Thursday, 2 September 2021
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Agriculture Industry
My question is to the Minister representing the Deputy Prime Minister, Senator McKenzie. Can the minister update the Senate on the implementation of the national plan agreed to by national cabinet, including in relation to regional communities and how the national plan will enable critical agricultural workers to get to work so farmers can harvest their crops?
Thank you, Senator Brockman—a proud regional Western Australian who's very keen to support the agriculture community in his home state in particular. Our government's committed to supporting our farmers get through the global pandemic, getting the workers and skilled workforce they need not just to get the crop off but to milk the cows, to shear the sheep and to continue the food task not just here domestically but to our export markets around the world. This is a $66 billion industry that we want to see continue to grow to $100 billion, and through the global pandemic we've, as a government, implemented a raft of measures—providing visas extensions and relaxing the 40 hours a fortnight for student visa holders. We've established an agricultural workers code with specific states, we've established the Australian agriculture visa and we've also reopened the Pacific mobility program.
But we have to recognise that these measures alone will not provide the workforce that Australian agriculture needs for the task ahead of it. We need to follow the national plan so that lockdowns at local, domestic, state and international levels become a thing of the past. As you know, Senator Brockman, you've got a great grain growing state in WA, and domestic and international border closures will have a significant impact on your grain growers getting the harvest off that I think is taking place in the northern Wheatbelt in over four weeks, and then you've got about six weeks. But if we don't get workers either from the east coast states or from overseas, because we do know that there's a global workforce supply chain when it comes to grain harvesting—Canada, Ukraine, right through the US and then they end up down with us, because these are quite specialist roles. I would ask that your premier actually support Western Australian grain growers by staffing the Bladin Village facility and allowing those workers— (Time expired)
Thank you, Minister McKenzie, for that answer. I know how engaged you are with agriculture right across Australia. My supplementary question is: how will the national plan assist not only the agricultural industry but also other essential workforces across regional Australia?
As you would know, Senator Brockman, state and territory premiers and chief ministers have agreed with the Prime Minister to a national plan that will see freedom of movement of people and lockdowns ending when it's safe to do so, following the very, very best medical evidence and advice. And it is very, very concerning that there are leaders in this country and chief medical officers perpetuating this myth of zero cases and an elimination strategy as the way out of a global pandemic. I would ask them to pick up a year 8 science textbook—because that is actually not achievable. To not follow a plan, mapped out using the very best science and health data, to make sure that agriculture in regional communities can have the workforces they need to not just grow great, clean green product but also to actually support the mining industry and the manufacturing industry is a crime—an absolute crime. (Time expired)
Senator Brockman, you know that we have a shortage of workers right throughout regional Australia. The job ads go on and on. And it's not just fruit pickers we need; we also need sustainable, high-paid careers out in rural and regional Australia. So we need a workforce not just from capital cities and from other states but also internationally.
There is only one way out of this global pandemic to give regional and rural Australia the workforce that they need and the access to global markets that they need to grow and prosper, and that is through the national plan. Your home state, I'm sorry to say, Senator Brockman, has a very, very poor vaccination rate. We have to, as leaders—
Senator Pratt interjecting—
I will take the interjections from Senator Pratt. A $5 billion surplus—fix your own hospitals! (Time expired)