Article by: Hari Yellina
In his new portfolio, the new agricultural minister has identified labour shortages, biosecurity, and “skyrocketing” input prices as short-term issues. Murray Watt, in his first big speech as minister, told a horticulture conference in Brisbane that his longer-term interests were climate change, sustainability, and increasing the value of agriculture. “I can already tell that the personnel, biosecurity, and input costs are the three most pressing short-term issues… We’re working on it… and I’m open to suggestions “Senator Watt made the statement on Wednesday. He acknowledged that farmers are on the front lines of climate change and that they may profit from the opportunities that exist in agriculture “to make a buck out of making climate change adjustments.”
While he is not a farmer, he informed over 1000 producers that “farming is in my blood” and that his family has a long history with agriculture. “I’d like to think of myself as someone who is equally at home in the city as the countryside,” he remarked. The Queensland senator told the full gathering that he understood the horticulture industry’s present labour shortage was a major worry. “It’s certainly the single most significant concern facing hort in our country right now,” he said. Before the election, Labor has pledged to replace the coalition’s “agricultural visa” with an expansion of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme.
He wants to put an emphasis on agricultural training and employment for Australians. “I’m really open to talking to the industry about what else we can do in terms of skilled migration in particular to meet some of the issues we’re seeing,” he said. Senator Watt met with a number of growers at the conference, including the CEO of Fresh Select, one of Australia’s leading vegetable producers and suppliers. John Said encouraged the minister to change his stance on the farm visa, claiming that expanding the PALM scheme was insufficient. He stated, “We remain hopeful that something can be done.” “When it comes to qualified individuals and the chance for some of those potential immigrants to work in agriculture, I believe an ag visa is vital.”
“I’m sure (Senator Watt) will hear the same message from many of the people he’ll meet today… we need an ag visa.” When asked if the farm visa will survive, he told AAP that it would not. “My objective is to fulfil our election commitments, and we stated that the ag visa would not be extended.” “It was a failure… we believe that expanding PALM is a better option… That, I understand, is a part of the solution.” “We’ll surely have an agricultural visa stream in the Pacific labour system since we’re remodelling it,” he told AAP. “We stated we’d honour the Vietnam deal.” On Tuesday, the new minister made his first visit to a cotton farm near Emerald in central Queensland.