He said that offering permanent residency would make a big difference to Australia’s ability to attract overseas workers.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has hinted that foreign workers could be allowed to live permanently in Australia if Labor emerges victorious in the upcoming election.
Speaking at the National Farmers’ Federation conference in Canberra, Mr Albanese said that offering permanent residency would make an enormous difference to Australia’s ability to attract workers from overseas.
“If you have people who are coming here temporarily, year after year, spending month after month here, why don’t we give them a bit of certainty and actually allow people to stay who are making a contribution to the country?” he said.
However, with just a few days to go for the official announcement of elections, Mr Albanese did not give any indication as to whether a Labor government would scrap Australia’s new agriculture visa.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website, the Australian Agriculture Visa program is being introduced to “address workforce shortages in the agriculture sector by building on existing government programs. It is a long-term contribution to Australia’s labour supply, intended to support Australia’s agricultural and primary industry sectors as they strive to reach $100 billion in value by 2030. It is a stream of the Temporary Work (International Relations) subclass 403 visa.”
The visa was promised after free trade negotiations with the UK last year led the Australian government to do away with the requirement that British backpackers work on farms to extend their visas. However, no foreign workers have arrived under the scheme so far.
Last week federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said the first memorandum of understanding (MOU) under the Australian Agriculture Visa Program had been signed with Vietnam. But it is still unclear when the first workers are to arrive or how many of them were to be employed through the visa scheme.
“At the moment there’s an ag visa, if no-one comes, guess what, it doesn’t exist, it’s not real at the moment,” Mr Albanese said.
But he did say that Labor wanted to help attract more workers to the sector.
“We’ll do something better, we’ll sit down with you, and work on how we get a proper visa system and how we get a proper workforce here,” he declared at the conference.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, who came on to speak after Mr Albanese’s address, was highly critical about Labor’s intention and capability regarding the visa.
“A Labor government would rip to shreds Australia’s credibility on the world stage, as no-one would be able to trust our word,” Mr Littleproud said.
“And in doing so, they would run a wrecking ball through agriculture by failing to secure a long-term reliable workforce for the agricultural industry.”
As of now, DFAT has declared that a phased approach to establishing the Agriculture Visa program has been agreed with industry and an initial group of employers have been chosen to test systems and processes before the program’s expansion throughout 2022 when Australia would expect to see a steady increase in workers arriving in the country.