[4 December/ABC]

Influential lobby groups have declared a program to encourage welfare recipients to work on farms a failure, putting new pressure on the Morrison Government to create a dedicated agriculture visa to fix labour shortages in the rural sector. The $27.5m Seasonal Work Incentives Trial has only found placements for 333 people with six months left to go on the two-year program, falling far short of its 7,600 possible places. Central Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie has asked for further analysis of why uptake has not been higher, to find out if there have been any barriers for job seekers, such as access to transport or accommodation. In November the Coalition Government announced changes to existing backpacker and seasonal worker visas, enabling foreign workers to stay in regional jobs for longer than six months, and to stay a third year in Australia if they did extra farm work. The requirement that these jobs only be in northern Australia was also scrapped. The Government also relaxed the Seasonal Worker Program, enabling Pacific Islanders who come to Australia for farm work to stay three months longer. However, Ausveg said these changes did not address the seasonal nature of harvest work, and has renewed calls for the creation of a more specialised visa for dedicated agriculture workers. The National Farmers’ Federation agreed, saying it welcomed the recent changes to existing migration programs, but that a long-term solution was needed.