost was about $15,000 per worker. 

A bumper year for WA grain farmers

The skilled workers would have been used to drive combine harvesters. (

Brooke King, Lake Grace

)

Ms MacTiernan said there was a concern about people coming into WA, even if they were fully vaccinated.

She rejected a suggestion that Rottnest Island would have been a good option and said providing quarantine facilities was primarily a federal government responsibility. 

“I think perhaps if we’d been able to have a more mature conversation with the Commonwealth, perhaps we could’ve done it.”

‘Our job was to stamp the visas’, says federal minister

But the Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has blamed the WA government.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the states had agreed to take ownership of this issue with the federal government to “stamp” the visas.(

ABC News: Matt Roberts

)

“We’ve tried to help Western Australia,” he said.

“From the start of this pandemic, the states have said they wanted to control this and in December, there was a reaffirmation that the premiers would write to the prime minister with the arrangements that they would put in place in their individual states.

“And we would simply write back stamping the visas of those that they wanted to bring in.

“And they’ve let the nation down.”

WA’s ‘focus’ on mining left agriculture industry out in the cold’

WA’s Shadow Agriculture Minister Colin de Grussa said the sector had been let down at a great cost.

A politician wearing a suit and tie addresses media outside parliament house

Shadow Agriculture Minister Colin de Grussa said there were at least 100 workers ready to come into WA to help with the harvest.  (

ABC News: David Weber

)

“We’ve been talking about this since COVID first came into Western Australia, as has industry,” he said.

“Constantly raising it with government to try and find a solution, and they simply don’t want to do it.

Mr de Grussa said he believed the state government had been too focused on the mining industry.

“I think the sad fact is that the premier does not understand agriculture in this state,” he said.

“And I don’t think the Agriculture Minister actually is able to get in his door and tell him how important this industry is in this state.”

There were at least 100 workers, he said, who were ready to come in and all they needed was somewhere to quarantine.

Posted , updated 

Plan to bring in overseas workers for WA’s biggest-ever grain harvest falls over
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