Jim Pekin, CEO
Cyclone and floods
At the time of writing this report, the ABGC was aware of severe flooding problems facing growers in northern New South Wales and were continuing to keep them updated on impacts we had been made aware of and resources available to them if they required assistance. Similarly, we are continuing to lobby for government assistance for Far North Queensland growers severely affected by Cyclone Niran.
While ABGC appreciates that both the Federal and State Agriculture Ministers responded to a request to see the devastation of TC Niran first-hand, by visiting the North in the days following the severe weather event, assistance offered by both governments, at the time this magazine had gone to print, fell short of expectations.
At a meeting organised by ABGC at South Johnstone on March 16, growers expressed the urgent need for some form of wage subsidy assistance to help in their overall recovery.
Just over a year ago the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, Australia’s efforts to suppress the spread of COVID-19 have been described internationally as a success story. However, the flipside is the banana industry is entering its second year of worker shortages. And just as vaccines roll out around the world, we are witnessing the escalation of COVID-19 on Australia’s doorstep in PNG. Also, cases at the Cairns Hospital at the time of writing are a reminder of the virus’s threat to banana businesses. Since March 2020, ABGC has been calling for reliable and safe pathways for growers to access staff.
The Queensland pilot Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme (SWP/PLS) has enabled 948 workers (under these visas), so far, with around 25% of those workers recruited to work on banana farms in Far North Queensland. Another 144 workers were due to arrive before the end of March to work in other commodities (not in bananas, initially at least). Acknowledging the ongoing worker shortage, on March 3 this year, Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner announced on-farm and hotel quarantine would continue.
From the outset, the ABGC advised the State Government on-farm quarantine does not suit the majority of banana growers and hotel quarantine is very limited at cohorts of workers. We have asked the Government to safely increase the scale of the SWP/PLS model in an efficient manner to get thousands of workers into Australia.
This includes Government providing quarantine options for the large numbers of workers needed to work on banana farms. We have also asked the Government to assist repatriations with an exchange of job-ready SWP workers. At the time of this article, the Queensland Government was considering regional quarantine facilities as one alternative to meet the demand for thousands of SWP/PLS workers across horticulture. We have requested that this option be progressed as a matter of priority. ABGC continues to advocate for the needs of banana growers during this difficult period. However, the Government’s priority to keep Australians safe from COVID means that the Health authorities have more clout on which and how workers can enter the country than what industry prefers. Please read our regular e-bulletins and visit abgc.org.au for all worker updates.
TR4 Program Transition
Growers will have noted from previous news that the Queensland Government and ABGC have entered into a Cost Sharing Deed and a Memorandum of Agreement until June 2023 to co-fund and transition Biosecurity Queensland’s TR4 Program to ABGC leadership. ABGC appointed an Industry Transition Leader, Geoff Wilson to develop and then implement the transition of the Program to industry.
Geoff started work on 15 March 2021 and is keen to hear growers’ views on how the Program should look in a bit over two years’ time. (See article on page 34) What the TR4 Program looks like after June 2023 will be dependent on what industry wants and where the disease has spread to by that stage. Geoff has acknowledged that various people and organisations have done a remarkable job in containing the disease so far. His job now is to work with and for industry for sustainable long-term solutions that have practical viability.
Banana levy reminder
The total compulsory levy remains at 2.19c/kg (as per table below). The ABGC has heard reports that some growers are still paying the EPPR Levy for the Freckle Response. This levy was taken from 0.75c/kg to zero from 1 July 2019. Please check this aligns with your payment slips.