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Webster worries on ag visa deal before election

A Victorian National Party MP representing the Sunraysia fruit-growing region has expressed dismay at the slow progress on securing an international partner or two for the long-awaited agricultural visa.

The Agriculture Visa was long proposed and finally delivered in the last 12 months, as a modified, streamlined option for farm labourers to bring workers on farm from neighbouring South-East Asian nations.

The long-worn adage is that Australian workers will rarely if ever, work in the outdoor conditions for long hours required to pick fruit and vegetables that can not be machine harvested. It follows that the broad shortage of workers this reticence creates resulted, combined with pandemic travel restrictions, to tens of thousands of worker shortages nationwide.

The member for Mallee in north-western Victoria, Dr Anne Webster, told Flow on Thursday she was frustrated with the slow progress of finding an international partner to approve workers to come to Australia on the 'ag visa':

“It is still slow-going...ultimately it’s in the hands of the Minister, Marise Payne and foreign affairs.”
“She is negotiating with Vietnam, is my understanding, we’re really hoping that that is finalised and that that will see a flow-on effect and where other countries come onboard as well.”
“It is incredibly disappointing that it has taken this long and that we still don’t have the deal done.”

Hear the full interview on the Ag Visa, the 'Wimmera cathedral', fuel excise and more with Anne Webster on the Flow podcast player below:

Dr Webster said that she would be:

“Very very disappointed, along with all the (primary) producers, if it is not done before the election is announced.”

Negotiations centred on the Agriculture Visas took a hit three weeks ago when the Philippines withdrew from the scheme, with the Australian Workers’ Union citing other Asian sovereignties would also inevitably withdraw from the scheme.

The AWU's national secretary Daniel Walton has expressed concern at some farmers exploiting workers, to the extent that in some instances it amounted to human trafficking.

Both the member for Mallee and federal agriculture minister David Littleproud have attacked the AWU in the past for undermining international interest in an ag visa deal.


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