Ag needs to keep speaking up

Published 20181015

This week will see a confluence of agricultural, rural and regional events being held in Canberra. These events, including the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Awards Dinner, Farmer of the Year Awards lunch, the AFI Australian Agriculture Roundtable, National Farmers’ Federation Congress and the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation Gala, will bring farmers, lobbyists, researchers and policy-makers together.

Bringing all the events together in one week has been a deliberate move to gain momentum for the ag sector, highlight rural and regional issues and to recognise outstanding contributors in the sector. Holding these events in Canberra reflects the reality that – like it or not – policy which impacts the farm sector is more often than not decided in Canberra. By bringing its issues and successes to the doorstop of policy-makers, agriculture is more likely to have its voice heard.
It is thus more than disappointing for agricultural lobby groups that in the week leading up to these events the Federal Government announced an agricultural jobs policy completely at odds with what the sector has been asking for. The More Workers for Regional Australia initiative announced on Friday by the Morrison government will:

  • Call on farmers with vacant positions around the country to report their employment needs to the National Harvest Labour Information Service (NHLIS). They’ll be asked about their workforce needs like short-term harvest work as well as vacancy information such as the location of the work, the types of roles to be filled, the number of people they require, the length of time required and the level of payment.
  • Then match job seekers with job opportunities, including through the Government’s Jobactive service providers across the country.
The initiative is disappointing not because it is trying to address the farm labour shortage but because it has completely disregarded the proposal put forward by the farming lobby for dealing with the issue. From time to time agriculture is criticised for not being able to put a united voice forward on contentious issues, but on this issue the sector was speaking with a common voice. The industry requested a specific Agricultural Visa to cater specifically for the acute skill shortages facing agriculture, including fruit pickers and packers.
Respected ag lobbyist Jan Davis has detailed many of the reasons why the industry was seeking an Agricultural Visa and why the initiative announced on Friday will not work including that:

‘These are not full-time jobs – by its very nature, the work is seasonal. And work is often located in rural areas far from concentrations of unemployed people. The costs and disruption of relocation and transport for short-term jobs are huge disincentives, especially those who may have families. These are the reasons why foreign workers and backpackers dominate in this sector. They are not interested in full-time jobs or a career; they are driven by the incentive to work fast and well, and they are often experienced at what they do.’
This sort of disregard from Government for a unified position put forward by the agriculture sector will only add more purpose to the reason why we hold events like those in the nation’s capital this week. We will celebrate great leaders in the farming community more loudly and speak with more passion and vigour about the things that are important to us. Rules get made by those that show up – and this week those that are turning up in Canberra will be making sure that the farming, rural and regional voices are being heard.

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