VIETNAM and some major agriculture bodies are on board with the Australian Agricultural Visa; the unions though... not so much.
Vietnam officially signed up to the ag visa this week.
Indonesia has also publicly declared its support, but questions remain over which other two countries are involved in negotiations.
Federal agriculture minister David Littleproud said Vietnam's participation showed the close strategic partnership between the countries.
"There are many workers from Vietnam already in Australian agriculture who are highly regarded for their work ethic and attention to detail," Mr Littleproud said.
In February, Australian peaches and nectarines were officially allowed back into Vietnam after the signing off of technical negotiations between the two countries.
Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) chief executive officer Michael Rogers said workers from Vietnam participating in the ag visa program would form an important part of the future workforce.
"We are very clear in how the ag visa fits within the horticulture industry's employment options - that is specifically targeting seasonal harvest work peaks," Mr Rogers said.
"This perfectly complements the ongoing employment of Australians, Pacific workers and other skilled migration pathways available."
Ausveg CEO Michael Coote thanked the Australian and Vietnamese governments for the "significant announcement", saying the latest development demonstrated the ag visa was progressing well.
"The ag visa was never intended to be a short-term solution to issues that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic," Mr Coote said.
"It is a long-term structural change for the industry to access a more efficient and effective workforce and reduce its reliance on working holiday makers."
National Farmers' Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said Australian agriculture and the growth of the regions was being curtailed by an inadequate farm workforce.
"During the tough economic times of the past two years, farmers have continued to put food on supermarket shelves, support jobs and contribute significantly to the nation's GDP," Mr Mahar said.
"The ag visa is a key part of a suite of measures needed to address agriculture's workforce shortage and to ensure our sector meets its $100-billion-by-2030 target."
No backing from AWU
THE Australian Workers' Union has doubts about the validity of Vietnam's signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, labelling it "probably meaningless".
AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said the signing was unlikely to result in a hard agreement.
"Anyone who's followed David Littleproud's long and garbled trail of misleading announcements on his Frankenstein visa will know to take this Vietnam MOU with a bucket load of salt," Mr Walton said.
"But if Vietnamese nationals were really to arrive in Australia on this visa they would be even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse than previous guest workers."
He warned Vietnamese workers would have fewer rights under the visa.
"In the unlikely event that Mr Littleproud's able to move his Frankenstein visa out of the dreams of the farming lobby and into the real world it would be a disaster," Mr Walton said.
"Eleven separate independent reports over the past decade have revealed endemic and widespread abuse of workers in the horticulture sector. This visa would turbo charge it."
Elements within the ag visa program such as including labour market testing, employer sponsorship and a range of worker welfare mechanisms will strengthen the program, according to the AFPA.
"We continue to support high standards within the visa. We consider high standards within the program vital to ensuring that we can develop a highly productive workforce with an incentive to return to work on farms year on year," Mr Rogers said.
The need for worker protection was reinforced by Ausveg's Michael Coote.
"The new visa will only be successful if the health and safety of workers is protected. Workers who come to Australia to pick fresh produce do so to work hard and earn good money, but we also want them to enjoy the experience and feel safe while they work," Mr Coote said.
"The ag visa will be a sponsored visa, which is strongly supported by industry so that only businesses that are able to demonstrate that they are fit and proper will be able to access workers through the ag visa."
The NFF's Tony Mahar from the inception of the visa, the NFF had prioritised measures to ensure workers have a positive experience on farm.
Littleproud takes a swing
PERHAPS in a sign of entering election mode, Mr Littleproud went on the front foot firing shots at both Labor and the Australian Workers' Union for not supporting the program.
"While this is one of the biggest achievements of the Nationals this term, the question still remains as to whether a Labor government would keep it," Mr Littleproud said.
"There is one question that the Labor Party needs to answer and it's a simple yes or no; will the Labor Party keep the ag visa if it wins the election in May?
"The Ag Visa has been an article of faith for the Nationals and despite efforts by the AWU and the Labor Party to sabotage the establishment of the visa, the Nationals never gave up and pushed our Coalition partners to finalise the visa."
Shadow agriculture minister, Labor's Julie Collins said the Morrison-Joyce Government had still not provided a serious response to the National Agriculture Workforce Strategy it was handed 18 months ago.
"These workforce issues are impacting farmers across the country and driving up the cost of fresh produce for consumers," Ms Collins said.
"The Nationals promised the ag visa would fix everything. But it hasn't fixed anything. Not one worker has arrived.
"Australian consumers are now paying the price for the government's inaction."
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