Australian Workers Union accused of ‘demonising’ farmers and deterring countries from signing up to ag visa

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Not a single country has signed up to the ag visa.
Camera IconNot a single country has signed up to the ag visa. Credit: AAP

The Australian Workers Union has been accused of “demonising” farmers and encouraging international bureaucrats to avoid signing up to the new agriculture visa by claiming farm workers will be “exploited” if they come to Australia.

Not a single country has signed up to the new visa heralded as the “biggest structural change to the agricultural workforce in our nation’s history”, allowing fisheries, forestry and agricultural processors to “target seasonal workers, skilled and semiskilled workers”.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud lashed the AWU in a round of media interviews this week, labelling the organisation’s moves to deter international farm workers from coming to Australia as “the most disgraceful act” he had ever witnessed.

“They’ve actually gone and visited embassies and ambassadors, demonising Australian farmers . . . saying they will be exploited,” he said.

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“All they are saying to farmers is, ‘Bad luck, you can miss out’.

“We’ve tried to get this collaboration, not only from the States but from the unions, and they’ve all turned their back and just basically told farmers to take a running jump at the time they needed them most.”

The migrant farm worker scheme came into effect on October 1 after free trade negotiations with the UK that ended a requirement for British backpackers to work on farms in order to extend their stays in Australia.

It was originally flagged to be up and running by Christmas.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison agreed to implement the visa in return for The Nationals’ support of a free trade deal with Britain waiving the requirement for British backpackers to complete 88 days of farm work if they wanted to stay in Australia for two years.

Mr Littleproud said Federal Foreign Minister Marise Payne was leading discussions on the visa and he had “great faith” in her.

“Just because Australia puts in place an agriculture visa doesn’t mean that other countries sign up to them. They’re all their own sovereign nations,” he said.

“It has been muddied by the actions of the AWU in their direct conversations with embassies and ambassadors urging them not to sign up to this because they believe that Australian farmers would exploit their citizens, which is absolutely disgraceful.”

But the union has vowed to continue warning South-East Asian nations in bilateral talks with Australia about its exploitation concerns, telling The Australian on Friday it would ­“always speak up and fight when workers are being abused”.

The AWU previously said the agriculture visa could damage Australia’s trade ties with Pacific nations by clashing with the Pacific Labour Scheme, but Mr Littleproud maintains it would “complement and supplement” the scheme and the Seasonal Workers’ Program.

Unlike those visas, it offers participants a clear pathway to permanent residency.

“This goes beyond just seasonal workers, this goes to skilled and semi-skilled workers,” he said.

“It’s a structural shift away from transient labour to a more consistent one that’s going to live in regional Australia and grow it.”

The row comes amid a spat within the Coalition over the visa, with some Nationals MPs accusing the Liberal Party of obstructing the progress of the visa as they call for the deals urgently to be ­finalised.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese this week accused the Federal Government of trying to shift the blame for the stalled visa.

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