THE doubling of Job Seeker payments has made it more difficult for growers to find workers.
That's according to Queensland federal member for Kennedy, Bob Katter, who has called on the federal and state governments to work together to prevent a shortage of fruit and vegetables over summer due to low worker numbers in North Queensland.
With Coronavirus border closures preventing new backpackers and Pacific Island workers from traveling to North Queensland to work on farms, Mr Katter said the issue of not being able to get local workers had spread into other vital industries and required drastic action.
"You know something is going really wrong when our harvests are rotting in the field because our farmers have no pickers," he said.
"Until two or three years ago I had never advocated for the dole to be cut off where work is offered and not taken up, but I am changing now.
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"Whether it is Mackay mining contractors, farmers in Tully, or taxi drivers in Cairns or Townsville, the complaints are coming in from everywhere and the government is left with no alternative."
Last week the federal government announced a trial scheme where Pacific islanders would be brought in to help with the Northern Territory mango harvest.
Opposition agriculture minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, described the scheme as too little too late, saying it was more aimed at the August 22 NT election rather than fixing the problem.
"The agriculture minister's own media release says that the Seasonal and Pacific Worker pilot programme will be trialled in the Northern Territory and will only see up to 170 workers come to Australia to help with the 2020 harvest," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
"Yet, the Northern Territory Farmers' Association forecasts a shortage of 800 to 1000 workers from August.
"The agriculture sector has faced workforce challenges for a number of years, and the Morrison Government has known about it as evidenced by its Agriculture Workforce Strategy.
"The COVID crisis has merely exacerbated labour shortfalls because of travel restrictions."
Mr Katter said the Federal Government may also need to look into the possibility of bringing in overseas workers if Australians will not step up to the plate.
"We can get the backpackers brought in after a strict two week quarantine period, but in reality, there are a lot who won't want to come," he said.
"Either way, the Government has got to move on this and it must come to grips with the disastrous failure that has been the 'double-dip-dole'. It has become too attractive and so people are leaving work altogether."
Locals reluctant to work
IN a radio interview last week, federal agriculture minister, David Littleproud, said businesses and farmers shouldn't be burdened with people that they have to pay that aren't giving them productivity.
"There is a cohort, we've got to be honest; there is a cohort of Australians that simply do not want to work," Mr Littleproud said.
"We, as a government, need to work through with what those policy settings should look like, for those people, those long term unemployed.
"But our economy's shifted and we've got a lot of people that are on JobSeeker... because of COVID, that we've got to work through.
"They've got family commitments many thousands of kilometres away. So, the practicalities of this is what we have to work through and it just takes time to do that.
"In the meantime, we've got to get crops off and we've got to get food on the shelves for each and every one."
Mr Katter said the slow scaling down of Job Seeker payments will need to be monitored closely to ensure people aren't discouraged from finding work.
"The fact that Australia is already a net importer of fruit and veg, pork and seafood, no one seems to care about that. I repeat that slowly. Australia already can't feed itself in the areas of fruit, vegetables, pork and seafood," he said.
You can't expect people to pay you when you refuse to do any work. That's not fair.
"And the virus means our imported foods are in jeopardy. And now our domestic farmers are in desperate need of workers to meet our domestic quota.
In March, Mr Katter called for those laid off due to the Coronavirus to "put their shoulder to the wheel and take up fruit picking jobs".
"I'm sorry but everyone has to put their shoulder to the wheel. Two or three months picking work won't hurt anyone and in fact the exercise will do them a lot of good," Mr Katter said at the time.
"When I was younger I worked for four or five years in unskilled labouring jobs. I did everything from repurposing television sets, working at the picture theatre, cleaning toilets and hard yakka in the mines.
"I desperately want our young people to be aspirational. I represent the aspirational classes. Most people in Kennedy are aspirational; they work in mines or the agricultural industry.
"You can't expect people to pay you when you refuse to do any work. That's not fair."
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