Interview with Rikki Lambert, Flow FM

11 November 2021

RIKKI LAMBERT: Minister Littleproud, thanks for joining us here on Flow.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, thanks for having me.

RIKKI LAMBERT: The Labor Party has made some comments about the agriculture visa. You're a bit concerned they’re- well, are we really surprised? They're very close to comments the union movement's making about farmers?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it's just made it clear that they're getting their riding instructions from the union movement. The union movement for the last couple of months have been demonising farmers through this generalisation that they've been exploiting overseas workers. Now, while there's an acknowledgement, there's a small cohort that have done the wrong thing, to generalise it and to say that all farmers are doing the wrong thing is disgraceful. And what we're saying is we're fixing that. We're putting in place legislation that will increase penalties and work with states to have mirroring legislation to give greater protections. But it's no reason to stop the Pacific schemes, nor the new AG visa. And what Labor is saying is they're simply taking the writing instructions off the unions. They think Australians will do these jobs, and the facts are they won't. They’ll be put over $60 million worth of incentives for Australians to take it up and less than 6000 have taken these incentives, of which 70 per cent were overseas workers here anyway. So the unions want- thinking that this is all going to change and Australians are going to take these jobs are wrong. Farmers don't, on a whole, exploit overseas workers. They have enjoyed the same rights as Australian workers. And this demonisation now by the Labor Party shows that if they win the next election, then their policy is going to be dictated by the union movement and that means very bad things for farmers, but it also means bad things for consumers because you’re going to pay at the checkout.

RIKKI LAMBERT: Well, for example, one of the comments is from the AWU's head, Daniel Walton, and he's said and I quote, the so-called labour shortage in fruit picking has in large part been created by greedy employers destroying Australian working conditions. He was talking about the horticulture decision there, but do you agree there's a so-called labour shortage? Your comments before have said there's about 30,000 jobs needed.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that's just not me. That's ABARES. That's actual scientific data that's been calculated and that's just for horticulture. That doesn't take into account the meat processing sector where we believe it's only running at around two thirds capacity because it simply can't find workers. Now these unions and the Labor Party might want to venture out and have a yarn to a few farmers instead of, their closest proximity to Australian farmers is about 30,000 feet above them as they fly over them. So it's just important that before you make wild statements, you actually go out and understand rather than make comments from a high rise. And there is a significant shortage. There are commercial decisions being made by farmers of ploughing crops in and in not planting and letting crops rot because they simply can't get the labour. And if we can't get Australians, we have to get overseas workers and that's the commitment we've made. We're giving those that come on the AG visa an opportunity to come here for a pathway to permanent residency. We are looking at a structural change that will give a structural adjustment, a long term one, to this problem by giving them permanent residency. That's a smart thing to do, and that's about building the regions. But the Labor Party and the unions are on this vendetta to actually sabotage the negotiations we're having on the AG visa, and that's why it's taking long to get countries to sign up. The unions and the Labor Party’s sabotaging of this and demonising of farmers has meant that some of these countries that we’re having bi-laterals with have become very, very scared about signing up to it. And that is a disgraceful act. It's destroying the image of Australian farmers, but it's also destroying Australia's image.

RIKKI LAMBERT:  Well, they've issued, I guess you might call it a self-fulfilling prophecy then. They're talking about the concerns that it's going to damage our Pacific reputation. To have these deals when workers might be exploited. Is that the kind of commentary that's making them back off?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, exactly. That's the sort of scaremongering that is going on by these union movements. The generalisation that farmers are doing the wrong thing, we're not doing that in the union movement. And if you want to play by the same rules, you could overlay that against the union movement. We've seen union members do the wrong thing. In fact, many have been charged, but I'm not demonising saying unions shouldn't be there. So I'm calling them hypocrites for them having this generalisation and demonisation of Australian farmers for a few that have done the wrong thing. We will weed them out and we will get them out. They are a cancer and we will remove them from the industry and being able to employ foreign labour or Australian labour. But any foreigner that comes here, comes here after the jobs have been market tested with Australians first, and secondly, they enjoy the same rights as Australian workers do.

RIKKI LAMBERT: Do you happen to have any figures on just how many people have come in on this AG visa since it was launched not that long ago?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, none because we haven't been able to get a country to sign up to it because of the scaremongering of the unions. With respect to the Pacific schemes, there's been around 13-14,000 that have come in, but we're estimating by February we're going to need 30,000 just in horticulture. And that's why we're trying to get more programmes up where they’ll not just be the Pacific schemes, but try to get this ag visa that is a pathway to permanent residency, that is skilled and semi-skilled workers as well, not just seasonal. And the unions and the Labor Party are sabotaging it with disgraceful behaviour that's destroying our image and the farmers’ image.

RIKKI LAMBERT: Well, Minister Littleproud, thanks for sharing your time with us on Flow today. Much appreciated.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.