A national scheme to standardise grower relationships with labour hire firms is among a set of key election priorities set forward by peak horticulture industry group Citrus Australia, ahead of the federal election later this year.
Citrus Australia chief executive officer Nathan Hancock said there needed to be a National Labour Hire Licensing Scheme with "one set of rules and a watchdog to manage it" able to even the playing field for employers and reduce worker exploitation.
The scheme is part of a multi-pronged approach proposed by the peak industry body to address the structural issues that exist in the horticulture workforce.
To secure a long-term supply of seasonal workers, Citrus Australia has called on delivery of the Australian Agriculture Visa this year and developing a strategic investment plan within the next 12 months to end the accommodation shortage in regional and rural Australia.
The election priorities, sent to the federal government and the Opposition, provide solutions to key issues in securing a long-term workforce, strengthening plant biosecurity nationally, and developing premium export markets in India.
Mr Hancock said the peak industry body's focus was ensuring the long-term sustainability of the citrus industry.
"We are calling on both parties to adopt the same long-term view, for the viability of an industry with a farm gate value currently worth $900 million a year to the national economy, and a vital employer in rural areas," he said.
"Building on the government's successful negotiations with Vietnam and continuing to deliver the Australian Agriculture Visa this year by completing further negotiations with ASEAN countries remains critical.
"We rely on the major parties to negotiate long-term agreements that include mutually beneficial frameworks for employers and employees because we have not found a reliable source of workers here in Australia.
"We're calling on both parties to roll up their sleeves and deliver real solutions to the critical worker accommodation shortage within the next 12 months by developing and implementing a strategic investment plan across all three levels of government, aligning planning and building laws to encourage and allow private investment."
Mr Hancok said it was "one thing to flag commitment to a goal of agriculture reaching a value of $100 billion by 2030" and another to invest the time and resources in key projects, including increasing available accommodation, to allow the industry to reach its goal.
Citrus Australia also called for both parties to incentivise education of Australian youth in horticulture career pathways by funding collaborative industry initiatives to develop education programs, revitalise existing traineeships, apprenticeships, and other tertiary education by strengthening partnerships between industry and universities and TAFEs.
Citrus Australia has also called for critical funding and resources to finalise the National Biosecurity Strategy to build capacity and service provision within government departments, as well as funding for a three-year project to map the citrus supply chain in Australia.
"Plant industries contribute 54 per cent of farm gate value across total Australian agriculture production of $73 billion. Yet budgets across states and territories consistently allocate plant biosecurity less than one third of the annual funding investment," Mr Hancock said.
"This inequity needs to be recognised and changed. Australia is exposed to an average of 40 exotic plant pest incursions annually, compared to less than one for animals.
"Currently a National Biosecurity Strategy is being drafted to provide direction through to 2030, however stakeholders are seeing no progress.
"Governments have consistently failed to implement critical recommendations in support of plant biosecurity made in every biosecurity review over the past 25 years. Most of these reports have failed to clearly identify the declining capacity and capability across the plant biosecurity agencies, leaving the sector increasingly vulnerable."
Mr Hancock said mapping the citrus supply chain would enable the industry to act more quickly on potential incursions, like citrus canker in 2018.
"It will also act as a platform for government's export traceability goals, identifying risks to the export market, to understand risks to export we have to truly understand risks to the production base."
Citrus Australia has called on both major parties to increase support in international trade negotiations and to assist the peak industry body in its diversification efforts through Ministerial and high-ranking government official representation.
It has also called on funding to develop premium export markets in the subcontinent, particularly India.
"There has been much hard work and investment through all sectors of industry to grow our export market sales to as high as $540 million annually. Maintaining those markets and developing new markets will take a similar level of effort and commitment and we call on both parties to support our industry through Ministerial representation on the front line.
"Citrus Australia is now enhancing its efforts in the subcontinent. Government funding to help open this market of one billion plus people will result in additional export dollars for the national economy, filtering down to increased investment in regional and rural areas, with further flow-on effects."
Citrus Australia has also called for a review of the national freight pathways, with a focus on sustainable intermodal freight solutions, and quicker intervention in industrial disputes, which are impacting our port efficiency.
"Disputes need to be referred to arbitration more quickly, as per the powers afforded by the Fair Work Act.
"Our growers and agribusinesses work so hard to produce world class export product only to have it held up by freight delays, poor performing networks and industrial action.
"For perishable goods like horticulture products these delays have significant impact on the delivery of premium quality product to its final destination."
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