House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Bills

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail

10:18 am

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management) Share this | Hansard source

I would just caution the member on besmirching farmers in a broadscale way like that. Within any industry, there are always those, a small minority, who cut corners. But to broadly suggest that farmers are manipulating and in fact exploiting people is disgraceful and shows that you have turned your back on regional and rural Australia.

But let me answer these questions about quarantine. I would have thought the member, as a Victorian, bitterly understood the arrangements that the federal and state governments undertook about quarantining, because we had this little cluster down in Victoria created by the Victorian government, which couldn't handle the quarantining arrangements, because the states had taken it up. It is now up to each state to define their quarantining arrangements for those 22,000 prevetted workers to come in. Unfortunately what the member fails to acknowledge is that the state governments took up this responsibility, and the cost, from the start. They are working in partnership—

Ms Chesters interjecting

Most states are. As you articulated in your comments, Queensland has already brought them in, because the Chief Medical Officer in Queensland has allowed them to quarantine on farm. In the Northern Territory they are quarantining at Howard Springs. Those costs are an arrangement between the state government and industry themselves, so to try and come in here and say that the federal government has done nothing—I am sorry, since March we have, in fact, extended the visas of those Pacific, seasonal and working holiday makers for 12 months if they work in ag. Then in August we opened up the program. But we are still waiting on the states to work out their quarantining arrangements, particularly Victoria where they have failed at every level. The Victorian government has failed and, in fact, cost the Australian taxpayer billions of dollars, because of their ineptitude to be able to handle quarantine. The response to the bill they put up is a disgrace. That is the problem that we face and that is the one that will get these workers in other states—when they finally work out their quarantine arrangements. Some states have. The smallest jurisdiction, the Northern Territory, can do it, but Victoria still can't work out what they want to do. They don't know how they're going to quarantine. They are the ones that are holding up the workers for coming in.

These jobs are market tested. There is a Harvest Trail website that has been created. They must be tested for Australians to do it first. We are incentivising Australians, by claiming up to $6,000 in travel expenses, to go and take these jobs up. But farmers don't have the luxury to sit around and wait for someone to turn up. When their crop is ready they have to get it off the paddock and on to your plate. That is a little detail that those opposite—not knowing what happens in regional and rural Australia—seem to forget. This is the responsibility.

We will work with the states. Sadly, not all states can do it, but some have and not all of them are coalition states. Some states have been forward leaning on this. But there have been complete failures by the Victorian government. Your Victorian government has failed agriculture, failed to be able to support agriculture in supplying workers. That is the issue at play around getting those 22,000 pre-vetted employees across. It's as easy as that, but Victoria cannot get their chief medical officer to come forward and provide a quarantine solution, because they don't have the confidence because they failed before.

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