Nationals commit to ‘ag’ visa

By Country News

Nationals leader Michael McCormack has pledged a dedicated visa to ease the crippling farm labour shortage if the Coalition wins the federal election.

While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has cooled on the idea, pointing to the extension of other migration programs, the deputy prime minister is digging in on an agricultural visa.

‘‘When we are re-elected we will revisit it,’’ Mr McCormack said.

Last month, Mr Morrison said the government had extended enough existing programs to do the same job as a dedicated ‘ag’ visa.

‘‘We already have one. It already works that way. This is just a semantic discussion about titles,’’ he said.

But Mr McCormack said he didn’t believe the prime minister had walked away from an agricultural visa.

‘‘We just need to work out the best and most viable way to do it and we’ll get it done,’’ he said.

Mr McCormack believes the new visa will work alongside the Coalition’s population and regional migration policy.

‘‘The ag visa is important,’’ he said.

‘‘Wherever I go, whether it’s the Northern Territory, Western Australia, or even up and down the eastern states, they’ll tell you an ag visa is needed.’’

In October, Mr Morrison told the National Farmers’ Federation he would establish an agricultural visa in the medium to long term.

But since then, the government added a range of farm jobs to the Regional Occupations List to allow migrants to be sponsored for up to four years.

It also made changes to the working holiday maker and seasonal worker visa programs to address labour shortages in agriculture.

Despite his comments, the NFF has continued to call for both sides of politics to commit to the visa ahead of the May 18 election.

Mr McCormack said it was difficult to target labour shortages on farms because weather often dictated where workers were needed.

‘‘You just can’t have people sitting idly by ready to send them to the Sunraysia or the Murrumbidgee irrigation area or indeed central Queensland at a moment’s notice,’’ he said.

‘‘That does take a bit more work.’’

He said the government’s free trade agenda needed to be supported through making sure overseas markets were getting Australian produce.

‘‘We’ve got to be able to pick fruit — not let it rot on the ground.’’