Pacific Minister Alex Hawke: 'Labour programs are critical for agriculture'

Pacific nations restart farm labour scheme

Australia is facing an estimated farm labour shortage of 26,000 workers. Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Vanuatu and East Timor have agreed to restart their farm labour schemes. This means Australia could allow up to 15,000 Pacific workers into the country to plug desperate farm labour shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pacific Minister Alex Hawke told said the labour programs were critical for agriculture as harvest season approaches. “That means 15,000 eligible job-ready workers, who have experience in Australia, who’ve been pre-vetted, are ready to come to Australia and supply our markets,” he told parliament.

Hawke said the federal government would work with states and territories to bring in as many people as possible under the schemes. More than 320 workers have arrived in the Northern Territory to pick mangoes since the government restarted Pacific labour schemes in August.

As explained on, the Pacific labour boost comes after farmers and tourism operators called on the government to restart backpacker travel.

National Farmers’ Federation chief Tony Mahar and Backpacker and Youth Tourism Advisory Panel representative Wendi Aylward proposed a three-stage plan. All backpackers would be tested for coronavirus before leaving their home country and quarantine for two weeks.

A trial period of selected sponsor agencies specialising in youth travel, with a focus on farm work and nannies, would begin the three-stage plan. The rules would then be relaxed and the program extended into more states as domestic border restrictions ease and more international travel bubbles are created.

The final stage would retain testing and quarantine requirements, but backpackers would be allowed to travel independently with work arranged on arrival.

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