Article by: Hari Yellina
Every government must make difficult trade-offs and concessions in order to achieve many goals, some of which will be in complete disagreement with one another. If you look at a budget at the state level, more access to healthcare must come at the price of education or another category. Potholes may be repaired at the expense of waste collection services in local government. The same will be applicable for whoever establishes the next federal government, where certain competing interests and agendas may be less clear to the untrained eye. Maintaining Australian dominance in the Pacific region and both the cost of fresh fruit domestically and our capacity to compete in export markets are two major developing but underrated conflicts.
We can speculate that lobbying by Pacific nations explains why the Foreign Minister took so long to sign up Southeast Asian countries for the new Australian Agriculture Visa, and why the ALP’s announcement of a proposed agriculture stream within existing Pacific labour programmes was buried among their commitments to the Pacific rather than as part of a cohesive agriculture platform. While government and industry have agreed that recruiting people from the Pacific to replenish the domestic workforce is a top priority, our neighbouring neighbours would plainly prefer we take it a step further and make it an exclusive partnership.
If that happens, the cost of countering Chinese influence in the region might be higher costs for fresh fruits and vegetables in local stores, as well as a more difficult challenge for Australian farmers in competitive export markets. Growcom advises the next federal government to avoid putting all of its eggs in one basket when it comes to securing our seasonal workforce in a world where we need as many friends as possible and where increased exports remain the most important way for the Australian and Queensland horticulture industries to grow.