Extending instant asset write-off scheme and new labour licensing top horticulture’s Federal election wishlist

Headshot of Shannon Verhagen
National Farmers’ Federation Horticulture Council chair Fiona Simson.
Camera IconNational Farmers’ Federation Horticulture Council chair Fiona Simson. Credit: TheWest

A “fully operational” agriculture visa and a national licensing scheme to stamp out “dodgy” labour hire companies are among the five election asks from Australia’s peak agricultural advocacy body’s horticulture branch.

The National Farmers’ Federation horticulture council on Monday announced its five policy priorities for the $15 billion industry ahead of the Federal election on May 21. It comes as the future of the Morrison Government’s agriculture visa hangs in the balance, with Labor refusing to answer questions over whether they will progress it if elected.

So far, just Vietnam has signed onto the controversial scheme first mooted in October — prompting calls for the Government to secure agreements with other nations as a matter of priority.

The lion’s share of the NFF horticulture council’s five priorities were aimed at addressing the crippling labour shortages gripping Australia’s $62 billion agriculture industry, including developing a strategic investment plan for regional accommodation within 12 months.

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“Workforce continues to be the major issue affecting the Australian Horticulture industry and solving labour supply issues by allowing growers access to a reliable and efficient workforce, tops the list for the Council,” NFF horticulture council chair Fiona Simson said.

“This is why implementing a fully operational Australian Agriculture Visa must be a priority for the Coalition and for Labor this election.

“It’s great that we have Vietnam signed up, but we need to get more countries signed on and get people on the ground and on farms.”

Employing more than 30,000 people across the country each year, from locals, backpackers and seasonal workers, Ms Simson said it was “critical” to put a licensing system in place to ensure all was above board.

“The horticulture industry has a long history of using labour hire businesses to access its workforce, and the council and its members have long called for a licensing scheme to help stamp out any dodgy operators,” she said.

Ms Simson said ALP committed to a national labour hire licensing scheme before the 2019 election, while the Coalition committed to a national labour hire registration scheme.

However, it is yet to become a reality.

“The time for talk on this issue is over. The time for action is now,” Ms Simson said.

“The council is calling for a licensing scheme that means labour hire contractors must demonstrate they are fit and proper and receive a licence before they operate.”

Implementation of a biosecurity imports levy and/or an ongoing funding model for biosecurity and an extension of the instant asset write off were also among the council’s top priorities.

The council called out the “lack of consistent funding” for plant biosecurity, referencing recent issues with citrus canker, fall army worm and banana tropical race 4.

Ms Simson said biosecurity continued to be a “major concern” for the industry.

“We must protect our horticulture industry from pests and diseases and there have been too many outbreaks recently which we must address,” she said.

“Biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility, and we must implement an ongoing funding model for biosecurity.”

The NFF Horticulture Council’s final priority was extending the instant asset write-off scheme, which is set to wrap up on June 30.

The scheme was a major boon for farmers out of the last Federal Budget, allowing them to immediately write off the full value of any assets purchased, whether it be computer gear for the office or a tractor or header.

Ms Simson said the scheme had helped growers reinvest in their business and drive greater productivity on-farm.

“This is a simple ask and it should be committed to by both parties so growers can have some confidence to continue to reinvest in their business,” she said.

National Farmers’ Federation Horticulture Council Federal election priorities

· Fully operational agriculture visa

· National labour hire licensing scheme

· Biosecurity imports levy and/or an ongoing funding model for biosecurity

· Extension of the instant asset write-off

· Develop a strategic investment plan for regional accommodation

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