Article by: Hari Yellina
If elected, Labor has promised that the government, not farms, would fund the upfront costs of inviting over Pacific labour. The party unveiled its strategy for addressing the agricultural labour deficit, which entails revamping and enhancing existing Pacific and seasonal labour programmes. According to Julie Collins, the party’s agriculture spokesman, a four-year farm visa would be formed under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Act, with “portability, effective supervision systems, and protections and rights for employees.” “Under the Seasonal Worker Program, we would ensure that the federal government covers upfront travel costs for Pacific employees, which are presently covered by Australian farmers,” Ms Collins said. “This will make the Seasonal Worker Program more appealing to Australian farmers.”
The Labor government, it is understood, would cover all but $300 of the flight fares to bring a Pacific worker over. The amendments would also make it simpler for Pacific workers to fill underemployment by allowing Pacific Labour Scheme participants to bring family members into Australia to live and work, and then engage them to stay by pushing legal residency on a new Pacific Engagement Visa. As concerns about China’s influence in the region mount, the statement is part of a broader policy aimed at strengthening ties between Australia and the Pacific Islands. Labor has yet to say whether the upgrading of Pacific programmes will come at the expense of the government’s Ag Visa, which is aimed for Southeast Asians.
Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman, Kristina Keneally, claimed her party had not seen the contents of the pact with Vietnam because the government had kept them hidden, and that she didn’t know whether it was an “agreement to have an agreement” or a “bilateral agreement.” Senator Keneally stated, “But let me be clear, we will of course honour any arrangement.” “Once we’ve read the facts, we’ll work with Vietnam to ensure that the deal they’ve struck is upheld.” Senator Keneally further stated that it would be the same visa with the source countries changing. “It’s gone, Australian agriculture will lose an ag visa,” Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said if the Coalition lost power.
Labor’s strategy, according to Mr Littleproud, is “just extending a plan we already have, renamed and rebadged.” Mr Littleproud stated, “They will limit the labourers who can come to Australia agricultural to only Pacific nations.” “We’ve already stated that Australian agriculture requires more. It requires not only unskilled labour, but also skilled and semi-skilled labour, which the ag visa supplies.” Tony Mahar, the chief executive of the National Farmers Federation, who has been campaigning for the current low-to-high skilled ag visa for five years, said Labor had “torn the hearts” of farmers and rural towns struggling with labour shortages.
He dismissed Labor’s commitment to preserve the agricultural visa but modify the source of workers as “tricky spin” that would merely keep the visa alive in name. “Pacific workers are highly valued by Australian farmers…. [but] the PALM programmes, as effective as they are, do not fully fulfil farmer’s manpower requirements,” Mr Mahar said. “Two weeks ago, [Labor leader] Anthony Albanese informed the National Federation of Families’ National Conference that Labor would have a fresh, better alternative. Instead, we got more of the same today, along with false rhetoric. “Labor has squandered an opportunity to contribute to a solution to the sector’s workforce dilemma.”