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Monday, 26 October 2020
Page: 162

Mr JOYCE (New England) (17:22): I like the member for Solomon. He's a good fellow. The last part of that speech was almost Churchillian, but it was also romantic and it was also wrong. Unfortunately we don't get Australians onto farms. We get some. I've never picked fruit, I don't think, except in my mum's garden. My daughters have, at St George, definitely. I used to drop them off. I'll tell you who was there. There were a few local students from the high school or back from university, which included my daughters. There were a couple of pensioners, but they were usually pretty good. They were kind of professional. They worked with a timer on their hip and they knew how long they had to pick a box and they knew the speed they wanted to go. They were almost like professional pickers. Everybody else in that paddock, in that field, was from overseas.

Mr Gosling: I did say it would take a visionary government.

Mr JOYCE: I take the interjection. He said 'a visionary government'. I want to get that on the record, because that's what we need and that's what we're going to deliver. People just don't want to do the work. You'd go back into town in St George and it was terribly frustrating. There were people who were unemployed, but there was a job just down the road. In fact, there were jobs all around them. One of the problems was that it gets a little hot at St George from around nine o'clock on in summer. It's pretty hot. It gets up into the 40s and stays there. They start in the dark and they knock off at two o'clock and go home because it gets hard. A lot of people just don't want to do it, so we've got to try and work our way around that.

What you find with horticulture is it becomes the basis of so many towns. It's a big part of St George, and even in Guyra. St George is out in south-west Queensland—it's big there. They've got grapes out at Cunnamulla. But if you go to the highest part of Australia, to Guyra, it's a big part of it there as well. There's huge tomato production at Guyra, in glasshouses. If you go down the hill, there's huge blueberry production in my electorate, and just across the way in the seats of Cowper and Page, where the Sikh community have been instrumental in the growth of the blueberry industry.

Both sides seem to be saying we've got a problem that we need to fix. Well, let's fix it. We can't fix it unless we get tens of thousands of backpackers into Australia, because they're the ones who are going to pick the fruit. In fact, you even know at what stage and what country you want them from, because you know the sort of job they do. At certain stages, there are certain people from certain countries who get through it very quickly, and at other stages there are other people do it a bit more precisely and pedantically. But if they're not here, it doesn't get picked.

This is an issue not just for the farmers, because there's no money on a tree and there's no money on the ground; there's a money in a bank. The only way to get into a bank is if you sell the product. The only way you can sell the product is if you pick the product. We eat about four times as much as we export. So when you go into the shops and you go to the vegetable section, that's the Australian section overwhelmingly. So if we don't pick it—don't think it's just about helping backpackers or helping exports—it's not helping us, because it's our food. It's our food that's rotting on the ground. What's going to happen to the prices if you can't get these crops off? They're going to go up. If the prices go up, who's that going to hurt? The person with a lesser amount of money than most of the people in this chamber. That's the person who it hurts. It's a vital part of your diet, your fresh vegetables. It's not just important for the Goulburn Valley or the Murrumbidgee or Guyra or Tabulam or Tully, where the bananas are, or the tropical fruits on the Atherton Tableland; it's important for everybody who has dinner. For everyone who has dinner we've got to find a smarter way to get these people in.

I understand the issues of the conditions which people work under. That's something that has to be monitored, and we've got to always make the case that they're being looked after. But we can't use that as a stalling factor. We are really at the critical stage here. If we do not get these people in, if we do not work around the bureaucracy and become a little bit adroit and adept at how we're doing this job, then this fruit is not going to get picked. It's going to absolutely kick in the stomach the economies of places like Shepparton. It's going to be a disaster for other places, whether it's from Atherton to Tully to Guyra, you name it, because horticulture is everywhere. It seems like a job we can do, and hope we've got the smarts to do it.