Some Australian growers are claiming their government should stop ‘chasing people out of the country’, as the fruit and vegetable industry is still desperate for labor. Australia's agricultural supply chains have been left short-staffed due to workers in isolation from testing positive to Covid-19, being deemed a close contact or awaiting test results.
The industry had already been struggling to find enough workers prior to the widespread transmission of Covid-19, a problem that was meant to be alleviated by a new ag visa program. Unfortunately, no countries have signed up in the six months since the program was launched.
North Queensland vegetable grower, Carl Walker, who is the president of the Bowen Gumlu Growers Association, has called the ag visa announced by the federal government in September 2021 a 'white elephant'. "It is bloody disappointing; it could have been a game-changer," he said. "I think it was purely a political ploy rather than an intellectual solution."
Walker said while he thought border restrictions were the right call at the time, he was supportive of the country opening up again now the virus was so widespread. He said excluding standard immigration figures, Australia usually had between 100,000 to 150,000 visa holders in the country.
There were significantly fewer people in the country to work at present, he said, and Australia's long-term unemployed was never going to work in the horticultural industry.
"The biggest problem we've had, and this has been a government problem, is when they told visa holders to bugger off," Walker said. "It's a double whammy; we're not getting people coming into the country and we have people leaving."