#AceNewsReport – June.16: Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the visa in London, after providing details of the in-principle free trade agreement between the two nations:
New agriculture-specific visa established for UK and Australian workers: In Australia it means that we will be moving forward with an agriculture visa, that is something I’ve had a positive view on for some time, we look forward to that occurring,” Mr Morrison said.
“One of the biggest challenges we have, particularly in COVID when there’s such restriction on movements of people, we need to meet workforce challenges to ensure our primary producers, in particular, can make the most of the linear agreement we’ve agreed here today.”
It is not clear how many workers the visa was likely to attract and how far it would go to filling an estimated 26,000-worker shortage on Australian farms.
The ABC understands there will be no age restrictions on the visa but it is unclear how long the visa will be valid for, and when it will come into place.
As part of the announcement, Mr Morrison said the age limit for Britons on the separate working holiday visa would increase to 35 and provide three years’ working rights, potentially allowing more British backpackers to work on farms.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the rule forcing UK backpackers to work on Australian farms in order to be able to extend their visas had been scrapped.
“It will be easier for British people, for young people to go and work in Australia, without having the tradition compulsion of having to go and work on a farm,” Mr Johnson said.
“People can go and work much more easily in Australia, both ways, there’ll be free exchange of British rent-a-poms, and indeed Australian campaign managers to come and work in this country.”
Mr Johnson’s last comment was tongue-in-cheek, referring to campaign manager Isaac Levido, who figured largely in Mr Morrison’s election-winning campaign and who then helped the UK Conservatives win back office in 2019.
On Monday, the ABC revealed that an agreement had been reached between the Nationals and Mr Morrison to bring more overseas workers into Australia.
Speaking before the Prime Minister’s announcement, Deputy Nationals Leader David Littleproud confirmed a deal was underway.
“The National Party has already got an agreement from the Prime Minister to make sure that there is a mechanism in which not only to replace that up to 10,000, but also to look to stabilize and build on the capacity of seasonal workers that are required,” Mr Littleproud told the ABC.
“And we’re working with the Prime Minister and the trade minister and other ministers to make sure that mechanism can also be delivered, and we’re confident that we’ve found that.”
There were fears the free trade deal would mean changes to the existing requirement that British backpackers work on Australian farms for 88 days to extend their visas, at a time when farmers are struggling to recruit workers.
Before Australia closed its borders during the COVID-19 pandemic, about 70 per cent of the agriculture workforce was foreign and farmers relied on up to 10,000 backpackers from the UK each year.
Mr Littleproud said the arrangement would be separate from the free trade agreement and would allow for more than 10,000 farm workers.
“We have an agreement that the National Party will be able to secure those workers that would otherwise have come but also build and actually get greater capacity,” he said.
Long-time call for ag-specific visa
The visa will no doubt be welcomed by the agriculture sector, which was calling for an agriculture-specific visa long before COVID-19 closed Australia’s borders.
But farmers were seeking access to more workers from around the world, beyond the UK.
Responding to Mr Littleproud’s comments, president of the Victorian Farmers Federation Emma Germano, said an agriculture-specific visa was overdue and nothing less could satisfy growers.
“It’s been a long time coming and agriculture can not continue to bleed productivity because government is yet to provide a solution,” Ms Germano said.
“An extension to the Pacific Labor Scheme or Seasonal Worker Programme is not an agriculture visa and does not meet agriculture’s needs”.
This is not the first time the Nationals say they have reached a deal with Scott Morrison on workers.
In a 2018 interview recorded just days after Mr Morrison became Prime Minister, Nationals leader Michael McCormack was asked if “an agriculture-specific work visa” was part of the Coalition agreement he struck with Mr Morrison.
“I would like to see an agricultural visa sorted within weeks, not months but weeks. It needs to be, it has to be,” Mr McCormack responded.
Less than a week later, Mr Littleproud told a rural press function in Brisbane that an agricultural visa would be announced soon.
#AceNewsDesk report ………Published: Jun.16: 2021:
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