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Monday, 9 August 2021
Page: 167

Mr DRUM (NichollsChief Nationals Whip) (19:45): I'd like to start with acknowledging the former Leader of the Nationals, Michael McCormack, and the work that he and David Littleproud have put into generating what is going to be known as an agricultural visa for the agricultural sector. Right now the agricultural industry is on a pathway towards its target of being a $100 billion industry by 2030. Everyone is very proud of the fact that we have this amazing agricultural sector right here in Australia. We are very proud that we can produce enough food to feed 75 million people, even though we have a population of just over 25 million. We're very proud that, in the middle of a pandemic, the one thing we're not worried about is our ability to feed ourselves. The supermarket shelves remarkably keep getting topped up every night with fantastic Australian produce being delivered by Australian truckies in Australian packaging. The sovereignty we have built within our nation based around our agricultural sector is very reassuring for all of us.

But there is one significant problem, and that is the agricultural sector's inability to get the workers they need across the various sectors and across the different commodities. This is highlighted in the inability of Australians to want to get off the couch and go to pick fruit. We've understood that for many, many years, and that shortage still exists. It's gone much further than that now. We have a demand in dairy, we have a demand in broadacre farming and then we have a demand in the associated industries, the meat processors and the timber workers. When it comes to forestry, we're having trouble recruiting timber workers for the sawmills. We have this inherent need that has to be addressed. Like most other First World countries around the world, we have to rely on developing countries to provide us with a lot of the labour we need. I know our opponents from the Labor Party don't like this, but it's a harsh reality that, if we're going to take our agricultural sector forward, we are going to have to develop an agricultural visa to give our agricultural sector the workers they need.

We have state governments that acknowledge the need, but in their time of need—and this was seen at a time of action last year—simply refuse to move on the health orders and the quarantine that they want to put in place. Effectively Victoria was locked out of the overseas worker market last year, and the ensuing damage with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of produce simply falling on the ground was the result of Daniel Andrews's inability to move when it came to bringing people to this country to help with agriculture. They could bring people in to get the Australian Open played—they could bring in the tennis players and their entourages—but they couldn't bring in workers, even though there was a hard promise from all these workers that they would receive a vaccination in country before coming over. They were happy to quarantine, happy to get tested, work on farm, live on farm, but effectively that state government didn't get on board.

There's a chance that in a short while Australia will have its own agricultural visa, with workers coming in from a range of countries. What's going to be critical then is that we offer some of these great workers an opportunity to have permanent residence in Australia. We need a pathway to permanency that will let our farmers identify these red-hot, fantastic workers and offer them a future on their farm. Then we're going to need the opportunity to capitalise on some of these fantastic workers that have the ability to use incredibly expensive equipment, which is one thing that gets left out of looking at this whole agricultural visa debate.

When you go onto a modern farm now, the technology that you see is just staggering. The machinery is getting towards being worth close to millions of dollars; it is in the high hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are headers, tractors, spreaders, harvesters. It is incredible. We need high-quality workers to be able to manage those farms. That's what we are putting in place together. As Minister Littleproud continues to work through this, we will hopefully be able to avoid the disaster that we had last year, where, when the need was identified, it simply wasn't acted upon on. We had this horrible spat between the state government and the federal government about who was responsible for quarantine. Well, the state has to put in place its own health orders.

The SPEAKER: The member's time has concluded.