“The Australian Government is going all out to pinch our workers, while our Government won’t lift a finger to support industry,” says ACT’s Primary Industries Spokesperson Mark Cameron.
“Kiwis are being promised $2,000 if they complete six weeks’ harvesting in Australia’s regions. Meanwhile, our horticultural and other primary industries desperately need RSE workers, but Labour won’t listen.
“The Government’s excuses are facile. There are some RSE workers available. There are some backpackers still around. It’s helping people ‘transition’. None of it helps. All of it shows how disconnected Labour is from the practical reality.
“In reality, someone unemployed with a family in another city is not going to move to the regions to pick fruit and vegetables. The chronic unemployed are not going to suddenly develop a work ethic. The dwindling number of foreign visa holders aren’t going to cover the peak harvest labour demand.
“Farmers, small business owners, landlords, employers, and anyone who tries to make a difference knows Labour markets a kind and inclusive society but shows little practical empathy when the rubber hits the road.
“The Government could have taken a practical approach as advocated by ACT for years in the case of RSE scheme reform and all year in the case of Covid-19.
“ACT has been saying for years that the RSE scheme must be uncapped. Having a capped number of RSE workers allowed into the country each year is an invitation to corruption as officials allocate ‘quota’ for employing RSE workers that can make or break a business.
“The Government should follow Australia and have an uncapped RSE scheme instead of trying to guess how many RSE workers are required to make the industry function each year.
“In the case of the Covid-19 response, ACT has been saying since July that the Government must make two changes.
“The Government should take a risk-proportionate approach to people entering the country and allow private operators to operate MIQ while itself focusing on safety standards.
“The Government’s own MIQ facilities have already allowed one outbreak, although its origin was never traced. We find ourselves perilously close to another with weekly incidents.
“Meanwhile, the possibility of bringing people from low-risk countries is overlooked because the Government insists on running MIQ itself.
“The horticultural seasons are predictable. They happen every year. Produce rotting on the ground was foreseeable. But instead of working with the sector to find a solution, as ACT has argued, the Government of inclusion and kindness left the sector out in the cold.”