Tuesday, 25 August 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management. Will the minister please outline to the House how the Morrison-McCormack government is backing Australia's agricultural workforce to help support our regional communities, especially in Victoria, through the COVID-19 pandemic?
I thank the member for Mallee not just for her question but for her passionate representation of her electorate and regional Victoria, with the hard borders that have been imposed on regional Victorians. She has been ably supported by Senator McKenzie, the member for Nicholls, the member for Gippsland and Senator Davey in bringing to national attention the impact this is having on agricultural production systems and supply chains but also human health. There have been tragic stories that the member for Mallee has passionately brought forward, which have then seen leadership from the states, working with the federal government, to rectify them in a passionate way. I thank the member and her colleagues for their representation.
It is important to understand that our agricultural production systems are integrated, particularly on the east coast, and workforce plays an integral part in that. That's why we continue to work with the states to understand that city-centric solutions don't necessarily cut it in regional and rural Australia and making sure we can retrofit some of the restrictions that have been put in place, to understand the nuances that are needed to keep our supply chains moving and to make sure food and fibre remain on shelves every time we go to the shops. That's why we'll continue to work with the states on practical solutions to achieving that.
I would have to say that the chief medical officer in Queensland has in fact shown some leadership on that. I challenge all the chief medical officers to go out and listen and understand regional communities, understand the needs of local agricultural production systems and listen to local leaders. The chief medical officer in Queensland listened to the local mayor in Goondiwindi, Lawrence Springborg, and opened up the borders between Queensland and New South Wales to allow farmers who have properties on both sides of the border to go across and attend to their crops and also, importantly, for animal welfare. Regional and rural Australia have evolved past lines on a map that were put in place over 100 years ago. Modern-day regional Australia is fully integrated and it needs to be supported with practical, commonsense solutions. I congratulate the Queensland chief medical officer for that understanding.
I understand that the South Australian government will be making some announcements today in terms of loosening their restrictions in a practical, commonsense way that keeps us safe. That's what this is about—keeping us safe but using practical solutions that keep the country moving. That's an important step in understanding what we do. And this is going to hit a real peak, particularly as we get towards the end of the year. As we get into warmer months—
Opposition members interjecting—
the demand on seasonal workers will be even greater. The government worked in March to extend the term of those from the Pacific and seasonal visa holders to be able to go for another 12 months if they work in agriculture, a critical industry. And we've put in place a pilot in the Northern Territory—177 mango pickers came in and we've been able to assist that industry in a practical way.
Mr Gosling interjecting—
This is about practical solutions, making sure those jobs are market tested where Australians get first crack at them. Where they can't and we need support we'll give practical solutions to support Australian farmers to put their food and fibre on your shopping shelves.