Visa impact queried

THE Federal Government’s long-awaited agricultural visa is finally moving forward but just how much impact it will have on labour shortages in Tasmania’s agricultural sector is being questioned.

The Government announced this week legislation for the new visa scheme would be in place by September 30 and would be fully implemented over the next three years.

It is understood the visa program will initially be open to people from partner countries, which could include members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

However, a lack of quarantine capacity for incoming workers from high-risk countries has been raised as a major issue.

Fruit Growers Tasmania chief executive officer Peter Cornish said while the organisation welcomed the move, it wanted to see more detail.

Mr Cornish said it was unlikely the new visa would have much impact on alleviating labour shortages in the state’s fruit sector this season.

Federal Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said workforce shortage had been a major issue during COVID.

“This is a structural change to the agricultural workforce,” Mr Littleproud said.
“It will complement the Pacific programs we have in place, but also provide a pathway to permanent residency.”

The visa program has been welcomed by a number of peak industry bodies.

Ausveg chief executive Michael Coote said the horticulture industry was estimated to fall short of up to 24,000 workers in early 2022.

He said Ausveg had been calling for a dedicated agriculture visa for many years to ensure fruit and vegetable businesses could access a reliable and efficient workforce.

“The confirmation on the start date and the commitment to consult with industry is a welcome step, with the agriculture visa an important mechanism to bring workers into the country.”

Mr Coote said the industry still faced the ongoing challenge of quarantine capacity.

Mr Cornish said in the short term Tasmania’s fruit industry would continue to rely on bringing in workers through the successful Pacific Island worker schemes.

He said about 2000 Pacific workers already in Australia were due return to Tasmania for the fruit and berry season.

He said about another 2000 new workers would also be brought into the state in time for the upcoming season.

In a deal with Victoria, the Tasmanian Government has agreed to quarantine workers from low-risk Pacific countries before they travel interstate.

Mr Cornish said the first planeload of workers to stay and work in Tasmania ahead of the upcoming season was due to arrive next month.

Advocacy body Australian Dairy Farmers also welcomed the move, with president Terry Richardson saying the labour shortage was a critical issue.

“The visa will help resolve workforce shortage issues in agriculture,” he said.

Mr Richardson said limiting the visa initially to people from ASEAN countries was a good first step, but ultimately it needed to be offered to people across the world.

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