A new agricultural visa will be offered to residents from 10 South-East Asian countries to help Australian farmers harvest their crops, but the nation’s peak farm lobby insists it will only believe it when it sees it.
Australia will establish a new agricultural visa to bring in farm workers from 10 ASEAN countries
Nationals say support for the UK free trade agreement was conditional on this new visa
Farmers are desperate for overseas workers to work on harvest
The deal has been brokered alongside the UK free trade agreement (FTA), which will end a requirement for British backpackers to work on Australian farms for 88 days.
As part of the FTA announcement, prime ministers Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson said a new two-way visa would be established between the UK and Australia for farm workers.
The ABC on Monday revealed the new visa was the result of negotiations between the Nationals and Prime Minister, which was conditional on the junior Coalition partner agreeing to the FTA.
Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud confirmed the visa would be available to Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Brunei and Cambodia.
“I have an undertaking from the Prime Minister as a condition of my support, and the National Party’s support for this [free trade] agreement, to have it up and going before the end of the year,” Mr Littleproud said.
“We have a strong commitment from the Prime Minister, we made it clear when I negotiated this … this is a line we couldn’t cross if we were to try and trade away seasonal workers at a time of shortage, it just didn’t make sense.
“The Prime Minister himself has made a promise to the [National Farmers Federation] in 2019, that said we would work to an ag visa, so we are living up to our commitment.”
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said the government had long promised an ag visa but was yet to deliver it.
“We’ve had these promises for years now. It’s time to deliver,” she told the ABC.
Mr Littleproud said once his Coalition partners “saw … the National Party’s point of view, it was common sense”.
But he said participating nations would need to opt in to the visa program, and it was unclear how many workers the program could attract.
British backpackers make up about a quarter of the backpacker farm workforce, with about 10,000 Brits working on Australian farms each year.
Mr Littleproud said the new visa must recruit more than 10,000 workers a year.
“It will be for three years, and they will have six to nine months worth of work,” he said.
“[They] must go back [to their home country] for three months of the year, each year over the three years.
“This is a great step, it’s formalised an ag visa, once we put in a baseline of these 10 ASEAN nations, we can then look to add other countries into the future.”
Mr Littleproud said the visa would have different conditions to the Pacific labour and seasonal worker schemes.
Farmers: We’ll believe it when we see it
When asked if she believed the new visa would be delivered, Ms Simson said “not yet”.
“The details still have to be worked out, I believe it still has to be finalised in Cabinet and by the expenditure review committee,” she told the ABC.
“We have to do this, this is a critical thing for agriculture.”
Ms Simson said plans to bring in workers from ASEAN countries was significant, and any extra workers for Australian farms would be very welcome.
“Hopefully that will more than make up for the 10,000 British backpackers that we will ultimately lose with this 88 days [requirement scrapped in the UK FTA],” Ms Simson said.
“We were very surprised to lose the 88 days … This is the time for the government to actually deliver. We’ve had these discussions, we’ve had these promises for many years now; this is the time to make good on those promises.
“We are yet to see the details but we are pushing the government to finalise this visa.”
Mr Littleproud said the new visa would be reviewed after five years.
He said the agreement with the UK to scrap a requirement for working holiday-makers to work on farms would not be extended to other nations.
“We decide who comes to this country,” Mr Littleproud said.
“The UK and NZ are the only two countries that have that exemption and that’s because of our historical ties.”