Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has put the onus on state governments to address farm labour shortages with overseas workers ahead of a crucial harvest period.
Farmers will be able to fill jobs with Pacific islander and East Timorese workers under two restarted visa schemes.
Mr Littleproud wants state governments to follow the Northern Territory, which has established a pilot program to bring in 170 workers from Vanuatu to pick mangoes.
“They have to lead this. They’re big boys and girls now,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
“They actually have to put some rubber to the road and do the job.”
Between 1000 and 4000 workers are expected to enter Australia by Christmas under the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program.
Mr Littleproud said states needed to outline plans based on health advice to ensure safety for overseas workers and Australians.
He called on governments to allow temporary workers to move between states to help with harvests based on different seasonal conditions.
Queensland on Monday announced it would exempt agriculture and commercial fishing from its hard border closure with NSW.
Federal, state and territory governments are also developing a national code for agriculture to allow farmers and workers freedom to move across closed borders.
“It is so important that the states don’t just say, ‘phew, we have done this, dust our hands off, (agriculture’s) settled’,” Mr Littleproud said.
The schemes for Pacific islander and East Timor employees can only be accessed if the jobs cannot be filled locally.
Mr Littleproud said while unemployment was high, many farm jobs were thousands of kilometres away from Australians out of work.
Farmers have warned fruit and vegetables could be left to rot unless overseas workers are allowed to help, with a bumper season expected across many parts of the country.