Labor demands urgent action on farm labour

Ed Husic is calling for a meeting of state and federal ministers to address the farm labour crisis.
Ed Husic is calling for a meeting of state and federal ministers to address the farm labour crisis.

Labor has ramped up pressure on the Morrison government to address agriculture's critical labour shortages with rotting fruit and vegetables costing farmers more than $40 million.

Opposition agriculture spokesman Ed Husic is calling for an urgent meeting of state and federal ministers to address the crisis.

Mr Husic has written to Agriculture Minister David Littleproud demanding action on the national shortage of more than 26,000 farm workers.

"The states and territories have taken steps to provide farmers with workers," Mr Husic wrote in the letter seen by AAP.

"But they shouldn't be forced to manage problems of this magnitude on their own - and then be disparaged by federal counterparts for not doing enough or doing too little, too late."

He argues the Commonwealth government is responsible for borders and quarantine under the constitution.

Australian farmers have lost at least $42 million because of labour shortages, according to the latest figures from horticulture industry body Growcom.

There are also fears fruit and vegetable prices could increase as unpicked crops are left to rot.

Mr Littleproud said state premiers reaffirmed their desire to retain control of quarantine for seasonal workers at a national cabinet meeting late last year.

"Over the last 12 months, the federal government has not just provided incentives for Australians to take these jobs, but has extended visas of those already here and found an additional 25,000 Pacific workers if they worked in agriculture," he told AAP on Thursday.

"We will continue to support the states to bring these workers in once they provide their quarantine protocols."

The minister last week criticised Victoria's move to allow 1500 workers into the state after quarantining in Tasmania as "too little and too late".

Mr Husic wants Mr Littleproud to reconvene the agriculture ministers forum known as AGMIN and use the meeting as a critical moment to develop concrete solutions.

"Principally, delivering the 26,000 workers our farmers need."

He said state and territory governments had been forced to find local solutions to national problems after the coalition failed to deliver a specific agriculture visa or release its workforce strategy.

The national cabinet of state premiers and territory chief ministers, chaired by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has discussed the issue on multiple occasions.

Despite calls for action, schemes paying Australians to temporarily relocate to pick fruit and vegetables have failed to attract enough workers.

Horticulture has also been rocked by shocking allegations of wage theft and horrific conditions in recent years.

Australian Associated Press