NOT ENOUGH: Gunnible plays host to many overseas workers for the harvest like John Tahi from Vanuatu. However regular workers lile Ilaisa Afu (inset supplied, pictured with family) cannot come over to work because of border closures. Photo: Gareth Gardner

NOT ENOUGH: Gunnible plays host to many overseas workers for the harvest like John Tahi from Vanuatu. However regular workers lile Ilaisa Afu (inset supplied, pictured with family) cannot come over to work because of border closures. Photo: Gareth Gardner

Gov 'deluded' in thinking incentives will get harvest workers: farmer

Gunnible farmer, Tongan seasonal worker detail struggle from International border closer as harvest approaches

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Seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands, like Ilaisa Afu from Tonga, rely heavily on income made from the Australian harvest.

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One Gunnedah farmer knows the government incentives aimed at getting people to work the harvest will "not be enough".

There is roughly 26,000 workers needed for fruit harvesting this year, according to a recent study by consulting agency Ernst and Young.

Robert Hoddle, from Gunnible Pastoral Company said there is "no way" that quota will be filled.

The government has offered relocation assistance of up to $6000.

Another carrot for young people, they now have the chance to be classified as 'independent' to get Youth Allowance or Abstudy benefits, if they earn over $15,000 in agricultural work.

"It is nowhere near enough," he stated.

Ilaisa Afu and family.

Ilaisa Afu and family.

"Politicians are absolutely deluded if they think it will help.

"It may, and we'd love to see it, but the reality will be different than what [the government] want to see."

With the end result a massive price hike for consumers as unpicked fruit is left to rot on trees, there is another human element set to suffer alarmingly.

Seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands, like Ilaisa Afu from Tonga, rely heavily on income made from the Australian harvest.

Mr Afu has been coming to Australia to work at Gunnible for the past 10 years.

He'd finish picking the oranges then head over to Armidale to pick tomatoes.

Read more: Will a job guarantee help get more people into work?

But with no income and a scarcity of work, Gunnible has had to send over some money for his children's school fees.

He said as a result of the travel bans he would be going without many essentials.

"I'd like to come back and work with Rob, in Gunnedah you make so many friends, get skills, and I can support my family," Mr Afu explained.

Mr Hoddle thinks establishing a quarantine set up to allow these workers to come over is one solution.

"They can come into a regional airport and quarantine on-farm for 14 days, and then start the work," he said.

A pilot program in the Northern Territory was trialed for the mango season, but it didn't come cheap, with the industry forking out around $100,000 all before a single mango was picked.

More measures

State agriculture minister Adam Marshall has said the NSW government would pay for the workers' travel and 14 days quarantine, taking the financial burden off farmers.

"Our farmers are on the cusp of the best harvest we've had in many years, and we cannot afford to let that opportunity slip by without ensuring they have the workforce they need," he told the Leader.

Those programs are contingent on the states applying for them and managing health quarantine arrangements in bringing them into Australia. - David Littleproud

He said they were exploring options to supplement the agricultural workforce by "recommencing the Pacific Labour Scheme," working closely with the state and federal counterparts.

Federal agriculture minister David Littleproud told the Leader the government "had never believed" the measures in the budget where going to "singularly solve this issue".

Rather, they were part of a suit of measures implemented.

"The federal government has made additional overseas workers available to farmers through various visa programs if they work in agriculture," he said.

"Those programs are contingent on the states applying for them and managing health quarantine arrangements in bringing them into Australia."

The story Gov 'deluded' in thinking incentives will get harvest workers: farmer first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.

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