Assistant Agriculture Minister Richard Colbeck has poured cold water on a push for a specific visa for farm workers, arguing the idea is too narrow.
The Liberal senator said people should be able to work in other sectors across regional Australia, including tourism, pushing back against calls from the National Farmers’ Federation for an agriculture visa.
‘I don’t think a specific ag visa in itself actually works,’ he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
A range of employment options needed to be included to provide labour to farmers and other sectors.
‘Quite frankly you’re doing a disservice by narrowing it down to just an ag visa,’ he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last year committed to an agriculture visa in the medium to long-term after a failed push from the Nationals to get the proposal in place before harvest time.
Instead, the government extended the Pacific Labour Scheme and relaxed rules to allow backpackers longer stays in the country if they worked on farms.
‘That’s what I mean about narrowing it and just wanting to call it an ag visa – there’s a number of changes that have been made,’ Senator Colbeck said.
‘They will make a contribution to the availability of that workforce. My view is that we’ll probably need to continue to look at that as the demand for labour continues to grow.’
The assistant minister also had a warning for the horticulture sector, which has been plagued by claims of worker exploitation and illegal overseas workers.
‘There’s all sorts of pressures there, but if they don’t do the right thing they’ll get locked out of the market and that will do more damage to their business than anything else,’ he said.