NSW Farmers has welcomed the announcement of a Queensland-New South Wales border exemption which allows farmers and agriculture workers to move freely between the two states, but says the same two-way flexibility needs to apply on the Victorian border as well.
It has been nearly two months since NSW closed its border to Victoria, sparking critical issues for the agriculture sector which relies heavily on open borders for harvest labour movements, processing and the movement of machinery.
The NSW Government added the Highly Specialised Critical Services (Agriculture) Permit last, which allows Victorian residents working in the agriculture sector to travel up to 100 kilometres inside NSW for work purposes.
If they need to travel beyond the 100 kilometre limit, their case will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
NSW Farmers’ CEO Pete Arkle welcomed the move, but says the permit needs to allow two-way movement across the Victorian and NSW border.
“An agricultural permit system was announced last week to allow farm workers to travel from Victoria into NSW, which was a step forward, but farmers in NSW still can’t travel to farms in Victoria.NSW Farmers’ CEO Pete Arkle
“We have members who can’t cross the border to look after their livestock herds in Victoria and are relying on the goodwill of their neighbours on Victorian properties to manage their livestock.”
Mr Arkle said a recent NSW Farmers’ member survey shows 90 per cent of farm businesses on the NSW-Victoria border have been impacted by the border closure, with 66 per cent of members needing to cross the border on a more than weekly basis.
National Agricultural Worker Code
After weeks of frustration for farmers and farm workers on borders across Australia, the National Cabinet is now working on a National Agricultural Worker Code to ensure security for the food supply chain.
NSW Farmers and other state farming organisations wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and each state premier last week seeking an urgent commitment to develop the code.
“It clearly has to be a national approach to classing agriculture as essential service. The flow of labour and machinery and contractors is national, so the National Cabinet has made the right decision and we look forward to working with the NSW Government and the Agriculture Minister on having input into this code.NSW Farmers’ CEO Pete Arkle
“But farmers who need to get to their farms in Victoria cannot wait another two weeks for the development of national code. The Queensland border has movement both ways for essential agricultural activities and we call on the NSW Government to do the same for the Victorian border.”
Bumper grains harvest
After many years of severe drought, 2020 is set to produce one of the better grains harvests in recent times, so the confusion around border closures couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Many farmers are now facing issues of having enough workers available to handle the harvest and ensure maximised farm returns.
Not only have the border closures restricted workforce movements, there are also not as many overseas backpackers circulating to get the work done.
Croppa Creek and North Star added to bubble
NSW grains growing regions of Croppa Creek and North Star were added to the Queensland border bubble last week enabling residents and those in the agriculture sector to access the Queensland town of Goondiwindi.
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young has said adding further NSW postcodes to the border bubble will only take place when community transmission in NSW is under control.
Goondiwindi Regional Mayor Lawrence Springborg told The Goondiwindi Argus:
“I understand that we may still have other northern NSW residents who could benefit from being in the bubble, such as Moree postcode residents.
“We acknowledge the outstanding job Dr Young continues to do in keeping Queenslanders safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Goondiwindi Regional Council also acknowledges that a postcode boundary system assists the police in being able to definitively protect Queenslanders interests during the pandemic by knowing the primary address of those crossing the border.”
Graincorp confident about labour
Graincorp managing director and CEO Robert Spurway recently featured as a guest on a Farm Writers Association of NSW webinar.
Mr Spurway said despite the disruptions, Graincorp is confident that the casual workforce pool is big enough to ensure a smooth harvest period.
“We are confident the industry will face up to that challenge and there will be the availability of labour and equipment. We are doing our best to make sure we’ve got people in the areas that we need them so that if there are tighter restrictions or challenges it won’t effect our ability to meet the harvest.Graincorp managing director and CEO Robert Spurway
He also said that while there are reduced numbers of backpackers in Australia at the moment, there are still plenty around that are looking for work.
“We are still seeing lots of returning casuals which is good for our business. These casuals have already been trained and they will help train the new people that come in,” he said.
“Whilst there is a reduction in people on 417 working visas, there is still a number of those people in Australia and they are desperately looking for work.
“Whilst people may not be able to roam as far as they had in previous years, there are still people travelling around the country looking for the sort of work that we can offer.”