UK trade deal has spin-off benefits in progressing Ag Visa for Australia

Collaboration needed for new visa roll-out

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Australia's agricultural industry and government need to work closely when designing a bespoke, tailored new Ag Visa, according to NFF president Fiona Simson.

Australia's agricultural industry and government need to work closely when designing a bespoke, tailored new Ag Visa, according to NFF president Fiona Simson.

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COMMENT: Ag Visa needs to be flexible, portable and keep red tape to a minimum.

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COMMENT

Last week was a big week for Australian agriculture.

The Prime Minister announced a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom and, as part of these negotiations, the National Farmers Federation (NFF) welcomed the news that the federal government would finally establish the long-coveted agriculture visa.

The Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement is the first for the UK since it left the European Union and follows lengthy and robust discussions, which were ably led by Trade Ministers Simon Birmingham and Dan Tehan.

The deal expands access for Australian beef, lamb, rice, sugar and dairy products and is another bow in Australia's diversified trade portfolio.

The "agreement in principle" signals a new strengthened era in UK-Australia trade relations, which - of course - have a long and close history.

I know from my visits with the National Farmers Union in England and Ireland that Australian and UK farmers share a commitment to meeting the highest standards when it comes to caring for their land and livestock.

This commitment is evident in the quality of our respective produce.

Every trade deal naturally involves a level of give-and-take, and this one was no exception.

In return for securing improved access for our agricultural products, Australia agreed to negate the 88-day farm work requirement for UK backpackers who are seeking to extend their working holiday visa.

To help make up for the loss of these UK workers, and to the address the dire workforce shortages confronting many Australian farmers right now, the government committed to establishing a dedicated Ag Visa.

Promisingly, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud stated that the new visa would be in place before the end of this year.

He said it would enable workers from the 10 Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) nations to work in Australia for up to nine months, for three years in a row.

For some years now, the NFF has led the charge in calling for this visa solution to agriculture's labour woes.

It is a situation that has become considerably more critical with COVID-19-induced border closures.

I thank Agriculture Minister Littleproud and his Nationals counterparts for keeping the NFF-proposed Ag Visa on the agenda - and for now, almost, bringing it to fruition.

I say "almost" because there have been several empty promises and false starts.

I really do hope this time is different.

Farmers can scarcely tolerate further uncertainty when it comes to labour.

Accepting that Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister Littleproud have committed their government to establishing an Ag Visa, the next step is to ensure the visa is able to deliver effective relief to farmers who are struggling to source workers.

To this end, industry and government must work collaboratively to design a bespoke, tailored visa solution.

It needs to be flexible, portable, keep red tape to a minimum and let workers move between jobs with ease.

Importantly, the NFF's Horticulture Council has also called on the government to consider how the new visa could play a role in ensuring workers have a positive experience on-farm.

An important feature of an Ag Visa must be that only growers who can demonstrate their compliance with the law can have access to the program.

As an industry, we take a strict zero tolerance approach to the mistreatment of workers. We expect this new visa to promote the same approach.

Two of the most important ingredients in agriculture's recipe for growth is securing a workforce fit for the future and expanding and diversifying access for Australian farm products in international markets.

To this end, last week was certainly a significant one for our farmers.

It put more stones in agriculture's path towards $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030.

- Fiona Simson, is the National Farmers Federation president and a Liverpool Plains farmer.

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