THE initial cost of recruiting Pacific workers would be covered by the government, not the farmers, the Labor Party has promised if elected.
The party announced its plan to address the agricultural labor shortage, which revolves around reforming and expanding existing seasonal and Pacific work programs.
A four-year agricultural visa would be established under Pacific Australia Labor Mobility, said the party’s agriculture spokesperson, Julie Collins, with “portability, strong oversight mechanisms and protections and rights for workers”.
“We will ensure that the Federal Government covers the initial travel costs of Pacific workers under the Seasonal Worker Scheme – costs which currently have to be borne by Australian farmers,” Ms Collins said.
“This will increase the attractiveness of the seasonal worker scheme for Australian farmers.”
It is understood that a Labor government would pay all but $300 of airfare to bring in a worker from the Pacific.
The reforms would also make it easier for Pacific workers to fill labor shortages by allowing Pacific Labor Scheme participants to bring family members to live and work in Australia and then hire them to stay in Australia. promoting permanent residency with a new Pacific Commitment visa.
The announcement is part of a broader policy aimed at strengthening ties between Australia and the Pacific Islands, as fears over China’s influence in the region grow.
Labor has yet to say whether the overhaul of Pacific programs will come at the cost of scrapping the government’s agricultural visa, which targeted Southeast Asian countries. So far, only Vietnam has registered and no workers have arrived at the farm yet.
Labor home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said her party had not seen details of the Vietnam deal because the government had kept them secret and did not know if it was ” of an agreement to conclude an agreement or if they had in fact signed a bilateral agreement”. .
“But let me be clear, we will of course honor any agreement,” Senator Keneally said.
“Once we see the details, we will work with Vietnam to make sure the deal they made is honored.”
Senator Keneally also said it would be “exactly the same visa” and “all that changes are the countries of origin”.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud was certain that if the coalition lost government, “here we go, Australian agriculture will lose an agricultural visa”.
Mr Littleproud said Labor’s policy was ‘just extending a program which we have already, renamed and rebadged’.
“They will limit the workers who can come into Australian agriculture to only Pacific countries,” Mr Littleproud said.
“We said Australian agriculture needs more than that. It doesn’t just need unskilled workers, but also skilled and semi-skilled workers, and that’s what the agricultural visa provides.”
National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar, who has been pushing for the current farm visa for low- and high-skilled workers for five years, said Labor had ‘broken the hearts’ of farmers and regional communities who fought against the stockpiling of labour.
He called the Labor Party’s pledge to keep the agricultural visa but change its source of workers a “tricky twist” that would keep the visa alive in name only.
“Pacific workers are highly valued by Australian farmers… [but] the lived experience of farmers across agriculture shows that PALM programs, however effective, do not adequately address the labor needs of farmers,” Mr. Mahar said.
“[Labor leader] Anthony Albanese told the NFF national conference two weeks ago that Labor would have a new, better solution. Instead, today we had more of the same coupled with an empty posture.
“Labour has turned its back on a chance to be part of a solution to the sector’s labor crisis.”
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The story of working to cover the costs of recruiting Pacific workers and creating an agricultural visa first appeared on Farm Online.