Doorstop interview at Parliament House, Canberra

2 September 2022

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
FRIDAY, 2 SEPTEMBER 2022

SUBJECTS: Agriculture tripartite working group; collaboration at the Jobs and Skills Summit; agricultural workforce; visas; free TAFE places.
 
MURRAY WATT,
MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES & FORESTRY: OK, well thanks everyone for coming along today. Today is a really important day for Australia's agriculture industry. And today would not have happened if it wasn't for the Australian Government's Jobs and Skills Summit, which is going so well downstairs and bringing an incredible spirit of cooperation. 

Today also, being an important day for agriculture, would not have happened without the cooperation of the people standing behind me, which has really been developed through the Jobs and Skills Summit. And before I forget to thank the individuals involved, can I thank Fiona Simson on behalf of the NFF, Michele O'Neil from the ACTU, representatives from a number of agriculture and processing industries, Dan Walton from the AWU, Tim Kennedy from the United Workers Union, Matt Journeaux from the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union, Brent Eastwood from JBS - Australia's largest meat processing company. And we've also got Patrick Hutchinson representing AMIC who represent many of the meat processors in the country as well. So can I thank all of you for your incredibly cooperative spirit that has led to today. 

As all of you know, and I think as all of Australians know, agriculture is an incredible industry. It's a real national pride. And it's important for our country, not just because it feeds and clothes our country. But agriculture is an incredibly important source of meaningful jobs, especially in our rural and remote regions. But also in our urban areas where we see a lot of meat processing facilities. I might just let a couple of our guests join us before I keep going - we've just been joined by Margo from Australian Pork Limited. And Jo from Australian Wool - we thank you for joining and being helpful in this process as well. So as I say, agriculture is a great industry for our country. But we do know that for several years now it has faced some long-standing challenges, particularly when it comes to making sure that agriculture employers can get the workers that they need, and also making sure that those workers are protected and respected in the work that they undertake. And today is the beginning of solving those challenges that have been around for years in this industry. Today, I'm really pleased to announce that with the cooperation of the groups behind me, the Albanese Government has been able to develop an historic agriculture workforce tripartite agreement. What we're going to be doing as a group working together, taking that spirit of cooperation from the Jobs and Skills Summit forward, is working together to solve some of those challenges that have been bedevilling the agriculture industry for a number of years, to make sure that farmers can get the workers that they need, and to make sure that agriculture workers are protected and respected in their work. Through this commitment, we know that this will really benefit the industry overall, it will benefit our country, it will benefit workers, it will benefit farmers, it will benefit meat processors. 

So today is a really important day. So what this agreement will do is it will start work today on some immediate things that have come out of this Jobs and Skills Summit that do apply to a range of industries that are particularly important for the agriculture industry. You will have heard my colleagues in the Ministry announced a number of things that are really important for tackling the jobs and skills crisis that this country has been facing. So we have made announcements about extra fee free TAFE places and other skills programs, we have made announcements about lifting the migration cap, as well as speeding up visa processing. All of these things are massive issues in agriculture. And we are all going to be working together, for the first time, to fight for the agriculture sector to get its share of those skills benefits, and those migration benefits as well. And in addition, we're going to be working together to further some of the workplace protections that the Government had already announced and some of the new things that are being announced in this Summit. So this group will be working immediately to progress some of those broader initiatives to make sure that agriculture gets its fair share, so that again, our farmers get the work as they need and that workers are protected. 

Longer term, we have we have already decided through meetings that we've been holding in the lead up to today's summit, that there are a number of other issues that affect the agriculture sector that we do need to do more work on. And that's ranging from everything from new skills programs that haven't been tried before, or getting our workers visa security when they do come to Australia and maximizing the value of our visa system for farmers as well. There's obviously other issues that that go beyond migration and skills that matter for agriculture, particularly things like regional housing, and this group will be doing the work to make sure that agriculture is considered in those announcements. 

Now, this work will be taken forward by a tripartite Working Group, which will have representatives from government, from industry and from unions as well. And again, let's be honest here, we haven't seen a government that has been able to get groups working together in a common interest for quite some time. This announcement today is something that the previous Government wouldn't do and couldn't do. Because it wasn't prepared to do the hard work of working with everyone who has an interest in this sector, to bring people together and find common ground. That's something that I've worked really hard on. It's something that the people behind me have been working really hard on in the weeks leading up to today's summit. So can I again, just pay tribute to the people who've been putting in the work here? And can I pay tribute to everyone working on Australia's farms, whether they be farmers, whether they be workers, whether they be working in meat processing sheds around the country. Agriculture and processing is a great industry, we should celebrate it. It's one of our best industries in the country. And by today's agreement, we're going to make it even better to give the farmers the people they need, the processors the people they need and make sure those workers are looked after. 

Can I hand to Fiona Simson, we're going to hear from a couple of the union representatives as well. And then we're obviously happy to take questions, but Fiona does need to be on her way before too long. Thanks.

FIONA SIMSON, PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL FARMERS’ FEDERATION: Thanks, Minister very much. First of all, I want to thank Minister Murray Watt for his collaborative and consultative nature, and his ability and his willingness to work with industry towards outcomes that are really, really important for our sector. The National Farmers’ Federation and agriculture has identified the shortages in our workforce for some years now. And to be quite honest, farmers are sick of waiting. We've had a long process of waiting, we waited for a number of years for the Ag Visa, then we waited for a number of years for the MOU, we've been waiting for workers, we have been waiting for the election, we've now waited for the Job Summit and we're waiting for the outcomes that come out of it. So the reason that we are so excited and engaged in this space, and in the new tripartite taskforce - which is going to see industry, government and the union movement working together on some of our challenges and some of our opportunities - is because we need now the outcomes. And I believe Mr. Watt, when he says that this is about outcomes. It's about looking for common ground, it's about working on those, and also, of course, working on our challenges. Because at the end of the day, if we don't get this right for agriculture, then we see those impacts on our shelves in our supermarkets. We know that if farmers don't have the confidence and the workforce that they need to plant and pick their produce, then it has real impacts on the consumers shelves. We've seen recently that our supply chains in Australia are extremely vulnerable to shocks, whether they be weather shocks, or shocks that are created by the nervousness around not having the appropriate workforce. So it's absolutely critical that we work on these issues together, we need to work on the way that we treat our workers, we need to work on our skills development with rural and regional Australia. It's critical for us that we are an industry of choice. 

Our 2030 roadmap is very clear that we want to attract the best and brightest to our industry, we want to make sure that we can attract Australians into our industry and we also want to make sure that we can have visas that are fit for purpose for agriculture, that will allow the employers to have confidence in the workforce that they employ. We agree with Minister Watt, agriculture is a critical industry for Australia. And we are excited about the opportunity to work here again, and make sure that we can get some of these outcomes for the farmers and for the agricultural supply chain of Australia. Thanks so much. 

DAN WALTON, AUSTRALIAN WORKERS’ UNION NATIONAL SECRETARY: Thanks very much. I think if you were to rewind a couple of days or even a week, to suggest that we'd be standing up here jointly with the Government and the National Farmers’ Federation in spirit of cooperation, I probably would have questioned whether or not you've been on the drink! But what the last couple of days has shown is some genuine desires across the board to try and reach out and find some meaningful solutions to the big problems that face us in the agriculture industry. I too want to join Fiona in congratulating the Minister, Murray Watt, for bringing us all together to try and find an opportunity to form a new agenda and a new way forward with the spirit of tripartism. I also want to acknowledge Fiona Simson, the NFF, for the work that they've done to frankly sit down and listen to some of our concerns and an opportunity for us to take on board some of their concerns so that we can try and find constructive ways to solve these big problems. 

What we know in agriculture, it's a big and dear part for our union, is that there are many, many workers working in such a variety of different types of work. And unfortunately for us, we've been trying to focus on attracting local workers to get into the industry to drive down the youth unemployment rates in our regions, to give them an opportunity to have a good career safe workplaces and earn a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. We also recognise the need to bring workers in from overseas to fill those gaps that we can't otherwise fill with local workers and to do so in a way that gives them dignity and respect, and protects their pay and conditions. And I think the outline that we've managed to strike gives us an agenda to work forward to solve all of those problems. So that those great farmers that are doing the right thing in the industry have some confidence that this Government is trying to solve their problems. To try and make sure that they've got the skills and capable workers on their farms to make sure that whatever it is, feeding the piggery, working in the feedlot, working in our grain industry, aquaculture industry or be it for our workers in the fruit and veg industry, that they are being looked after, that they've got a place in regional Australia for a good and quality job, and will hopefully provide one long into the future. 

So again, I congratulate the Minister and congratulate the NFF. It is strange standing up here with them today, but I do welcome all the great support Fiona has shown over the last couple of days to get it to this point. Thank you.

MATT JOURNEAUX, QUEENSLAND BRANCH SECRETARY, AUSTRALASIAN MEAT INDUSTRY EMPLOYEES UNION: How good is this! A month or so ago, we would never have thought that we could come up with a tripartite body that industry, unions, and everyone within agriculture would come together and work as a unit to try and make agriculture the great industry that it is and continue to flourish into the future. 

Meat processing is a massive contributor to local and regional economies throughout Australia. In most cases, it's the major employer within that region. Kids should be able to leave school and earn and learn within their local communities and not have to leave to the big cities to be able to raise their families. Meat processing is vital to be kids to be able to do that. This tripartite body will be able to discuss the challenges that meat processors have in regional areas. My members, they should be able to be able to raise their families, earn a decent living, and be able to live in that local community and be a contributor to that local economy. 

So I'd like to congratulate the Minister, he's done a fantastic job in bringing all of us together. The NFF, we've had our differences in the past, but it's great to be sitting down with Fiona and to be able to talk about these issues and bring meat processing back to where it should be. As far as regional and rural jobs are concerned that local people within those local areas will have the opportunity to be able to earn, be able to learn within that community and be a contributor to that community now and into the future. Meat processing, you can go and get a veterinary science degree in university, and you can have a job in the future in the meat processing sector. You can come out of school in Year 10, and be able to have a future in a career in the meat processing sector. So it's through the whole gamut of educational outcomes, that people have got a future within meat processing. So again, I look forward to working with everyone. And this tripartite body is a very good starting point to see the future of regional and rural communities flourish in the future. So look forward to it. 

TIM KENNEDY, UNITED WORKERS UNION NATIONAL SECRETARY: Well likewise, on behalf of the United Workers Union, we want to acknowledge and thank the work of Minister Murray Watt in bringing us together for this dialogue that we think is important. But I also want to acknowledge the leadership of Fiona Simson, and the NFF and actually participating in this. These are challenging issues that we're going to be dealing with in this tripartite group. The United Workers Union has been organising in the fresh food supply chain for many years, we have thousands of members who actually have shown the stories of some of the problems in this sector and some of the exploitation has occurred in this sector. This is a good step forward that's been provided by the Minister and the fact that all the parties are part of the conversation we think's important. Some of the things we need to do will be difficult, but we're up for that. 

There's been some great commentary and contributions from the Jobs and Skills Summit this morning, Dr. Joanna Howe and Dr. Abul Rizvi, made very, very compelling arguments about the need to have treatment that respects workers, that provides good decent jobs, provides visas classes that provide security and pathways to permanence. But importantly acknowledges the fact that the way we actually have good jobs, secure jobs and a sustainable industry that we want to prosper, is that they have union representation. That workers feel comfortable being part of the union and that they can have a voice in this sector. They want to, they want to work in Australia, Murray's very correct. This is a great industry, something which is a competitive advantage for this country, we should be supporting it. So we're very pleased to be involved in this. We're up for the challenges. We think that this last two days have been excellent, great leadership from the Government and so we're in for it. So thank you.

BRENT EASTWOOD, CEO OF JBS AUSTRALIA: Thanks guys, Brent Eastwood with JBS Australia. I'd also like to congratulate the Minister, taking the initiative to get this group together. It's an unusual group that doesn't always get on. But in the spirit of trying to move forward to collaborate, it's a great initiative. And our company, we're happy to be involved in it. We're in the manufacturing sector as much as we are in the agricultural sector, but agriculture is a massive input into our business. We're acutely short on workers in this country. We try and hire every local we can train, every local we can. But we are so reliant on foreign workers, both skilled and unskilled. We are 1500-short today in Australia, our competitors are in the same boat. It's a real challenge. So the Summit has been really good in the sense that we're all working together for the future. But our problems are acute today. We need workers today. So we look forward to working with the group here, I mean, the work hasn't started yet, but the initiative is great to get here today. But the real work will start as to how we can advance the cause of agriculture, and food manufacturing in this country, because it is critical to the future of this country. Australian jobs first, but we need to rely on imported labour as well. So thank you, and again, congratulations.
 
MARGO ANDRAE, CEO OF AUSTRALIAN PORK LIMITED: Hi, so Margo Andrae from Australian Pork Limited. Look, it is a great step forward. We have a critical skill shortage in rural and regional Australia, and that flows into our cities as well. And really what we're trying to address here is food and fibre. That is basically what it is, there will be an awful lot of people hungry and maybe without clothes if we don't start to solve these issues. So the critical response needed now really is that domestic workforce, combined with a migrant workforce. Keeping in mind our migrant workers, paving those pathways to become permanent residents, they are part of the social fabric of rural and regional Australia. They are supported well and truly with our education and our services or health. So there's so many conversations that we're starting today and to have everyone around the table with mutual respect to start those conversations. This is about supporting Australian agriculture as a whole, which is food and fibre, and most importantly, a message to Australians; buy Australian, support our Australian industries and we'll keep you warm and fed.

JO HALL, CEO OF WOOL PRODUCERS AUSTRALIA: Hi, Jo Hall, CEO of Wool Producers Australia. I would like to join the others in thanking Minister for facilitating this platform. And I'll also add that the surprise shared by the unions that we are together in a tripartite arrangement at this point in time is a surprise to us too. So we're happy to be here! And look, what we need as an industry is a skilled workforce. What we don't have at the moment is the workers to do that. So if we have nothing other than a common goal of providing a skilled workforce that can provide food and fibre for our nation, that's what we're here for. And that's the starting point with this tripartite arrangement. I would also point out that we are keen to work with this group in a range of areas. And yes, there will certainly be areas that we will agree on. But of course, there'll be areas that we won't. So we'll cross those bridges when we reach them. And, yeah, really pleased to be involved with this and look forward to what the outcomes are.

JOURNALIST: What's your response to David Littleproud, who suggested the NFF were acting like ‘cowards’ by dropping the whole ag visa idea which you've lobbied for so long? Now that Labor's axed it, why aren't you talking about that today?

FIONA SIMSON: Yeah, look those comments, obviously incredibly disappointing by David Littleproud. Either he's seriously misinformed and not across his brief about our submission and our 40 recommendations, or else he's perhaps deliberately distorting the facts to get a bit of media attention and clickbait. Either way, it's not the collaborative bipartisan nature that we need when we're resolving some of these issues. These are very, very are big issues, farmers are sick of waiting for solutions. We've engaged properly in the process around the ag visa, we've waited for the workers to result, and it just hasn't happened. So right now, it is urgent that we get a consistent workforce in Australia to keep producing food and fibre and to keep building our Australian agricultural industry. We need to get round the table like we're doing today and agree on the things that we can agree on and discuss some of the things that we will have challenges with. 
So really, I would call on David Littleproud to be more collaborative. We don't call people names, we don't play political games. We actually need to focus on what's important to our members. And that is outcomes. And right now in Australian agriculture, there is no outcome more important than a good workforce.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned in your opening remarks that you waited for the last Government to do a lot of things; waited for the ag visa, waited for the election and those sort of things. Are you still waiting for things now? Does today fix a lot of the issues?

FIONA SIMSON: Look, there will be many farmers out there that will be hearing this announcement and sighing and saying ‘another workforce, another taskforce, another group’. But I as I said earlier, I am focused on Minister Watt and his delivery, and his assurance. And also people like Dan Walton and the unions, we are all focused on what we can agree on. We are all focused on the bigger aim. And that is a strong, sustainable, viable, growing agriculture industry as outlined in our 2030 roadmap and supported by Government. And so I say to farmers who will be sighing that we need to keep committing to working with the process. We need to keep making sure that agriculture is at the table in every discussion. Whether it's around migration, whether it's around skills, whether it's about rural and regional Australia and how we do deliver some of these outcomes in rural and regional Australia. We are at the table and that is what is important.

JOURNALIST: What's your response to the Government's announcement this morning that there will be another 8000 workers for regional Australia, is that enough?

FIONA SIMSON: Look, we're trying not to focus on the number to be quite honest, we are focusing on the outcomes. And the truth is that the agricultural supply chain is incredibly diverse. It goes from the farmgate, right through to the processing sector such as Brent, and then it encompasses family farmers, like the 95 per cent of family farmers that run a lot of enterprises across Australia, right through to big multinationals. So we have jobs for pretty much anybody in our sector. Whether we're talking about skilled people, we need we're desperate shortages of people like vets for example, in rural and regional Australia. And when we're looking down the barrel of these diseases and threats and biosecurity threats, clearly, you know, having enough vets in rural and regional Australia was critical. But that's a highly skilled profession. And right down to the more seasonal casual nature of some of our on-farm seasonal workforces. Whether they're in the grains industry, or the horticulture industry. Right now, we've estimated that there's about 170,000 jobs across our whole sector and I don't even think that takes into account some of the seasonal peaks and the seasonal casuals. So not focusing on the numbers. Let's focus on the outcomes. 

JOURNALIST: Just following up on Jessica's question there, and you referenced that there yourself saying that there's a shortage of 170,000 workers in your industry alone, so that 8000-9000 workers that are going to be going into regional Australia, is that really good enough to address a worker shortage of that large?

FIONA SIMSON: Look no, it's not. But we need to keep focusing on the outcomes, we need to make sure that agriculture is in there as an industry of choice for these 8000 workers and anybody else. I mean, agriculture is an incredibly diverse industry. Whatever your skill, whatever your interest, we have a job for you. And so we are in there with a chance for the 8000. But we continue to talk to the Government. And this tripartite taskforce is a great way, I think, to be all focusing on what's important to us. And whether you're from a union, whether you're from the Government, whether you're from industry, as a lot of our members are, we are focusing on a strong, viable, sustainable agricultural workforce with secure workforce. And that's what we need to keep focusing on.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, you mentioned a lot that, you know, it's very rare to get unions and peak agricultural bodies together. What concessions are you willing to make to ensure that you can move forward through these worker problems, for example, worker conditions or pay?
 
FIONA SIMSON: Right now we're focusing on what we can agree on. And that's about a strong, sustainable workforce, that's about workers that are well treated, well paid. That's about people wanting to come to agriculture, from whatever your skill level. That's about focusing on short-term jobs, seasonal jobs, casual jobs, as well as longer term jobs with permanent pathways. They're all the things that we need to focus on. I'm sure there'll be bridges that we have to cross at some point as we sit around the table together, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, it seems from the discussions that we've had that we have way more in common than we thought and how much better for us to be standing here together. It's supporting an industry that we all feel so strongly about, rather than sledging each other from the other side of the microphone. 

JOURNALIST: Fiona, you said before that you have been waiting for the ag visa, will PALM address the labour shortage? And what potential changes would you like to see to it and perhaps even other skills programs?
 
FIONA SIMSON: Yeah, we don't believe that PALM, as it currently stands, can actually fill all our job needs. However, we're also very aware that we need to make sure that we work fully with that, that we explore every opportunity under PALM, which is properly set up already. And then we explore the other visas. I mean, we talked this morning in the Summit about the number of visas that are there in Australia. At the moment, some 70 odd, I seem to remember. It's a clearly very complex space. And we need to make sure that instead of trying to retrofit some of those visas, that are not necessarily fit for purpose for ag, we actually start needing to focus on the outcomes we need from our workforce. And then of course, focusing on the visas that are available. And as we discussed in terms of the economy, making sure that we have the right sort of pathways for workers and the right sort of conditions, and the right sort of visas that are in place. Right now, people are actually waiting 16 weeks for PALM visa processing. That's clearly not it's not good enough, either. And then another three or four weeks for those workers to actually be moving between businesses. So we need to get on top of a number of issues in relation to how the PALM scheme operates. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. And we certainly have lots of employers around Australia who have utilised the PALM scheme for many, many years and actually want to make sure that that scheme stays strong, as well as a variety of other visas. And perhaps they're already there, we just might need to have a closer look at some of those things to make sure it's as simple and streamlined as possible, and that the visa system works for both employers and employees.
  
JOURNALIST: Unions have already proposed a number of safeguards for workers, one of them being default union membership for migrant workers, another being get rid of the requirement to tie migrant workers to a single employer, particularly Seasonal Worker Program. Do you agree with those proposed measures? What will it take to get you there? And also to the Minister; is there likely to be agreement on that?

FIONA SIMSON: So I think these are some of the complex issues that we are going to sit around the table and talk about. On the face of it, we definitely agree with the need for portability. We absolutely also, I think, agree about the importance of labour hire, but the importance of making sure that that system works properly. And then everybody's very confident with the system, whether it's an employer or an employee. In terms of compulsory union membership, I'm not sure so sure that Australians would be supportive of that, that my community would be supportive of that, we have great principles around freedom of association in Australia. So very, very happy for unions to get in front of our employees and make sure that they do a great job. But I think again, that's one of those bridges that we'll just have to keep talking about as we sit around the table, it's much better to be focusing on the things that we agree on at the beginning, and then establish relationships whereby we can work through if there are any challenges as we go through.

MURRAY WATT: Just before I answer that, just can I just add to a couple of things that have come up in this discussion - the point about the additional 8000 visas for regional Australia. They are of course, skilled visas, there's a range of migration programs that are underway. And this is an extra 8000 skilled visas in addition to the tens of thousands, that will be already allowed under the existing migration cap. So it's not as if we're only talking about 8000 extra migrants into regional Australia. We, of course, want to make sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to train locals for jobs and that's why we've announced the additional fee free TAFE places. Some of them will be for short courses, so we can get people into the workforce quickly in regional areas. But as everyone has recognised, there's a role for migration into in topping up that local workforce. So there will be additional skilled visas on top of what the previous Government had committed to and of course there are other visa categories as well. 

Then in terms of portability, as you just heard from Fiona, the NFF are broadly supportive of the idea of portability of visas and it's something that unions had raised with me in the lead up to this Summit. I’ve got to say one of the things that I found in the many conversations I had with employer groups, with unions and others in the lead up to this Summit was that different people were saying the same things to me. And they just didn't necessarily know that their supposed adversary actually agreed. And that's been one of the fantastic outcomes of this Summit. We know there are some issues that there's not currently agreement and there may never be agreement, but gee there's a lot that we do agree. And that's what having this tripartite group can allow us to actually move this debate forward, rather than getting stuck in the same way that it's been for several years.

JOURNALIST: Minister, Coles and Woolies are here, why didn't you invite the supermarkets to be part of your working group? 

MURRAY WATT: Well, because I respect my colleagues and everything to do with retail and food processing more generally and food distribution actually is in Minister Husic's portfolios. So I'm doing what I can within the portfolio that I hold. But of course, we know that these issues intersect with a whole range of other portfolios and a whole range of other businesses and industry groups. And we'll be working closely with them as well.

JOURNALIST: So can you just explain what kind of tangible commitments the group is going to make? How many times a year you're going to meet? You have goals that you must, you know, targets that you're going to reach? 

MURRAY WATT: So the intention for this working group is that at this stage, it will be set up for a 12 month period. And the reason for that is that the Government is, I think you know, intends to release an Employment White Paper in about 12-months’ time, and the proposals from this working group will feed into that broader work. The intention is that we'll meet monthly starting in early October. There's obviously a bit of work to do before we have our first meeting. So that's the plan there.

But I think the other really key point is that people shouldn't think that nothing is going to happen until we have a working group or, or until we have an Employment White Paper. As I say, for those farmers who are watching this, for those farm workers who are watching this right now, the Government has already committed to lift the free TAFE places, and we're going to be fighting collectively to make sure ag gets its fair share. We've already announced an increase to the migration cap, including those skilled visas. And we know that there are people out there who need those skilled visas now, and we're going to be doing it. One of the biggest issues that's been raised with me, whether it has been when I've been on farms or whether it was when I was in Brent's meatworks at Rockhampton, is the incredible backlog of visas that are in the system. Minister Giles today has just announced an extra 500 staff who are going to clear that backlog. So we're getting on with this now. We're not waiting for meetings. But of course those meetings will be necessary to work with through some of the longer term issues.

JOURNALIST: Former Department of Immigration official Abul Rizvi said today that the way Australia has treated its temporary workers, particularly in the farming sector, is a national shame. Do you agree?

MURRAY WATT: Well, I think all of us agree that there have been examples of very poor treatment of workers in a range of industries, and that does include agriculture. And one of the things that I've been really pleased about in these discussions is my discussions with the NFF is that they're very open about that. They recognise that there have been issues and they're very committed to resolving those issues. Because all of us, whether we're from the farm sector or whether we're from unions, have a shared interest in making sure that agriculture is an industry of choice for people and making sure that people get looked after. Every farmer I talk to wants to see their workforce treated well. So I think that we can get agreement on that. And I think the other point that Abul was making which is relevant, is that our Government has already said that we want to shift the focus of our migration program towards permanent migration. We're not saying that there won't be any temporary migrants, of course there will be at different times. But if we can shift that focus towards permanency, that will very much assist farm workers, but it'll also assist the farmers who want to retain long term staff. I know Brent's company, one of the things they want is permanent arrangements with staff not short-term ones. So I think there's some good work to be done there and I think the people here want to do it.
  
JOURNALIST:
So just clarifying that 8000 additional skilled migrants for regional Australia, and also saying that 195,000 there's still going to be people from that cohort going towards regional Australia. Do you have an idea of how many people within that 195,000 are expected to go into regional Australia? And then further on that additional 8000, what kind of areas or industries are they going to be going into?

MURRAY WATT: It's probably best for me to leave it to Clare O'Neil and Andrew Giles as the relevant ministers to go into that detail about the breakdown there. But I think you can safely assume that there will be a proportion of the visa holders there in general that will go into regions, not just that increase in terms of what those people would do. You heard from Fiona, that we do have a massive shortage of veterinarians in this country, potentially it would be in that area. 

But again, I've been on to some farms in regional Queensland and regional Australia who are using incredibly advanced technology. There's a company called SwarmFarm Robotics just outside Emerald producing incredible machinery, which is about precision use of fertiliser, pesticides, things like that. They need engineers, they need people like that. And they're looking very hard to get locals and we'll support them to get them. But there would be a place for those kinds of people as well. 

JOURNALIST: The NFF called for a return to the no disadvantage test in the weeks leading up to the Summit. Are you willing to make a concession on that? Or how do you think that you're going to kind of negotiate?

DAN WALTON: I think as Fiona rightly pointed out, there are a lot of things that we agree on and there's some things that might take a longer time to try and solve. Certainly from our perspective, there are some things that are near and dear and core to us, that we want to try and protect and look after. As the Minister said, there are so many things that bring us together. If not for anything else that we're now subject of the former Agriculture Minister David Littleproud's attacks. He previously blamed his former ministerial colleague for failing the ag visa, Marise Payne, he's blamed me and blamed our union for failing the ag visa and now he's blaming the NFF. Everyone but himself. What we know is there's so many things that do bring us together to support this great industry and this initiative will go a long way to solving them.

MURRAY WATT: All right, we're going to get back to the summit. Thanks, everyone.
 
ENDS