Twiggy and Wesfarmers boss the two the sole representatives for WA agriculture specifically at Skills Summit

Shannon Verhagen, Kimberley Caines and Cally DupeCountryman
Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest
Camera IconAndrew 'Twiggy' Forrest Credit: DARREN ENGLAND/AAPIMAGE

Andrew Forrest and Rob Scott will be the sole representatives for WA agriculture at this week’s two-day skills summit in Canberra, as farmers scramble to find labour ahead of a bumper harvest.

Countryman has seen the list of WA representatives travelling to the two-day summit in Canberra on Thursday and Friday, who will join about 100 other government, industry and union leaders from around the country.

The WA contingent consists of Premier Mark McGowan, mining billionaire “Twiggy” Forrest, Wesfarmers managing director Mr Scott, ARUP co-chair Kate West, UnionsWA’s Carolyn Smith, and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre director Alan Duncan.

The Federal Government has refused to release the full invitees list to avoid saying who snubbed invitation.

The National Farmers’ Federation will represent the agriculture industry more broadly, identifying four core barriers to securing skilled and unskilled labour.

This includes the complexity of the industrial relations framework, failings in the migration system, lack of support for agricultural skills development, and community perceptions about the nature of farm work.

NFF president Fiona Simson said farmers had struggled to fill skilled and unskilled jobs for years.

“Even before the pandemic, farmers were reducing plantings or shifting to less labour-intensive produce,” she said. “Recent weather has thrown curveballs at food production. Couple that with issues like the workforce crisis, and the result has been gaps on supermarket shelves, families struggling with the price of food and weakening food security.”

A list of 40 recommendations put forward by the NFF include plans to boost training opportunities, stamp out exploitation, speed up visa processing, and simplify the industrial relations system.

The Albanese Labor Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit will be held at Parliament House this week in a bid to bring together unions, employers, civil society and governments to address economic challenges.

WAFarmers grains section president Mark Fowler said agricultural had a labour problem before COVID-19 interrupted the global job market and made the issue “more serious”.

“The big thing is greater recognition by the Federal Government of experienced farm workers, train drivers and truck drivers,” he said.

“We want them added to the skilled list to permit greater capacity to bring those people in from overseas. That is pretty key.”

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said four agriculture industry roundtables held across the country during the past fortnight have provided valuable feedback ahead of the summit.

Mr Watt convened the meetings with dozens of stakeholders in three states, to give their feedback on the issues that faced the sector.

WA Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash slammed Mr Albanese for only having six West Australians at the summit, calling it was an “absolute disgrace” given the State’s resources sector was keeping the national economy ticking over.

“Considering the importance of WA to the national economy and the size of the skills crisis in our State, the Labor Government should have ensured we are adequately represented — unfortunately they have failed miserably,” she said.

“This is typical of Anthony Albanese who talks a big game about his care for WA but when it comes to delivering for this State, he fails time and again.

“This demonstrates that, along with only having one minister in his Cabinet, WA is just not a priority for Mr Albanese.”

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