Farmers have hit out at Scott Morrison’s plan to send job seekers to work on the land, saying it’s a band-aid approach to a real issue for those trying to survive in regional Australia.
In a public statement issued on Saturday, National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson said the prime minister is making a “shallow attempt” at “a deep problem” and that Australian farmers have long been crying out for a dedicated agriculture visa to lure foreign workers who were genuinely interested in the industry.
Simson said the seasonal nature of the work wasn’t attractive or realistic for local workers, “who have ongoing financial commitments and longer term career aspirations”.
She also criticised the government’s plan to have farmers register their vacant positions, along with how much they pay, on the National Harvest Labour Information Service so it can match them with workers.
“We cannot wait months for some sort of bureaucratic job register to get up and running and inevitably fail,” Simson said. “The crop will be rotting on the ground and farmers will be paying the price for government paralysis.”
Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon also hit out at the plan, saying “the last thing growers need is people who don’t want to be there”.
Morrison announced his plan to crack down on dole recipients who refuse jobs on Saturday, saying job seekers would have a choice to pick fruit or lose their welfare.
“Where we cannot find Australians to do the work, we cannot allow the fruit to rot,” Morrison told The Daily Telegraph. “We will back our farmers and make arrangements through our Pacific Island worker and migration program to get the job done.
“This is about doing everything we can to ensure Australian jobs are being filled by Australians.”
Morrison, who took over the top job less than two months ago, added: “Our government has heard from farmers across the country about how tough it is right now to find workers, particularly at the height of harvest season for some crops.
“We want to highlight exactly where the jobs are and make sure jobseekers know where to be looking. While we’re tackling the labour shortage this also ensures jobseekers on taxpayer support have no excuse to refuse opportunities.”
Under the plan, job seekers who refused to work on the farms will see their welfare benefits slashed, with the worst offenders set to lose their money for up to four weeks.
If the initiative fails to attract enough workers, Morrison said he’ll consider changing the terms of working holiday visas to push overseas visitors onto farms as well.