Urgency needed on seasonal worker scheme

Calls for faster action to get seasonal workers to work

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OVERSEAS: Workers from Vanuatu arriving in Darwin late last year.

OVERSEAS: Workers from Vanuatu arriving in Darwin late last year.

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Lack of seasonal workers set to have a long term economic impact.

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Victorian farmers may be waiting six months for seasonal workers under the state government's quarantine arrangement with Tasmania, according to the Victorian opposition.

Industry groups are also warning that a plan needed to be developed quickly as growers make decisions about current and future crop intentions.

Shadow Minister for Agriculture Peter Walsh slammed the delay, saying it had already caused the loss of millions of dollars in high-quality Victorian produce and dragged down productivity in the meat processing sector.

"A lack of seasonal workers has already left too many Victorian farmers with no option but to plough a year's work into the ground," Mr Walsh said.

"A workforce would already be available if the government had adopted the proposal put forward by industry and Aspen Medical in October last year to set up a dedicated quarantine facility in Mildura."

Victorian Farmers Federation horticultural group president Nathan Free said if the government had "wanted to do it, it would already be done".

Mr Free said farmers had crops that they couldn't harvest because of labour shortages, while the government was failing to meet any of its promised plans.

He said farmers needed a labour source, no matter what, and without backpackers, the seasonal workers were crucial.

He said farmers were now making decisions on what crops to plant and whether they culled lines they normally produced.

That would take income out of communities.

"We need 26,000 workers," he said.

"They put into the economy every day of the week [so] agriculture should be a no-brainer."

He said the government needed to sit down with industry to work out options that would actually deliver.

Mr Walsh said the government's decision to "punt responsibility for worker quarantine to Tasmania" had already put Victorian farmers and meat processors at the back of the queue.

He said Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas had failed to guarantee that workers would be on farm by June 30.

"Labor is all headline and no deadline, which will only leave more of our farmers facing the devastating decision to destroy a year's hard work or leave it on the trees to rot," he said.

According to the Victorian government's January 22 announcement, "under the deal between the two governments an initial 1500 workers from the Pacific Islands will undertake quarantine interstate...over the first half of 2021, with costs borne by the Victorian government and agricultural industry".

This week the government announced that more than 1000 workers would benefit from additional accommodation, transport and support services in the state's major horticulture regions, under the $6 million Seasonal Workforce Accommodation Program.

The Cobram and District Fruit Growers' Association received $430,000 to assist business to attract and provide for the workforce.

In the Sunraysia Mallee region, workers would benefit from a grant to the Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council.

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