WA farmers to continue push for agriculture visa

Melissa WilliamsCountryman
Moves to extend the period for individual visa-holders to stay on a single property are positive, says Tony Seabrook.
Camera IconMoves to extend the period for individual visa-holders to stay on a single property are positive, says Tony Seabrook. Credit: The West Australian

WA farmer groups say last week’s Federal Government changes to visa programs will lead to more continuity of labour and help address manpower shortages in the bush, but don’t go far enough.

It is proposed that working holidaymakers, mostly backpackers, will be able to qualify for an extra (third) year visa if they undertake six months more regional work in the second year.

The age limit for this potential workforce has been lifted from 30 to 35 years for Canadians and the Irish and they will be able to stay with a single farmer for one year, up from six months. Workers from Pacific nations and Timor Leste will now be able to stay for nine months, not six.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said it was increasingly difficult to get young Australians to work on WA farms, especially in eastern grainbelt cropping areas.

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For this reason, he said moves to extend the period for individual visa-holders to stay on a single property were very positive.

“When it comes to harvest and cropping staff, in particular, experience is vital in dealing with expensive and highly technical machinery,” he said.

“It will give growers peace of mind to have access to workers with multi-year experience.”

Mr Seabrook said the visa reforms would also help to ensure WA’s fruit and vegetable crops were not left to rot.

WAFarmers executive officer Grady Powell said the changes fell short of introducing a specific “agriculture visa”, as pushed by the group and the National Farmers’ Federation.

“This type of visa has in-principle agreement from all sides of politics and we will now be advocating its implementation as a matter of urgency by the incoming government,” he said.

Mr Powell said access and retention of staff continued to be a concern for all agricultural producers.

“These changes will most assist the horticultural industry, but there will be ability for holiday workers to undertake placements with animal cultivation and crops,” he said.

The NFF said it would continue to progress the implementation of a dedicated agricultural visa with Parliament.

“The farm sector's labour crisis is not going away,” NFF president Fiona Simson said. “Produce is going unpicked and farm businesses’ potential for growth is significantly constrained.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack denied the visa changes were an admission his party’s push for an agricultural visa was “dead in the water”. “It was always going to be difficult to get a specific agriculture visa in time for this harvest,” he said. “We are working towards making sure there are more permanent arrangements in place.

“At the end of the day, what needed to happen was we needed to have the workers on the ground to pick the fruit and pick the crops.”

An estimated 419,000 backpackers visited Australia last year, spending 1.4 million nights in regional areas where they spent $920 million.

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