Article by: Hari Yellina
Labor has promised to restructure the scheme that promotes seasonal workers to come to Australia, but farmers have slammed the plan, claiming that it will put an end to the agricultural visa. Labor claims that if elected, it will solve Pacific economic concerns while also addressing Australia’s agricultural workforce needs. It proposes revising the seasonal worker programme of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme and expanding the Pacific Labour Scheme. Labor’s plan, which was unveiled in Darwin on Tuesday, includes a four-year agricultural visa under the PALM, as well as lower upfront payments for employers and a nine-month extension for seasonal workers.
Labor’s International Development and Pacific Spokesperson, Pat Conroy, said the amendments will also enable seasonal workers to bring their families to live and work in Australia. “These visas are valid for up to four years, and one of the reasons they haven’t received as much attention as we would have liked is that workers are unable to bring their families with them.” Mr Conroy claims that the current agricultural immigration programme is ineffective and has failed Australian farmers. “The agriculture visa will be included in the Pacific labour schemes,” he said. “The existing agricultural visa issued by the government is ineffective. Under the agricultural visa, not a single worker has entered the country.” Labor claims that its visa programme will allow 55,000 Pacific workers to enter the country after being pre-screened.
Mr Conroy claims that the current agricultural immigration programme is ineffective and has abandoned Australian farmers. “The agriculture visa will be included in the Pacific labour schemes,” he said. “The existing agricultural visa issued by the government is ineffective. Under the agricultural visa, not a single worker has entered the country.” Labor claims that its visa programme will allow 55,000 pre-screened Pacific workers to participate. The National Farmers’ Federation, on the other hand, has criticised the proposal. “Unfortunately, Labor has announced its plan to eliminate the farmer-developed ag visa today,” stated NFF CEO Tony Mahar.
According to the NFF, the agriculture visa will only exist in name and would be confined to workers from Pacific countries who are already adequately served by existing migrant programmes. Since 2016, the NFF has advocated for the visa to accommodate low-skilled to highly-skilled agriculture labourers from beyond the Pacific. The Australian Workers’ Union, which has been a vocal opponent of the ag visa, has praised Labor’s agriculture worker strategy. Rolling the “failed” agricultural visa into the more established PALM scheme, according to AWU national secretary Daniel Walton, would build on its success and boost ties with Pacific neighbours. “Australia doesn’t need an agriculture industry that deliberately ignores worker exploitation and abuse,” he added.
“We can continue to build our industry while maintaining Australian working standards on farms.” The Labor Party, according to federal agriculture minister David Littleproud, has “ripped up” the agricultural visa, which farmers sorely needed. “The Australian Workers’ Union has won and will put an end to any prospect of finding a long-term solution to agriculture’s labour workforce difficulties,” Mr Littleproud said. “With some fiddling around the borders of the Pacific Labour Mobility Program, Labor has announced today what is already in place.”