Industry trade

Details of new farm visa still unclear, but industry remains hopeful of meaningful change

It can take up to 15 minutes for a meat worker to produce a steak from a carcass.

For one of Australia’s largest beef companies, that means hiring almost one worker for every animal processed.

In other words, it takes a lot of work.

While many Australians like to eat meat, it seems there aren’t enough Australians who like to process it, and it has become an industry heavily reliant on migrant workers.

The agricultural visa is intended to create an opportunity for workers in agriculture, fishing, forestry and meat processing to take up skilled and unskilled jobs that cannot be filled nationally.

The government says it will consider making the new visa a route to permanent residence, but that is not a guarantee.

There is also no guarantee that there will be workers to get the visa granted, so far no country has joined the program.

The government is set to hold bilateral talks with countries that might be involved and find out what they might expect from the visa in return.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has previously suggested the UK – which recently withdrew 10,000 backpackers a year in trade talks – and ASEAN countries as targets for the visa.

Grain farmers, desperate to find workers who can operate specialized machinery, hope North American and European countries will agree as well.

These negotiations will largely determine how the visa works.

Theft caps the next major hurdle

Once this is crazy, the success of the visa will depend on the ability of the workers to access the flights.

Under current flight ceilings, only 3,000 people are allowed into Australia each week.

Remember there are Australians who cannot return home – tens of thousands of them.

Assuming the theft problem can be overcome, quarantine is an almost insurmountable hurdle in Australia right now.

According to Victorian Prime Minister Dan Andrews, Mr. Littleproud is Fury in a federal program allowing people to enter his state on a farm visa.

While Mr Littleproud could be reassured that Mr Andrews in fact believes there will soon be visa workers knocking on the door, the Queenslander was quick to point out that the PM currently has his hands full. confirming quarantine for workers from the Pacific Islands, already approved to work in Victoria.

David Littleproud speaks after national leadership spill
David Littleproud was the one who sold the new visa.(

ABC News: Matt Roberts

)

There is no shortage of tit-for-tat.

Quarantining farm workers is one in a long line of fronts between states and the Commonwealth for its handling of the pandemic.

This may have been lost in some reporting on this week’s announcement, but it is important to note the “full conditions [of the agriculture visa] will be developed and implemented over the next three years as the visa becomes operational. “

And yes, only the government would use a word like “operationalize”.

More strangers than known

So what do we know about the visa? It will be operated and supervised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

But what is still unknown is how the new visa might resemble existing Pacific work programs, or what safeguards will be in place to ensure it does not undermine those programs.

The visa was announced in a statement co-signed by Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Mr. Littleproud.

A middle aged woman with blond hair and a blue collar shirt stands in a field with cattle in the background.
National Farmers Federation Fiona Simson doubted the visa would ever arrive.(

Provided: Fiona Simson

)

Mr. Littleproud was selling the visa this week.

The deputy head of Nationals said that by initially using a subsection of the pre-existing 403 visa, foreigners could have their boots on the ground after September 30, although he “was careful not to put an exact date on which we will see the first workers “. .

It will also not indicate how many workers are expected to get the visa, opting for a “demand-driven approach”.

Again, it’s unclear how this will be measured.

It’s hard to know how optimistic this is, but the horticulture industry alone says it needs more than 20,000 additional workers for this summer’s harvest.

There are more questions to be answered about the portability of workers if and when they arrive, and the opposition is seeking assurances that overseas workers will not be exploited.

But for now, the development of the agricultural visa is a big victory for the Nationals.

Farmers have been calling for it since 2016 and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he backed it in 2018, long before COVID-19 caused a shortage of farm work and pressure on the farm workforce.
Some coalitions split over a new farm visa and farmers had almost given up on the prospect of a new visa, when Mr Littleproud seized an opportunity on the sidelines of the UK trade deal, just days before Michael McCormack was released. sacked as leader of nationals earlier this year. .

This week, she believed it.

For those who are ready to look beyond the next harvest and the pandemic, it is possible that the agricultural visa could bring real and significant change across the agricultural sector.

There is a lot of steak to take on the plate before this happens.

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