The availability of fresh Australian citrus and other critical fresh food items is at risk this year without the immediate intervention of the Australian Government. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s travel ban (effective March 20) has stopped the arrival of approved Pacific Island workers under the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP).
Citrusaustralia.com.au reports that these employees had been approved by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment and were due to arrive in the coming weeks to start the harvest in Queensland. Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock said the SWP has proven critical in past seasons in providing the labour needed to harvest the national crop of 750,000 tonnes of oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes and grapefruit.
“Unfortunately, the travel ban has stopped these employees from arriving, leaving our citrus growers with no options,” Hancock said. “We have written to all relevant Ministers for an immediate exemption to this travel ban for all individuals who have already been approved to enter Australia under this program.”
Hancock said the citrus industry understands the Government must be proactive when dealing with the coronavirus.
There are currently employees in Australia under the SWP whose visas expire soon, and were due to leave the country in April. They will soon be unable to work and lose their health insurance. A severe restriction in flights means they are unable to fly home.
Hancock has called on the Federal Government to immediately extend the visas of those employed under the SWP, as well as backpackers, for a period of six months to help with harvest.