Qld urges for agriculture ministers forum

Marty Silk
·2-min read

Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner has called on his federal counterpart to hold an urgent ministerial forum to solve ongoing farm labour shortages.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud last convened a forum in July and before that in May.

Since then there's been a pronounced farm labour shortage, especially for fruit and vegetable picking.

Mr Furner says Mr Littleproud should sit down with state agriculture ministers to work out a solution.

"We've been calling on Minister Littleproud to have more of these and he's been silent," he told AAP.

"He is the federal agriculture minister. He should be prepared to go ahead and reach out to the states, and have these meetings to look at resolutions to these sorts of problems."

Mr Littleproud said the federal COVID-safe farm worker movement plan and a $6000 relocation incentive will relieve pressure.

He primarily blames labour shortages on state border closures, with Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania yet to sign up to his farm worker plan.

"When one state doesn't sign up it means if you're picking fruit in Griffith at the moment, you want to go to Bowen to pick mangoes, you will be picked up at Stanthorpe and put into a motel for $2800," Mr Littleproud told Nine's Today program on Monday.

Mr Furner rejected that claim, saying all Australian farm workers outside greater Sydney and Victoria can enter Queensland without quarantining.

The minister also believes the federal government is to blame because it didn't do enough to keep backpackers in the country when the pandemic began.

Backpackers formed an important contingent of 100,000 produce harvesting workers before COVID-19 struck.

Mr Furner said a problem with Mr Littleproud's incentives is that eligible Australians just don't want to pick fruit and vegetables.

He said the reluctance has partly been due to the JobKeeper payments, which are now being wound back.

Federal MP Bob Katter said Mr Littleproud and Immigration Minister David Coleman were responsible for allowing fruit and vegetables to rot in Queensland's fields.

"The privatisation of social welfare job allocation has been disastrous for jobs because it means these people can get away with doing nothing whereas they couldn't before," he said in a statement.

Mr Furner said Queensland also has a $1500 incentive for state-based pickers, but the uptake isn't as positive as hoped.

In the meantime, the state will plug labour shortages by flying in Ni-Vanuatu workers who have been picking in the Northern Territory and potentially other South Pacific Islanders.

Mr Furner said solutions could be worked out at an Agriculture Ministers' Forum if Mr Littleproud calls one.

He hopes a meeting will deal with China's looming sanctions on Australian produce as well.

"These serious problems need to be addressed," Mr Furner said.

"And they're going to be addressed when you include every state and territory through an AGMIN meeting to look at solutions."