By Shadow Minister for Agriculture & Food and Member for Agricultural Region Colin de Grussa.
Western Australia’s agriculture and food sector is the lifeblood of regional and rural communities, and as we know, this industry is vital to our State’s economy.
So, with skilled worker shortages continuing to plague our farms, it begs the question why our State Labor Government still has no real solution to address this crisis and support the industry we rely on for our food and fibre.
It’s been 18 months since the global pandemic began and one would have thought the Government would have implemented a well-reviewed strategy by now to avoid worker shortages.
Instead, we are hearing of significant concerns around farmers’ mental health and heightened risks of serious fatigue-related injuries due to overworking as we approach a bumper harvest season.
Working with the Federal Government to come up with a solution is something The Nationals WA have advocated for – negotiating entry for an international workforce, tailored quarantine arrangements and realistic COVID-19 risk assessments are all viable options that could provide a pathway for desperately needed workers into Western Australia.
We understand the sector requires skilled machinery operators, predominantly sourced from the Northern Hemisphere.
We know it is unjustifiable to expect the State’s unemployed to relocate to regional WA for seasonal work as well as develop the requisite skill set needed to meet the demands of incredibly sophisticated farming operations.
What troubles us, and no doubt the industry, is the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Labor Government have been aware of this growing crisis, and essentially have done nothing to put necessary measures in place to ensure our farmers would not struggle.
The Government continues to put forward so-called ‘solutions’ that anyone with a rudimentary understanding of contemporary farming operations will tell you do not solve the problem.
This is a State Government that is prepared to throw our world-class agricultural sector under the bus purely for its own political populism.
The Minister for Agriculture understands what needs to be done but is prepared to play second fiddle and acquiesce to a Premier hellbent on maintaining his approval ratings, instead of looking after our farmers, our regional communities and our State’s food and fibre.
Proactive solutions need to be front-of-mind for this Labor Government.
If they had planned for issues that were on the horizon months ago, we would not be in this situation.
Similarly, we would not be seeing international ships sitting at our docks and being forced to leave empty because of one unwell seafarer – another blow to farmers and pastoralists, who are already struggling as they face a busy, understaffed harvest.
Our economy, our growers, our regional communities, our State will struggle to thrive if this Labor Government chooses to push agricultural issues out-of-sight and out-of-mind instead of opting to be proactive.
To add salt to the wound is the hypocrisy of this Government in its pushing for the recently passed Work Health and Safety legislation to ‘protect’ the agricultural sector whilst sitting back and watching on as overburdened farmers struggle to meet the workload alone.
The struggles and pains felt by our farmers who are being left deserted by this State Government will only worsen leading into harvest.
They deserve better from a Government boasting an almost $5 billion surplus.
Of course, there are more sensible pragmatic solutions that have been identified and raised, like the one put forward by WAFarmers where fully-vaccinated international workers could be given priority entry into Western Australia.
This could be appropriately managed without diminishing the number of total entries into the State, compromising the integrity of the quarantine system, or putting the community at risk.
All that is needed is the will, endeavour and proactiveness to do so, something which is sadly lacking in the current Government.