Nationals Member for Mildura, Jade Benham, is meeting with Minister for Planning Sonya Kilkenny to push the urgent need to amend legislation controlling rural worker accommodation and other local planning amendments in a bid to help increase seasonal work force and housing stock.
Ms Benham says a recent tour of farms struggling to attract seasonal workers without a viable accommodation option has highlighted the flaws in the current regulation.
And yet she says it is a problem which could be immediately remedied by “a stroke of the pen on legislation and regulations to better allow our food producers to house seasonal workers, and to ease the administration burden on local council planning departments.”
“When Shadow Minister for Agriculture Emma Kealy and I recently visited farms in my electorate they showed us how progress can be halted due to the many inconsistent guidelines they must meet,” Ms Benham says.
“We were discussing the length of time a seasonal worker can stay in the on-farm accommodation, which is seven months. However, after discussing the issue with Steve Burdette, executive officer of Approved Employers of Australia, if it were nine months, it would curtail the labour shortfall a lot of food producers face at the end of the season. Not only that, it is the length of the visa for those on the Seasonal Worker Program so it makes much more sense that they can accommodate for that length of time,” she says.
“It starts with simple changes such as this, which better align with current legislation and can only help strengthen our food producers and the workforce they need to put food on everyone’s tables.”
Ms Benham says other changes which must also be made include increasing the number of workers who can be accommodated, from 10 to a much more realistic number better reflecting the demands of individual properties and coming up with a better square metre format for the number of people housed in any one building.
She says these are game-changing issues for the fruit and vegetable production industries – as well as the winegrowers – and they “need to be addressed sooner rather than later”.
Local councils have also sought amendments to local planning schemes which will also be discussed at the meeting.