Horticulture is a vital industry in Mallee and it is essential there are “skilled workers on the ground for the upcoming harvest. It must be a priority for the federal government” says Dr Anne Webster, Member for Mallee. “We must find a solution to the issue of visas and workers quickly, so we can save this season’s crop”.
The industry is facing increased pressure from the new State Horticultural Award, and changes to Victorian Labour Hire Contractor laws and ongoing workforce shortages.
Last week Dr Webster met with producers in and around Swan Hill who have estimated $50million worth of produce could rot on farm, if something isn’t done to get workers into the region. While the government have made positive steps to address the issue with amendments to the visa program, a solution to the ongoing workforce problem is imperative, in order to avoid, “putting at risk an estimated $1billion horticulture industry, which is unacceptable”.
Since being elected in May, Dr Webster has been calling on Australian Government Ministers to come to the region and look at this issue first hand. In the last fortnight both the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and the Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie have been on the ground in Mallee talking with local producers and councils to seek to understand the severity of the risks.
In addition, Dr Webster has raised this vital issue with;
- Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne,
- Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs David Coleman,
- Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family business Michaelia Cash,
- Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton,
- Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster, and Emergency Management, David Littleproud,
- Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan and
- Minister for Education Dan Tehan.
These Ministers “are hearing from me that we must find a resolution to this issue quickly”. In addition Dr Webster will be presenting the issue to the Prime Minister next week.
‘There are positive steps that have been taken such as the Prime Minister’s announcement of intake increases to the Working Holiday Visa for Vietnam from 100 to 1100. This is in addition to the increases which began on July 1 2019, with the intake from Singapore increasing from 500 to 2500 and Malaysia from 100 to 1100. However, Dr Webster says the Government ‘needs to be doing more to ensure workers are available in our key horticultural areas in time for this harvest season’.