Communique—3 April 2020
Primary Industries Ministers discuss COVID-19
Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers met via teleconference today to discuss COVID-19 issues impacting the agriculture sector. Ministers agreed that collaboration between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments, along with communication between industry and governments, is working well despite the challenging circumstances and complex issues.
Ministers again thanked our farmers and those working across the food supply chain who are performing a great service to support the Australian community in ensuring our food security remains as strong as ever.
The President of the National Farmers’ Federation, Ms Fiona Simson, and the Commonwealth’s Senior Agriculture Industry Engagement Officer, Mr Mark Tucker, joined the meeting to provide information about issues being raised by industry. The availability of labour remains a major concern for many industries. Both also noted that the Commonwealth Government’s announcement in relation to air freight assistance had been well received by exporters.
Securing freight access
Ministers welcomed the joint announcement by The Hon. Michael McCormack MP, Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham, The Hon. David Littleproud MP and Senator the Hon. Jonathon Duniam on 1 April 2020 on the $110 million International Freight Assistance Mechanism to support Australia’s agriculture and fisheries sectors. The initiative will help to secure freight flights into Australia’s key export markets, with return flights bringing back vital medical supplies, medicines and equipment. The initiative will provide benefits for Australia’s high-demand agricultural and fisheries exports including seafood, chilled beef and horticulture.
Ministers discussed the ability to mobilise a workforce that is critical to the productivity of the agriculture sector, particularly horticulture, noting the different requirements across state and territory borders. The issues of workplace health plans, border passes, accommodation, transport and tracking of the workforce were among the concerns raised. Ministers noted the importance of this issue across Australia and that considerable effort is underway to ensure supply and mobility of labour for the sector, within the necessary health guidelines.
Ministers noted the Victorian initiative announced on 1 April 2020 to give workers who have lost their jobs a fresh start in agriculture and to ensure primary producers have the workers they need during the COVID-19 outbreak. The $50 million Agriculture Workforce Plan provides practical support for critical food industries and will match displaced workers to vital industries such as horticulture, dairy, meat and food production. Ministers also noted similar work underway in other jurisdictions.
Ministers reiterated that Australia’s food supply chain remains strong and that there is no food shortage. All jurisdictions will continue to recognise and support food and fibre production as critical to maintaining Australia’s food security.
Ministers again noted the health imperatives behind border restrictions. Jurisdictions are working closely to ensure that state and territory border controls do not have an impact on supply chains, and to date supply chains have not been adversely affected.
Ministers agreed to continue to meet each week to provide an avenue for Commonwealth, state and territory governments to collaborate and discuss common ground on issues facing the agriculture sector during the COVID-19 crisis, and how governments can best support the sector.