Mr PASIN (Barker) (18:01): In rising in support of the motion, I take this opportunity to congratulate the member for Nicholls for bringing this issue to the attention of this place. It’s important that we understand clearly the challenge Australia’s horticultural producers are facing as we move through this very intense harvest period that begins, particularly in terms of southern Australia, around February and runs all the way through June, particularly as it relates to citrus. I stand in support because, as you know, Deputy Speaker Gillespie, I represent the great people of the Riverland in South Australia. Barker is an agricultural powerhouse. While there is horticulture throughout the electorate, much of it is heavily mechanised. The labour-intensive horticultural effort finds itself, if you like, concentrated in the Riverland around sectors like stone fruit, but principally citrus. As ingenious as man is, no man has been able to effectively invent a machine that can, via means of mechanical operation, harvest a citrus tree. What it requires, if anyone wants to know, is moving relatively light, yet still somewhat heavy, aluminium ladders and literally picking fruit by fruit by fruit. That harvest—
Honourable members interjecting—
Mr PASIN: I have to tell you, colleagues, I’ve done a bit of it, but, given my shape, I probably should do a lot more of it! We have such a substantial citrus industry in South Australia and across the nation that our need for harvest pickers through that March to June period is gargantuan. We’re talking about thousands of people. There isn’t one Australian producer who doesn’t want to see Australians picking this fruit. Someone may come into this place and suggest this is a crisis that has been borne of COVID-19. No; it has simply been exacerbated by the settings. For a very long time, we’ve been unsuccessful in motivating Australians to travel and undertake this seasonal work. With a lot of the measures we’ve adopted, and this is irrespective of the government privileged to be in charge of the Treasury benches, it is effectively the equivalent of putting different forms of bandaids on a bullet wound. COVID has made this so much worse. It’s made it worse because, as ABARES tells us, at any point in time we have over 63,000 backpackers in the country, many of whom do 88 days of work in regional communities to effectively earn the right for an additional period in Australia. Of course on account of the pandemic we don’t have the privilege of working holiday-makers coming to Australia. I don’t want to alarm colleagues but it is real; we are seeing citrus producers, who pour all their input into growing oranges, limes and lemons—using expensive water, expensive inputs like pesticides, expensive inputs like fertiliser—getting their fruit to the point where they’re now very anxious about getting people into the country to pick the fruit.
Our government has 25,000 willing workers in the Pacific Islands ready to come and do that work today. Before those opposite say this is a partisan attack on state governments, I have got to tell you, my call-out is to all state governments—Liberal and Labor—including my own state Liberal government in South Australia: look to what Annastacia Palaszczuk has done, allow on-farm quarantine. Allow these workers to come on farm, quarantine and work for two weeks and then go about making life easier for Australian producers. I don’t want to see that fruit rotting on the tree. I don’t want to see Aussie fruit prices in supermarkets going up because we didn’t get the fruit off.