JAYNIE SEAL: Good morning. Australian farmers are ringing in 2022 with trade confidence. Tomorrow the world’s largest free trade agreement will come into effect slashing tariffs for exporters. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership includes 15 nations, it covers 30 per cent of the world’s population and 22 per cent of its GDP. Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says the agreement will continue to stimulate investment and demand for premium produce as we expand our export trade and recover from the global Covid-19 pandemic.
And the farming industry also is urging the Coalition to come together and finalise bilateral agreements for the agriculture visa, and that’s raising the alarm that any more delays could, in fact, spell trouble for the Morrison government. Joining us live is Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud. Good morning to you, minister.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning, Jaynie.
JAYNIE SEAL: So ag visas, they were put in place on October 1. What’s happened since?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, we were able to put them into effect. They had royal assent on the 1st of October. But just because Australia puts in place an agriculture visa doesn’t mean that other countries sign up to them. They’re all their own sovereign nations, and Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister, is charged with the responsibility of negotiating that. She’s underway on a number of negotiations with South East Asian countries in signing up that. Originally they’d anticipated through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that they’d have that finalised before the end of the year. But unfortunately they haven’t been able to get a country to sign up. That’s their right, but it has been muddied by the actions of the AWU in their direct conversations with embassies and ambassadors urging them not to sign up to this because they believe that Australian farmers would exploit their citizens, which is absolutely disgraceful.
There is a small cohort of farmers that do the wrong thing, but we’re increasing the regulation on labour hire companies and penalties, and we’re putting the protections the place. Those workers that come here, work under the same conditions as Australian workers, they get paid the same amount. And for the AWU to do this is absolutely disgraceful. And what we’re saying is let’s trust the system. Australian workers get first crack at this. And when they don’t take it up, foreign workers are needed. Otherwise it can’t get from farmer’s paddock to your plate. And to demonise and generalise Australian farmers is absolutely disgraceful.
I don’t know what the Australian Workers Union has against farmers and against Australia. They’re sabotaging this, and they’re sabotaging our reputation globally. And I don’t actually understand what they’re trying achieve here.
JAYNIE SEAL: And, minister, what sort of visas are being offered?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: So, this obviously complements and supplements the Pacific schemes. But what this also goes beyond is just seasonal workers; this goes to skilled and semi-skilled workers. And what it also looks to endeavour to do is to give a pathway to permanent residency after they do a period here in Australia of probably three years, that’s their first tick. Then they’d have to commit to a further period of time so that they stay in regional and rural Australia and they stay in agriculture. So, this is a structural shift that we tried bring in – that we’re trying to bring in place that would move away from the transient nature of seasonal work and agricultural work and actually bring in the next generation of migrants to populate regional and rural Australia and to grow agriculture.
So, this is more than just seasonal workers; it’s the skilled and semi-skilled as well, and that’s why this is the biggest structural change we’ve seen to agricultural workforce in our nation’s history. And we just need the Foreign Minister to have clear air to be able to negotiate this with those countries and the AWU to understand that we will protect not only Australian citizens but we’ll protect every citizen that comes and works in the agricultural sector or any other industry that they come and work in in this country.
JAYNIE SEAL: And tomorrow, so we’ve just mentioned the world’s largest free trade agreement will come into effect, and it’s going to slash tariffs for exporters.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, for our barley industry that had issues with China, we had our first shipment go there last year, but 115 per cent reduction in tariffs coming into effect for barley, also for dairy in Mexico and in Canada and Indonesia for our live cattle. So, this actually means we’re taking the taxes away and we’re putting them back into farmers’ pockets. So, this means we’re going to get more in regional Australia through the reduction of tariffs because of the free trade agreements. Fifteen free trade agreements will be put in place, but the regional comprehensive partnership equates to around a $13.2 trillion marketplace that Australian farmers have been availed to. And that means more money for them, more money for their commodities, more money for regional Australia.
JAYNIE SEAL: And, minister, a fire lit by protestors has damaged the front door of Old Parliament House. What is your reaction to the comment made by Greens senator Lydia Thorpe, who appears to support the actions of the protestors?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it’s disgraceful. And as a senator that represents the country and represents our democracy, it’s not becoming of any politician of any nature to do that. I mean, this is so sad. No matter your race, no matter your religion, no matter your beliefs, in this country it’s not appropriate for anybody to undertake vandalism in demonstrating those beliefs in this country. You are – and particularly in terms of a symbol of our democracy it is an abhorrent act. And I hope that the police investigate this quickly and throw the full force of the law to those people who are responsible. And for politicians to sit there and to encourage this is not responsible. It’s disgraceful and they should consider their position in the Australian parliament.
JAYNIE SEAL: All right, minister. Well, thank you so much for your time and expertise. Before we let you go, it’s New Year’s Eve. Are you going to be celebrating at all as we bid farewell to this interesting year?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, I’m glad to see the back of 2021. I suspect going on past form I’ll be in my jammies and tucked away by 9.30.
JAYNIE SEAL: A nice fresh start to 2022. Sounds good. I think a lot of us will be doing that. Thank you so much. You have a wonderful evening, and we thank you so much for being a part of our Sky News at Breakfast show, and we look forward to seeing you in 2022. See you later. Thank you so much.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Happy New Year, Jaynie.