Primary Industries Ministers’ Meeting

Communique—29 July 2020

Primary Industries Ministers discuss COVID-19

Commonwealth, State and Territory Primary Industry Ministers met via video link and teleconference to discuss COVID-19 matters impacting on agricultural industries. The meeting was chaired by the Hon. David Littleproud MP.

Ministers discussed the ongoing challenge of securing a seasonal workforce for the agriculture industry, particularly workers with specialist skills such as header drivers for the upcoming grain harvest, and unskilled workers for the horticulture industry. The tightening of restrictions at borders continues to impact on the movement of workers both across state borders and for overseas workers providing supplementary highly skilled labour.  Ministers discussed the work underway to help facilitate movement of labour subject to health considerations.

Ministers discussed key initiatives being delivered to support farmers secure a seasonal workforce including job matching, training, and promotional campaigns. Ministers agreed there was a need to provide clear advice to industry on the ability to bring in skilled labour from overseas.

Ministers agreed to continue to look at options to access seasonal workers from overseas while ensuring local employment options for Australians, and to coordinate effort at the state and federal level to help fill future workforce gaps and shortages, including for specialist workers, while also taking into account health and border considerations.

Ministers were briefed on the well-advanced work by the Commonwealth Government to facilitate the movement of international workers. This work was welcomed, as was the commitment to update Ministers on it in the near term and consult with States and Territories on their workforce needs.

Building on earlier discussions between Ministers about COVID-19 cases at meat processing facilities, Ministers were updated on recent issues.

Ministers noted the vital role meat producers and processors have in meeting domestic and international demand for high quality Australian products, produced with high standards of food safety.  Arrangements for preparedness and business continuity, including collaboration with health authorities, within and across levels of government and with industry were recognised as well developed.

Australia’s food safety standards are among the highest in the world, and all states and territories have endorsed Food Standards Australia and New Zealand protocols to assist food producers deal with any outbreaks. Given Australian domestic food safety legislation and requirements in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, Australian food is safe and does not present a risk of transmitting COVID-19. This is consistent with advice of the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation and other international food safety regulators including in the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Updates from both the Senior Agriculture Industry Engagement Officer, Mr Mark Tucker, and the President of the National Farmers’ Federation, Ms Fiona Simson, focused on border and workforce issues. Members discussed industry concerns on future workforce matters across a range of sectors.

Ministers agreed to discuss mutual matters of interest again, with timing to be settled in the coming weeks.