Transcript – Mix 104.9 FM – We must support Territory farmers with a swift ag visa rollout

17 June 2021

CANBERRA – 17 June, 2021

KATIE WOOLF, HOST: Joining me back on the line is the Member for Solomon, Luke Gosling. Good morning to you, Luke.


WOOLF: Luke, you and I have spoken on numerous occasions about the worker shortage that we’ve got the Northern Territory at the moment, it’s been acute for quite some time. I just caught up a little while ago within NT Farmers CEO Paul Burke and spoke further about it. We know yesterday there was some movement when it comes to the new agricultural visa, and that seems like a good thing, but it’s not going to be soon enough for this year for mango pickers. 

GOSLING: Yeah, unfortunately not, Katie, like all these things, you welcome them because the farmers have been struggling for workforce for so long, they can’t find Aussies to do the work and the fruit’s rotting on the ground. And rapidly the mango season, the melon seasons are approaching. So I think there’s a bit of cynicism about the announcement from some farmers, but we all wanted to become a reality. But the Government’s not saying much about it. The Nationals are really leading the push, but the Government aren’t saying much about it. So we’re just trying to get some more detail.

Look, would be great if those Thai workers and Filipino workers that want to come in and pick our fruit could do that this season. But there’s a couple of things. One is that it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen fast enough. And, two, there needs to be enough quarantine capacity so that we could make sure that any workers that come into the Territory do so in a safe way. 

WOOLF: And that’s the big issue we’ve got at the moment, isn’t it, it’s that we don’t actually have anywhere for these workers to quarantine. 

GOSLING: That’s right, Katie, depending on the amount of stranded Australians that are coming home through Howard Springs, there may be some capacity at Howard Springs to take a limited number of the seasonal workers in for this season. But the NT horticulture industry is about 2,000 workers short. So like the US Marines, there would be an ability to bring more people in through the Bladin Village facility. I’ve been working down here with the CLP Senator Sam McMahon on that to try and get more federal support for that. But at this stage, there’s no news on the quarantine capacity for the seasonal workers, and the mango season is rapidly approaching. So we’ll continue to work down here, Katie, to try and get some more answers out of the Government so that it’s not just another announcement that doesn’t go anywhere. 

WOOLF: Luke, just on Bladin Village, where exactly are we at? Are we waiting on the Territory Government? Are we waiting on the Federal Government? You know, why is this not moving forward? I know that there has been a situation at different times out there at Bladin Village where it is already being utilized by other groups. But where are we at right now? 

GOSLING: We’re waiting on the Federal Government to respond to a proposal that’s been put to them by the owners of Bladin with a medical services company, because obviously the last thing we want to do is put any extra pressure on the NT health system. So they would need to set up that hospital out there so that we could have these returning Australians or international students or agricultural workers come through. So the Federal Fovernment, the ball’s in their court. And we’re hoping for some answers soon on what they can help us to do that. 

WOOLF: Now, if they do give the go-ahead, how quick would it be able to be set up in terms of the medical side of things, as you just said, and being able to set things up so that it’s able to all operate smoothly for those workers? 

GOSLING: What I’m hearing from the owners of Bladin is that the discussions with the medical services company is quite advanced and they could move quite quickly to set that up. We’re talking a number of weeks, months at the outside, so it can be done by this mango season. And the last thing we want to see, obviously, is Territory businesses being hampered by a lack of workforce. And we know now with this deal that the Prime Minister has made with the British Prime Minister that those backpackers won’t have to work on farms to get an extension to their visa so they can stay longer in Australia. So obviously, we hope that they still come and pour beers in our pubs and have a great time in the Northern Territory. But we can no longer count on them to help our farmers. So we really need this this new ag visa to roll out as quickly as possible. 

WOOLF: In reality, have we had many of those British backpackers working on the farms? 

GOSLING: We have, Katie, but less and less, to be honest. It’s tough work, but it’s work that people living in our region are more than ready and willing to do. And just last night, I caught up with the Philippines ambassador and she’s really welcomed this news. We had the Thai ambassador in Darwin for that great festival at the Waterfront recently, she was lobbying me about that as well. And that’s just two examples, Timor-Leste, they already do seasonal work that they could certainly be added to the ASEAN countries. There’s no shortage of workers who want to come and do the work. We just need some more detail and we need it to happen more quickly. 

WOOLF: Luke, just on that, with Bladin Point, I know when I did catch up with the Chief Minister Michael Gunner a couple of weeks ago, I actually put it to him and said, you know, what is holding things up? And he did also say that obviously we are waiting on the Chief Health Officer here in the Northern Territory to look at that proposal. So I’m just sort of trying to wrap my head around, is it the Federal Government that we’re waiting on or are we waiting on the Northern Territory Government to approve anything that moves forward out Bladin Point?

GOSLING: That would be discussions that the National Health Officer would be having with the Chief Health Officer and the NT Government. As I said, obviously, the NT Government needs to be convinced that it’s not going to burden our system. The last thing, as I said, that we would want is to be quarantining more people here without the ability to deal with it. And the reality is, is that would require some extra assistance from the Federal Government. 

So I think there’s two processes here. One is making the assessment of the proposal has been put to the Federal Government for their financial assistance to make it happen so that there’s proper health facilities out there that can deal with anything out there independent of the NT health system. And obviously, the NT Government needs to be assured of that as well. So that process is underway, and we hope that those discussions can continue as quickly as possible. 

WOOLF: Well, Luke, we’ll have a chat with Senator Sam McMahon as well, because I know that it is something that she’s certainly spoken to us on numerous occasions about. And from my perspective, it seems as though she’s very keen to make sure that this happens. So Luke, let’s hope that at some point we are able to come to an agreement and able to have those workers quarantined at Bladin Point so that we’re able to help our Northern Territory farmers. Luke Gosling, we are going to have to leave it there. It’s always good to have you on the show. Thanks so much for your time this morning.