HON Nicola Centofanti MLC

Shadow Minister for Regional South Australia

Shadow Minister for Primary Industries



The State and Federal Opposition fears Labor’s proposed changes to the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme could drive up the cost of food for South Australian families and force local farmers and growers to abandon the program, crippling our regional workforce.

The PALM scheme facilitates the temporary employment of workers from Pacific Island countries in rural and regional Australia and the national agricultural sector when there aren’t enough local workers available for unskilled, low-skilled and semi-skilled positions. Not only does it address labour shortages in Australia, but it also provides economic opportunities for Pacific Island nations.

However, many in the agriculture and horticulture sectors are now indicating they will leave the scheme after Labor’s capitulation to the unions by announcing it will force employers to hire short-term workers for a minimum of 30 hours per week, every week. Employer groups had previously supported a 30-hour minimum achieved on average over an eight-week period.

The controversial changes create a huge dilemma for citrus growers in particular, whose crops are harvested in winter and can’t be picked when wet due to the increased risk of disease and fungal infections. It means those employers could have to carry the cost of wages when there is no work available.

Federal Member for Barker, Tony Pasin, described the union-backed reforms as “unworkable and unfair”.

“For many industries this is simply unworkable and will see employers exit the scheme. The citrus industry, which has the greatest uptake of PALM workers, will be impacted significantly by these changes due to weather dependant working conditions,” Mr Pasin said.

“It’s simply not viable to have workers being paid for 30 hours a week every week and it’s pretty clear to me that following the Labor Government’s consultation, they have decided to appease the unions at the expense of our agricultural industry which we already know requires an additional 172,000 workers to get food from paddock to port or plate.

“As a result, farmers will be forced to exit the scheme altogether or pass on the increased wages to the consumer, meaning families will pay even more for their grocery bills during a cost of living crisis.”

The cost of food and non-alcoholic beverages has already increased by eight per cent over 12 months to March 2023, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.

“This is just another example of Labor’s inability to manage the economy while adding to inflation and taking active steps to make the cost of living crisis worse,” said Mr Pasin.

Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, Nicola Centofanti, said the move could have a devastating impact on the South Australian agriculture and horticulture industries.

“The changes to the PALM scheme are yet another city-centric decision made by a Labor Government that doesn’t understand the realities and seasonal nature of life on a farm,” Dr Centofanti said.

“We fear Labor’s new PALM guidelines will lead to rising costs for growers and producers, which will ultimately be passed on to consumers, at a time when South Australian families are already struggling with skyrocketing cost of living pressures.

“Peter Malinauskas and Claire Scriven need to speak with their Labor mates in Canberra before these changes cause chaos for South Australia’s important agriculture and horticulture sectors.

“This could spell disaster for South Australia’s industry, with employers who are already struggling to attract workers to rural and regional areas now thinking about ditching the PALM scheme because it’s too risky with the new rules.

“There clearly hasn’t been enough consultation with industry by Federal Labor who are rushing through these changes to try and appease the unions.

“Peter Malinauskas can’t be complacent and just leave this problem to Canberra – South Australia’s regions are far too important for that.”



Media Contact: Charlotte Edmunds 8724 7730