CANBERRA, AAP – Labor has promised a shake up of the scheme that encourages seasonal workers to come to Australia, but farmers have condemned the plan saying it kills off the agricultural visa.

If elected Labor says it will address the Pacific economic challenges, while easing Australia’s agricultural worker shortages.

It has proposed reforming the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme’s seasonal worker program and expanding the Pacific Labour Scheme.

Labor said its plan, announced in Darwin on Tuesday, includes a four year agricultural visa under the PALM, as well as reducing upfront costs for employers, and extending the stay for seasonal workers from nine to 11 months.

Labor’s spokesperson for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy said the changes will also allow seasonal workers to bring family members to live and work in Australia.


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“These visas operate for up to four years and one of the reasons why they haven’t been picked up as much as we would have liked is that workers can’t bring their families in.”

Mr Conroy said the current agricultural visa scheme isn’t working, and has failed Australian farmers.

“We will be placing the agriculture visa within the Pacific labour schemes,” he said.

“This government’s current agricultural visa is not working. Not a single worker has entered this country under the agricultural visa.”

Labor says its visa scheme will allow 55,000 pre-screened Pacific workers to access the program.

But the proposal has been criticised by the National Farmers’ Federation.

“Unfortunately, Labor has today confirmed its intention to do away with the farmer-developed ag visa,” NFF CEO Tony Mahar said.

“The NFF and our members advocated for an ag visa for more than five years … Labor has turned its back on a chance to be part of a solution for the sector’s workforce crisis.”

The NFF says the agriculture visa will be kept on in name only, and limited to workers from Pacific nations who are already well catered for by other worker programs.

The NFF has called for the visa since 2016 to cater for low-skilled to highly-skilled farm workers from countries outside the Pacific.

The Australian Workers’ Union, which has actively campaigned against the ag visa, welcomed Labor’s agriculture workforce policy.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said rolling the “failed” agricultural visa into the more established PALM scheme would build on it success and strengthen ties with Pacific neighbours.

“Australia doesn’t need to run an agriculture sector that turns an intentional blind eye to worker exploitation and abuse,” he said.

“We can uphold Australian working standards on farms while continuing to grow our industry.”

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the Labor Party had “torn up” the agricultural visa which farmers desperately needed.

“The Australian Workers’ Union have got their way and will kill the hopes of providing a long-term solution to the labour workforce issues in agriculture,” Mr Littleproud said.

“What Labor has announced today is what is already in place with some tinkering at the edges of the Pacific Labour Mobility Program.”