The Morrison Government has missed its own deadline to create a jobs strategy for the agriculture sector, even as producers face a massive shortfall in labour.
Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon, said the third term Liberal/National Government promised a ‘National Agriculture Workforce Strategy’ by July 2020 and even set-up a National Agricultural Labour Advisory Committee to drive it.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the agriculture sector have faced workforce challenges for a number of years - the COVID crisis has exacerbated labour shortfalls because of travel restrictions.
“Former Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie promised a workforce strategy to build a sustainable labour base in the farming sector, and a workforce that can adapt to economic change,” said Mr Fitzgibbon. “We’re into the harvest season for a number of crops and farmers are wondering where they’ll find the workforce to get their produce to market, both now and for the rest of the year.”
Indeed, it was Scott Morrison, as Treasurer, who did a deal with the Greens in 2016 to make Australia less attractive to potential agricultural workers by imposing a backpacker tax that was higher than most developed countries, including New Zealand.
“Australia’s international backpacker arrivals have dropped by around 55,000 since the beginning of the year, and internal border closures and restrictions are adding further tension to this already chaotic system,” said Mr Fitzgibbon. “At the same time, we have an historically high and growing unemployment rate. This is why we need an Agriculture Workforce Strategy, a plan for matching the sector’s needs with a sustainable workforce.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said a vibrant agriculture sector was important for regional economies, food security and exports. While the National Farmers’ Federation had launched a jobs website to lure workers to the farm sector, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud’s comments about Australians being unwilling to “get off the sofa” and go and pick fruit were unhelpful, said Mr Fitzgibbon.
“It’s past time Minister Littleproud showed us his Agriculture Workforce Plan, rather than worrying about who’s sitting on the sofa. He must explain to the agriculture sector why his Government has missed its own deadline for a workforce strategy, right at the moment that farmers and associated industries need it.”