The long-awaited launch of the ag visa is yet again delayed, with not a single South-East Asian country signing up to be involved.
Despite coming into effect in October last year, no workers have been granted a visa or employed under the scheme. The Australian government has lashed out at the Australian Workers Union (AWU), accusing them of spreading misinformation to countries to halt bilateral agreements.
“The AWU has met with ambassadors and visitors, and contacted many embassies from Southeast Asia, encouraging them not to sign up to the agricultural visa because they believe that Australian farmers will exploit their citizens,” said Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
“I don’t know why the AWU hates Australia so much and hates farmers so much.
“You don’t go and do that, and actively sabotage a program and actually remove any goodwill around our reputation as a good citizen globally.”
The AWU confirmed that it had spoken to diplomats from several South-East Asian and Pacific Island nations but would not specify which ones. In defending their position, the AWU said it was concerned about the industry’s track record for “worker exploitation and worker abuse”.
“If your industry serves up a mountain of bad apples, you have to be unethical, stupid, or both to ignore the need for systemic reform,” said AWU’s national secretary Daniel Walton.
“We have spoken to ambassadors and we will continue to tell them – and anyone else who will listen – that the new ag visa is dangerous and will pave the way for even more exploitation,” he added.
Pressure is now on Foreign Affairs Minister Marice Payne to convince key South-East Asian countries to sign up to the visa program.
“We need the Foreign Minister [Marise Payne] to have clear air, the AWU needs to get out of the road so we can have clear bilateral discussions,” said Mr Littleproud. “All we’re waiting on now are the bilateral [agreements] with a number of South-East Asian countries that [Foreign Affairs Minister] Marise Payne is negotiating.”
Industry Still Hopeful for Ag Visa
Despite the myriad of setbacks, sectors of the agriculture industry are still hopeful that the ag visa will help to ease labour shortages.
Will Evans, chief executive of the NT Cattlemen’s Association, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that visa holders would come online in 2022.
“I think we would mirror some of the scepticism around some of the details with this [visa],” he added.
“Finding a regional workforce has been a massive challenge for us, especially for some of our remote cattle stations, and the reality of having no backpackers has been a challenge.