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  • Rikki Lambert

Farmers face PALM metro move potentially butchering farm labour pool

The federal government has expanded the Pacific Australia Labour Mechanism (PALM) to allow metropolitan based food businesses to access the Pacific Islands workforce, drawing a mixed reaction from farm advocacy groups.

The National Farmers Federation cautiously welcomed the move, whilst expressing concern it may stretch an already thin pool of workers (relative to the demand) even thinner. NFF president Fiona Simson said on Friday:

"We absolutely acknowledge that the full food supply chain is suffering worker shortages, and it’s right to try and meet those needs. But this move should not come at a net cost to farmers, who have been feeling the pinch of these shortages most acutely over several years. "Spreading an insufficient pool of workers thinner won’t solve anyone’s problem."

The Australian Meat Industry Council welcomed the Albanese government's decision, saying it would help meat and smallgoods producers in metropolitan areas. CEO Patrick Hutchinson said on Friday afternoon:

"I have spoken with Minister Watt on this issue and written to several other ministers and advocated for schemes like this to be extended to the whole of the meat processing and smallgoods sector during our Agricultural Workforce Working Group meetings.
"The work that the Agricultural Workforce Working Group and Minister Watt’s office has done is already seeing results and the extension of the PALM scheme is hopefully only the beginning of what we can do to address the workforce issues in our industry."

The announcement came on the same day the federal opposition seized upon Department of Employment and Workplace Relations figures indicating just 2,000 workers had arrived for farm labour in the past six weeks.

Former agriculture minister David Littleproud claimed only 34,000 workers had arrived under the scheme - 11,000 since May - with a further 40,000 pre-vetted but waiting to start work.

The Nationals Leader criticised the federal government on the handling of the PALM scheme and rejection of the Coalition's Agriculture Visa concept:

"Minister Murray Watt is now playing catch-up. Labor wants to expand the PALM Scheme but this is a failed scheme and well short of the 172,000 workers that NFF and the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia require.
"The reality is, the labour crisis is Labor’s crisis. Many farmers are only planting 60 per cent of their crop because they just don’t have the workers they need.
"Australians are bearing the brunt of Labor’s bad decisions at the grocery store this Christmas. When supply goes down, prices go up."

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt told Flow earlier in the week that when the government took office there were 1 million visas in the overall caseload backlog, which it had since got down to around 800,000 and was deploying more staff to process the visas faster.


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