July 15, 2022

Haines heads to Pacific to tackle farm labour shortage

Helen Haines will travel to Suva in Fiji to meet with the Pacific Island Forum as part of a parliamentary delegation focused on agricultural labour shortages, and Australia’s national security interests in the Pacific.

The Independent Member for Indi will be joined by members of all the major political parties and crossbench and is funded by Save The Children Australia.

Dr Haines said she accepted the invitation to attend so she could advocate for stronger workforce partnerships between Pacific nations and the Australian agricultural sector.

“Australian farmers have been struggling with workforce shortages for years – the pandemic simply made things worse. This is probably the number one challenge facing our farmers right now,” she said.

Dr Haines, who grew up on a dairy farm and still runs beef cattle today, has been consulting with local farmers about their workforce needs over recent weeks and said farmers are struggling right across the electorate.

“I have heard from farmers who lost 80 per cent of their crop last year simply because they couldn’t find anyone to pick it. And they’re bracing for the same this year. It’s one thing in a pandemic, but we are nearly three years into this now and the borders are open – it’s time for Governments to step up.”

Dr Haines criticised the new Government’s policies on agricultural visas, saying the decision to scrap the former Government’s plan for a dedicated visa for farm workers from South East Asia was a backwards step. Labor’s policy will reduce the number of countries from which agricultural workers could come to Australia from, a move Dr Haines said is unhelpful.

“It was hugely disappointing to see Labor walk away from the Agricultural Visa. We could have been striking deals with countries like Thailand and Malaysia right now, but instead we are back to the drawing board. It’s a real mistake and I have urged the Agriculture Minister to reverse that decision.”

“It is more important than ever that a rural Independent like me is there to put forward the sensible policies on topics like agricultural labour.”

Dr Haines said her focus was now on enhancing the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme to make sure it delivers the labour force needed for local farmers.

“We have some major harvests coming up in a few months. Citrus is happening as we speak. Pumpkins will happen in October. Hops start in December. Cherries not far behind. If we don’t have the workforce in place for these harvests, then the Government will have serious questions to answer.

“I am joining with farmers to call for immediate action to expedite Pacific Island workers to come to Australia, and enough flexibility in those visa arrangements to enable people to work shorter harvests across multiple farms.”

“And longer term, we need to be looking to expand eligibility for these visas beyond the Pacific. If there are workers in South East Asia, or India, our South America, who want to work on Aussie farms, and farmers here who want them, why do we not enable that to happen? It’s pretty basic stuff.”

Dr Haines will also visit the Australia Pacific Training Coalition and will learn about opportunities for the aged care workforce to be expanded here in Indi with workers from the Pacific.

“It’s not just agricultural employers who are struggling to find workers, but many other sectors as well. I will be making every effort to make connections to help employers back in Indi through this trip.”

The delegation will be briefed on Australia’s aid to the Pacific, visit local leaders and speak to aspiring female politicians in Fiji.

Dr Haines’ office will remain open with staff available to assist constituents in Indi on all federal government matters.

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