Australian Agriculture Minister David Littleproud is afraid it could be too late to plug the current farm worker shortage. Federal and state governments have been locked in a stalemate over sending overseas workers to pick fruit during the pandemic. The federal government has pre-vetted 25,000 workers from ten Pacific nations, but some states have rejected proposals to allow them to quarantine on farms.
Littleproud said states had asked to keep control of quarantine arrangements through national cabinet. “They’ve sat on their hands,” Mr Littleproud told reporters. “They’ve been given that responsibility, that ownership, and they’ve done nothing with it.”
Industry estimates put the cost of unpicked crops at more than $40 million nationally, and consumers could also feel pain from the impasse.
“Unfortunately what’s going to happen for you in metropolitan Australia now is you’re going to pay for it at the checkout,” Mr Littleproud said. “That’s because you haven’t valued what we do out there of putting bread and butter on your table every morning.”
The federal minister said the issue was another example of city-focused pandemic responses. “Unfortunately this has failed farmers. Federation has failed farmers where premiers have come out and talked big but actually haven’t delivered.”