RESILIENCE: Daniel and Toni Nicoletti stand with MP David Littleproud and GBGA president Angus Ferrier in front on the gorgeous Nicoletti Orchards for the National Ag Day celebrations.
RESILIENCE: Daniel and Toni Nicoletti stand with MP David Littleproud and GBGA president Angus Ferrier in front on the gorgeous Nicoletti Orchards for the National Ag Day celebrations.

Worker shortage D-day looms over Southern Downs growers

RESILIENCE, innovation and determination.

That was the core takeaway of this year’s Granite Belt Growers Association’s National Ag Day celebrations but with growing worker shortage fears pervading the air, the former reigned supreme.

The day was an opportunity for members to meet with Member for Maranoa David Littleproud to voice their concerns.

At Ashbern Farms, Jon Carmichael and Richard Ross said they had watched their workforce deplete by half with the pandemic obstacle.

The enterprise had already given up on their Sunshine Coast crop and were holding on by a thread at their Stanthorpe farm.

“We feel the pain more than most growers because we’re so labour-dependant,” Mr Carmichael said.

“We have a constant requirement almost every day of the year for a group of workers on site and the whole Covid thing is making it a hell of a challenge.”

“When you spend to plant 50,000 hectares of crop the last thing you want to do is walk away from it.”

It had led the pair to feel frustrated at JopKeeper benefits they feared were holding Australian workers back from applying.

“Why the government chose to give more money to people stay at home, God only knows,” Mr Carmichael said.

“They need to give incentives not to stay at home and the best way to do that is take the money off them.”

Ashbern Farms producers John Carmichael and Richard Ross at the GBGA National Ag Day celebrations
Ashbern Farms producers John Carmichael and Richard Ross at the GBGA National Ag Day celebrations

Mr Littleproud said the Morrison government had employed a bounty of incentives to help entice workers, including a $6000 rebate for travel to regional farms and accelerated Austudy and Abstudy pathways for school leavers who wanted to use their summer working.

Instead, Mr Littleproud blamed the State Government for a halt on the arrival of 22,000 Pacific-based workers and Aussies interstate.

Mr Littleproud also noted the “stamp was ready” for workers.

“If you’re a seasonal worker sitting in Mildura where you haven’t had a Covid case in seven months, you’re unable to come into Queensland unless you quarantine in a motel in Stanthorpe at the cost of $2800,” he said.

“But the Queensland Government is flying in international visa holders and letting them isolate on a farm without cost. It’s just stupidity,” Mr Littleproud said.

“You can put 52,000 people in a sports stadium on a night out but you cannot bring people from another part of this country in a Covid-free area in to work? It just doesn’t add up.”

NO WORK: A sign spotted outside a neighbouring Stanthorpe farm.
NO WORK: A sign spotted outside a neighbouring Stanthorpe farm.

Queensland Agricultural Minsiter Mark Furner said only people from designated hotspots were required to quarantine.

“Mr Littleproud does nothing for Queensland farmers by repeatedly railing against the expert advice of the Chief Health Officer,” he said.

“It is a shame Mr Littleproud is so out of touch with the industry. Just last night I was speaking to Craig Pressler from 2PH, owner of Australia’s largest citrus orchard, who was full of praise for the support we have given to enable Pacific workers to help with his harvest.

“While he is shrieking nonsensically every single week, the Queensland Government is getting on with the job of helping Queensland farmers access appropriate seasonal labour.”

GBGA president Angus Ferrier.
GBGA president Angus Ferrier.

GBGA president Angus Ferrier said neither State or Federal governments incentives had worked in the region.

“We’re yet to see a significant uptick in interest by Australian workers specifically as result of incentives,” he said.

“If and when we reach a critical point there will be very little time for fluffing around,” he said.

“At some point our dependency on foreign workers may become inevitable. Not to say we have a preference for internal works, all we need is motivated people. But when they don’t come, we’ve got to go to plan B, C, and D.”

It was something Southern Downs Mayor Pennisi could also attest to, urging politicians to put aside the “blame game” before it was too late.

“We need to stop mucking around and find a way to deliver some help to these guys today,” he said.

“In two months’ time, it’s too late. Our season’s has already begun and there’s shortages already.”