Prime Minister Scott Morrison indicated support for the new Ag Visa program at the National Farmer’s Federation (NFF) Congress last week, but only on the condition that “hard data” was supplied.
The NFF Congress convened in Canberra to discuss the most important issues facing Australian farmers. In addition to discussions about drought and diversity in agriculture, a key theme was labour.
One of the major challenges facing the apple and pear industry is the availability of a committed and flexible workforce. One of the proposed methods of tackling this problem is the introduction of a new type of Visa designed to address the major concerns of the Ag industry. This so-called ‘Ag Visa’ would aim to offset the limitations and perceived inflexibility of both the Seasonal Workers Program and Working Holiday visa program. While the Seasonal Workers Program has been growing over the last couple of years, it is seen by many as an administrative nightmare, expensive due to upfront costs, and inflexible due to workers not being able to shift employers to ‘follow the work’.
The Prime Minister prefaced his enthusiasm for a new visa by saying: “We’ve never ever said we don’t think [the Ag Visa] is a good idea, but we have to go about it in the right way, and remember, it’s not a silver bullet,” the Prime Minister said.
To advance the new Ag Visa, the government said it would need growers to register their employment needs with the National Harvest Labour Information Service (NHLIS).
The NHLIS is the data-collection service and primary data source being used by the government to measure labour challenges in the agriculture sector.
APAL’s Head of Advocacy and Government Relations, Jeremy Griffith, attended the conference. He said that while he was pleased with the focus by the PM on addressing the sector’s labour challenges, he wanted to see the specific details of what is proposed in the Ag Visa and how it will manage the data collected.
“There are concerns that growers will feel their input has no real impact on the outcome, and therefore not participate,” he said.
“The government needs to factor this into its decision-making process.”
The Prime Minister said that if his call for data is satisfied, the new Ag Visa could be available in the “medium term”.