School leavers and university graduates who take a gap year on an Australian farm to pick fruits and vegetables could get a university loan discount under a bipartisan parliamentary inquiry.
Liberal, Nationals, and Labor members of the committee proposed a “Gap Year at Home” (pdf) to address the urgent labour shortages for the upcoming harvest season as a result of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.
The pandemic has dramatically reduced the number of migrant and seasonal workers who typically pick up 60 percent of the fruit and vegetables on Australian farms.
National Farmers’ Federation Chief Executive Tony Mahar said in a media release that farmers across the board were very concerned about the workforce shortages given the lack of overseas holiday workers.
The number of working holidaymakers plummeted from approximately 150,000 at the start of the year to 70,000 in June 2020.
Mr Mahar said doing more to attract Australians to farm jobs must be a part of agriculture’s workforce solution.
“We know the part-time and seasonal nature of some farm work, doesn’t suit everyone. However, we urge job seekers to keep an open mind about what’s on offer. They may be surprised about how much they can earn in agriculture and horticulture, in some cases, up to $1000 per week,” he said.
The scheme is to not only help with the labour shortage but also give young people “a greater sense of their own country, the chance to meet Australians from other parts of the country and the opportunity to learn more about industries which are vital to our national prosperity,” said the report.
“We have too many people who have seen Berlin before they’ve seen Bundaberg,” Committee Chair Julian Leeser said.
The committee also recommended that the government provided Australians with a one-off payments to help with accommodation and moving expenses to incentivise the shift to regional Australia.
They also suggested fruit pickers be allowed to keep their JobSeeker payments on top of farm payments.
The JobSeeker payment will be cut to $815 a month from September 25.
Alternatively, school leavers could also be given a discounted rate of HECS/HELP to facilitate more people committing to the scheme the report suggested.
Media Diversity Australia Director Antoinette Lattouf told Sky News on September 20; it was an excellent opportunity for “stakeholders to work together to make this type of work more appealing”.
But Lattouf said that Australia does need to improve the labour conditions first.
“Making it safe, fair and accountable is a good place to start,” Lattouf said.