Sort farm visas before summer, Nationals tell Australian PM Morrison

Bostock foreman Jim MacDonald teaches new recruits. Picture: RNZ

CANBERRA, 04 OCTOBER 2018 (THE AUSTRALIAN) – Michael McCormack has increased pressure on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to find a quick-fire solution to the farm worker shortage, warning there are not enough Pacific Island workers to get the agriculture sector through the summer months.

The Deputy Prime Minister Wednesday said the concept of an agricultural visa was “very important” and workers from South Pacific nations would cover only a fraction of the shortage under ­existing labour schemes.

The Australian last week reported a proposed new visa class, pushed by the Nationals, was slapped down in cabinet by the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

They expressed concerns that temporary workers from across Asia would compete for farm jobs with locals and Pacific Islanders, potentially threatening Australia’s strategic interests.

McCormack refused to say whether Morrison signed off on a new agricultural visa in the Coalition agreement, as has been claimed by Nationals MPs.

Nationals have expressed frustration with McCormack’s leadership on the junior Coalition partner’s proposal, which would source up to 100,000 overseas farm workers a year.

Speaking to The Australian, McCormack slammed suggestions the visa would force out locals from farm jobs, saying there were not enough Australians to fill the labour shortages.

“I’m not going into what is actually in the Coalition agreement but certainly an agricultural visa, a regional visa — making sure that we have got the sufficient workforce to help harvest the crops, to help pick the fruit, to help with this summer’s farming activities — is very important and we will be having more discussions through the cabinet process about that very (important) need to get those workers for summer harvest,” McCormack said.

“The National Farmers Federation says we need about 100,000 workers. I appreciate that the South Pacific provided last year just a little over 6000 workers so obviously there is a big difference between what the South Pacific ­islands provided … and what is ­required this summer.”

The Australian has reported that Nationals MPs believed McCormack gave the partyroom the impression the new visa class was agreed to by Morrison through a new Coalition agreement, struck in August following the leadership spill.

After the leadership change, McCormack said he wanted the new visa class sorted “within weeks, not months”.

The Australian understands Immigration Minister David Coleman has been tasked with helping the Nationals find a solution to the visa problem. Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, who took the Nationals proposal to cabinet, has been widely criticised by Liberals for failing to ­devise an acceptable visa programme.

McCormack rejected claims he had been rolled by senior Liberals on the visa plan.

“No, not at all. The Liberal Party knows full well the importance of regional Australia. Scott Morrison knows full well the importance of having a sufficient and ready labour workforce,” he said.

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