Farmers across Victoria can now invest in worker accommodation without the need for a planning permit, under a new streamlined planning approval process adopted by the state government.
Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas has announced a planning amendment to exempt farm businesses from requiring a permit for on-farm accommodation for up to 10 people.
"On-farm accommodation will provide more options for farm workers and make it easier for growers to recruit the workers they need for the upcoming harvest," Ms Thomas said.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne said it was a common-sense change.
"This will help farm businesses provide suitable on-farm accommodation for their vital seasonal workforces, removing one of the common barriers to the attraction and retention of workers," he said.
On-farm accommodation eliminates the need for seasonal workers to find a place to stay in nearby towns.
It removes the often long-distance travel to and from farms, cuts travel expenses and reduces the impact on rural and regional roads.
The planning permit exemption is available exclusively for accommodation for workers engaged in agriculture.
It must be on at least 40 hectares of land on a property within the Farming Zone.
It must meet requirements relating to connections to electricity, water and wastewater treatment.
Victorian Farmers Federation horticulture group president Nathan Free said the organisation had raised the issue with the government and was pleased the changes were being made.
It was taking one to two years to get a planning permit, to put accommodation on the farm.
"One of the issues we had was that we could not get suitable accommodation for workers," Mr Free said.
"A lot of farmers were facing a lot of scrutiny from councils, to the point were they were getting it all set up and the council was knocking it on the head."
Mr Free said it would give farmers another "tool in their toolbox" when it came to applying for permits to employ workers.
"This will assist farmers getting accommodation onto farms, in the best possible condition, so we can look after our workers," he said.
"If they are to get seasonal worker licence, to be an approved employer, they can make a decision to put accommodation on their property and include it in a full business case.
"It gives an opening to employ people under the ag visa too - it's a whole of business approach."
Mr Free said he felt it would also assist with reducing the spread of coronavirus.
"Having workers spread out over different farming operations, rather than having them all staying in one backpackers or caravan park, is a good thing," he said.
"Hopefully it will lessen that COVID risk."
Ms Thomas said the changes aligned with the government's $84-million package to support the Victorian agricultural sector.