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Monday, 26 October 2020
Page: 158


Mr DRUM (Nicholls—Chief Nationals Whip) (16:50): It is fantastic to get an opportunity to talk about the upcoming shortage of labour to get our fruit crops off—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 16:51 to 17:02

Mr DRUM: As I said before we were interrupted, it's great to be given a chance to talk on this very important issue. In the Goulburn Valley, come December, January and February this is going to be the No. 1 issue in our agricultural sector. If you read this motion, you'd be totally misled about the issues facing the fruit industry. If you read this motion that has been put forward by Labor as being worthy of debate, you'll see that they talk about the exploitation of migrant workers as being the most important thing. On our migration committee we've heard that this is a minuscule issue. Yes, it does happen, but it's absolutely minuscule. Yet the Labor Party want to blow it up and make it into something that it purely is not. It's deceitful to give it prominence as the No. 1 part of this motion.

The motion then calls on the Australian government to start work on a whole range of initiatives and incentives that are going to bring more Australians back into this work. You couldn't possibly get more incentives or initiatives put forward by any government to encourage Australians to do fruit picking.

If the member who put forward this motion actually knew anything about this industry, he would know that the most important issue here is what he rates as the least important issue—that is, the millions and millions of tonnes of fruit on trees at the moment that we need to get picked. We need to work out how we're going to avoid an absolute catastrophe within the agricultural sector. We understand that we are 26,000 workers short in the horticultural sector. To get this fruit off the trees it's going to take 26,000 workers. Yet the Labor Party want to talk about how we're going to identify and eliminate exploitation, underpayment and mistreatment.

We've heard evidence about the so-called squalor of people's living conditions. We've heard that people's living conditions were knocked back as being unsuitable because there wasn't a curtain ring in the accommodation. We have to put some reality around this issue. It is too important an issue to play politics with. All of a sudden we have an opposition that wants to blow up issues that simply do not exist. We're talking about an incredibly critical issue. We would normally have an additional 80,000 backpackers—very resourceful. Well, they are not going to be there; we all know that.

The big missing piece of this argument is also the compliance of the states and what type of imposition is going to be put on our states' agricultural sectors by their health sectors, and this is certainly playing out in Victoria. We have an agricultural minister that's making all the right noises about how she can help get a workforce to get these crops off. Yet, everywhere we move with Victoria, we run into these incredibly tough quarantining procedures that are going to prohibit people coming down from other states that are going to prohibit people from coming in from COVID-free countries. It is just as if they are playing games with this and they don't realise that people's livelihoods are at stake. The federal government has opened up the Pacific Islander program and it has engaged 14 countries now. They are all putting their names forward that they want to be a part of this program. What is Victoria doing about organising the quarantining program? Absolutely nothing. What efforts are they putting into going out to recruit a workforce? Absolutely nothing.

What we do hear is all about this so-called exploitation of migrant workers. We already have the fair work office concentrating their efforts on this all the time. We have recently recommended that we introduce a one-stop shop to put greater compliance and make it even clearer for anybody who comes from overseas, where you need to go if you have the slightest concern about your conditions, whether it's about pay, whether it's about your accommodation or your transport or anything. As a government we are trying to make it as easy as we possibly can for everybody. But we need to make sure that more and more people right around the world understand that Australia is a very safe place to come, to pick fruit, to work, to make real money for your family. If anything is wrong with that, we will jump on you. But we need to get these crops off.