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Liberal Nationals slam union war against agriculture seasonal workforce

Union politics is jeopardising food security at a time of crisis.

State Liberal Member for Eildon Cindy McLeish is standing with her colleagues to defend the agriculture industry against a union call to end the Working Holiday Maker Visa. If the union is successful, backpackers will be unable to work, leaving farmers without their major workforce contributor.

Ms McLeish said, “Removing the visa will cause detrimental hardships for farmers who rely on labour hire. It will also push up the price of fruit and vegetables at a time when our communities need a reliable, affordable supply of fresh food.”

“Agriculture is the lifeblood of our regional community and my electorate, all the way from the Yarra Valley to Mansfield. It is a major source of income and contributor to the local economy, which has been incredibly important during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Farmers have been working hard to provide produce and keep shelves stocked for the community. We must support and protect their livelihoods.”

Owner of Rayner’s Orchard, Len Rayner says the removal of the licence will have a damaging effect on larger farms as it is difficult to get people to do the work. It’s an ongoing problem, the work is there, the workers aren’t.

“If you took the licence away from the big farms, if you took international backpackers away, there would be no workforce, especially up in the country. Unions don’t understand agriculture in rural parts of Australia.”

The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) estimates removing backpackers from the fresh food sector will cost the national economy $13 billion, threaten 127,000 jobs and risk pushing up the cost of fruit and vegetables by 60 per cent.

Shadow Minister for Agriculture Peter Walsh said the visa was a critical source of workforce for farmers.

“Farmers rely on both local and migrant workers to harvest food and fibre that ends up on our supermarkets shelves – this program is integral for them getting the workforce to continue that work.

“Unions are basing this call on unsubstantiated and malicious allegations of mistreatment of workers. If the union was aware of genuine instances of mistreatment of workers they should report that through the appropriate channels – not use it as a political football.”


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