Horticulture

Minister supports new backpacking visa

By Country News

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has used a tour of the Shepparton region to voice his support for a new agriculture-based employment visa to be fully implemented by the end of the year.

The new style of visa, which will seek to address a skills shortage of about 100000 workers in the agriculture sector, was flagged last month by Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

The shortage was exacerbated last year when Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton cut the range of skills that could access the 451 visa. The backpacker workforce has also faced issues thanks to last year’s prolonged taxation battle.

A new agriculture visa would seek to streamline the process for getting foreign workers employed in jobs such as shearing and fruit picking.

‘‘This has been a priority of mine since I became agriculture minister,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

‘‘In fact, (Federal Member for Murray) Damian Drum has been one of the ones ... knocking down my door, because he sees the concerns that he’s hearing here today, and I’m hearing here today. But I hear it whether I’m here or up in Darwin.’’

The comments came as Mr Littleproud toured the Varapodio orchard in Ardmona with Mr Drum on Thursday.

‘‘We are working with other agencies including (Home Affairs) Minister Dutton’s office and (Citizenship) Minister (Alan) Tudge’s office,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

‘‘So, it is complex, but we want to make sure we consult properly with industry and that we get it right, and we don’t have to come back and fix it. That’s my aim.’’

Mr Littleproud flagged having the new visa introduced quickly.

‘‘It’s something I want to try and make sure we have on the ground before next picking season. I think that’s important. I want to be practical because these people can’t afford to have fruit left on the vines,’’ he said.

The tour of the local region was the minister’s second since being promoted to the office four months ago.

‘‘I try to get out and sit at the farmer’s kitchen table, kick the dirt and listen to the problems at the front gate, at the processing sheds, listen to what their concerns are,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

‘‘Rather than getting a Canberra lens, I want to put a lens of reality over it.’’

—Myles Peterson