Labor Pushes Government to Address Shortfall in Farm Hands

January 28, 2021 Updated: February 19, 2021

Labor is calling on the Morrison government to address the issue of understaffed farmers resulting in Aussie growers losing more than AU$40 million (US$30.1 million) as unpicked crops rot.

The move is led by Opposition Agricultural Minister Ed Husic, who is hoping for an urgent meeting of state and federal ministers to address the crisis.

In a letter to Agricultural Minister David Littleproud, Husic called on the federal government to respond to the nationwide shortage of more than 26,000 farmworkers.

“The states and territories have taken steps to provide farmers with workers,” Husic wrote in the letter seen by AAP.

“But they shouldn’t be forced to manage problems of this magnitude on their own–and then be disparaged by federal counterparts for not doing enough or doing too little, too late.”

Husic, who believes the Commonwealth government is constitutionally responsible for the borders and quarantine, said the Coalition’s lack of a specific agriculture strategy is part of the problem.

But Littleproud says the state governments wanted their own quarantine protocols to vet workers, and have lacked the initiative to follow up on their responsibilities.

“The premiers all decided at National Cabinet: ‘That’s great, but we don’t trust one another in terms of quarantine, and we don’t trust us, as a federal government.’ We want to do it ourselves. We want to own the quarantine protocols. We said, ‘Cool, we respect that. Just go and do it.’” he said speaking to 2GB radio.

However, Littleproud has continued to pledge support for states with labour shortages so long as quarantine protocols are in place.

“Over the last 12 months, the federal government has not just provided incentives for Australians to take these jobs, but has extended visas of those already here and found an additional 25,000 Pacific workers if they worked in agriculture,” Littleproud told AAP on Thursday.

Husic though believes this is not enough and is calling on the minister to organise an Agriculture Ministers Forum (AGMIN) to find an adequate solution to the growing crisis that is costing millions in the sector.

Last year the government launched farmhand’s relocation programs to incentivise Australians to move to the regional areas to fill the shortages

The Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program provided AU$6,000 (US$4,608) of assistance money for those moving to regional areas for work. However, the scheme has delivered poor results for the farmers.

In an email to The Epoch Times, Growcom, a Queensland based horticulture organisation said that current crop losses due to the worker shortage has reached $43 million (US$33.2 million), according to figures from the National Crop Lost Register.