Farmers are despairing at an apparent breakdown in negotiations between states, territories and the federal government towards the promised Agriculture Workers Movement Code.
On 21 August, National Cabinet committed to develop a national solution to agriculture’s border crossing issues within two weeks. Less than 48 hours out from that deadline and the NFF is demanding governments sort out the mess and agree on a satisfactory code.
“It’s simply not good enough that our most senior leaders: ministers, premiers, chief medical officers and top bureaucrats, cannot arrive at a solution that will both safeguard human health and enable food and fibre production to continue as required,” NFF CEO Tony Mahar said.
“How hard can it be?
“A workable code for the freight industry was developed and has been successfully implemented. However, for some reason the industry and the people behind producing food and fibre and keeping our supermarket shelves stocked, don’t deserve the same attention or priority?”
Mr Mahar said National Cabinet must immediately pivot from crisis mode, to a new business-as-usual approach.
“We will be living under the cloud of this wicked pandemic for the foreseeable future.
As a nation we need to adapt to a new norm.
“Safeguarding the health and wellbeing of Australians is the number one priority and a risk-based approach must be taken to stopping the spread.
“With no cases west of Sydney in NSW and Brisbane in Queensland, it simply does not make sense to curtail the movement of farmers and farm workers, for example between Moree to Goondiwindi.
“The stretch of land between Mildura in Victoria and Longreach in Queensland is COVID case free!”
Mr Mahar said a city-centric, bureaucratic, black and white approach to borders, was crippling the bush, which, without this had been on the long path to recovery following, for some, consecutive years of drought.
“Since Federation, Australia has operated with soft borders, yet less than six months of navigating this pandemic, and we find ourselves existing like eight separate nations.
“It’s not how Australia functions and it’s simply not sustainable.”
Mr Mahar said the fruit and vegetable picking season had already begun and the grain harvest was just around the corner.
“We are fast approaching the time where fruit and vegetables will rot on the vine, and grains will remain unharvested. That is essentially all our farmers’ hard work for one year left to rot in the paddock.
“This is not only a devastating blow for farmers and the bush but it will impact the price and availability of fresh food across Australia.
“This is a mayday call to those who we call our leaders – work overtime between now and Friday to achieve a nationally-consistent Code.
“Anything less will demonstrate utter contempt for agriculture, regional communities and all Australians who depend on quality food and fibre.”