Growcom today welcomed two separate measures announced by the Federal Government designed to address the critical labour shortage facing the horticulture industry, but warned greater interventions were likely still required. 

“It’s a start but we’d like to see the Federal Government go further and faster,” said Richard Shannon, Manager of Policy and Advocacy at Growcom. 

“Where we are today was entirely predictable three months ago or more. Where we’ll be mid next year is also plain to see. The shortage is already on us and will get worse. We can’t afford any time for tinkering, testing and trialing.”

The measures announced by the Federal Government include offering backpackers already in the country the option to extend their visas, and allowing Australians receiving JobSeeker to earn $300 each fortnight while working regionally without losing any of their payments.

“The Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has said they’ll throw the kitchen sink at this problem. We take him at his word. But without any greater intervention the concern of industry is they’ve only thrown in the tea towel,” said Mr Shannon.

“Extending visas for backpackers already in the country is the very least we can do. 

“Whether being able to earn $150 per week in a regional location before losing welfare payments is going to act as the catalyst we need to fill the massive and immediate shortfall in labour is anyone’s guess. 

“And that’s just the point. We don’t know what’s going to work. With time not on our side, the smarter approach would be to be far more generous with incentives up front, leaving room to dial them back should we get an overwhelming response.

“This is not a narrow industry issue either. This is a matter of food security, then national security. There are also likely public health impacts.

“With the costs of attracting labour going up, so too will grocery prices. On top of that, with no confidence in labour availability, growers are also making decisions today about not producing the same amount of crop next year, or moving away from crop types that require large amounts of labour.

“This comes in the middle of a recession. Vulnerable people and those unemployed will not have access to a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts at affordable prices when they need it most. There are clear links between household food insecurity and poor long term health, education and social outcomes.

“Any spending by the Federal Government in fixing our labour shortage now is ultimately an investment in our long-term wellbeing as a nation.”     

The measures announced today come in response to a study by Ernst & Young for Horticulture Innovation Australia released today that reports the gap between demand and supply of casual labour will result in up to 26,000 positions going unfilled in horticulture over the next nine months.