Labour shortage forecast over border rules

By Geoff Adams

A labour shortage is looming in agriculture unless state governments clarify or change restrictions on travel between NSW and Victoria, Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum has warned.

NSW banned seasonal workers from entering the state from Tuesday, July 21.

Permanent agricultural workers are eligible to apply for a permit under the new public health orders issued as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Drum described the situation as "crazy" with the citrus harvest under way in the Sunraysia region, requiring harvest labourers to cross the border at Mildura.

He said there was a looming crisis for the Goulburn Valley harvest if the situation was not sorted out soon.

The region's main harvest begins at the end of the year.

One possible solution Mr Drum is investigating is the use of overseas labour from countries like New Zealand or the Pacific Islands, where the pandemic is being brought under control.

Citrus Australia chief executive Nathan Hancock said NSW citrus crops could be in jeopardy unless NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard provided citrus growers with immediate information on seasonal workers.

If labourers were required to self-isolate for 14 days, the citrus harvest would rot, costing growers and the regional and national economy millions of dollars, Mr Hancock said.

Mr Hancock said he had been frustrated with an inability to get an answer when seeking a solution, and with what appeared to be no communication between the NSW Government and the NSW DPI.

“We urgently require Minister Hazzard to provide some answers. There is no justification to ban seasonal workers as they do not pose a greater threat than anyone else working in agriculture.”

Cobram grower James Cornish said the new restrictions had created anomalies for businesses operating on the Victorian side of the border. Some properties were inside the border ‘bubble’ meaning employees could freely travel between NSW and their Victorian work place while others were just outside or even straddled the zone.

Mr Cornish said the ban on seasonal workers moving across the border was not likely to be a major problem in the off-season. He said more often these days harvest labour was drawn from Victoria.