Mr PASIN (Barker) (10:09): I rise today to talk about an issue of concern to constituents in my electorate of Barker. It’s trite to say, but I’ll say it nonetheless, that since the pandemic the nature of work and employment has changed in this country. Some industries can no longer support the workers that they employed pre pandemic, while others have a dire shortage of labour. Citrus producers in my electorate in the Riverland are a perfect example of an industry experiencing a distressing shortage of workers. Our government, indeed citrus producers, would always prefer to see Australians employed in this local industry, but we have intervened by offering a number of incentives including the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program offering $6,000 for an Australian citizen or $2,000 for an eligible visa holder. We have encouraged year 12 students to take a gap year and work in agriculture through the $16.2 million youth allowance and Abstudy eligibility changes. These changes offer easier access to Youth Allowance and Abstudy once someone commences their university degree, benefiting from not only the money earned but those future allowances.
Despite these generous programs, Australians, sadly, in sufficient numbers, haven’t answered the call. So now, as in previous years, we need international workers to fill the chronic labour shortage. Our priority is to get the workers we need on farm. The Seasonal Worker Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme are two such programs to help us get the workers we need. At least 22,000 workers from the Pacific Islands have been pre-vetted and are wanting to come to our farms to do this work. It’s a matter of all hands on deck right now. I have advocated consistently for the need to allow, like what happens in Queensland, on-farm quarantine but it doesn’t seem that we’ll be able to get there.
I want to congratulate the South Australian government in establishing the quarantine facility at Paringa, but I also want to acknowledge the very significant work that’s been done to allow Pacific Island neighbours, such as Fiji and Vanuatu, to establish in-country quarantine facilities. That seems like an eminently sensible solution to me. It’s one that the South Australian government supports and it’s one that we must expedite at the earliest opportunity. I think we’d all agree that there’s nothing crueller than to think of an Aussie farmer who’s invested capital, labour, energy, effort and, quite frankly, a whole heap of sweat into producing a good, in this case Australia’s premium citrus products—to think that they’ll rot on the tree. We need to put all shoulders to the wheel right now, get this fruit picked and do it in combination with international workers.