Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told welfare recipients to work on farms or face losing their welfare payments as part of a “no excuse” scheme to tackle unemployment.
Mr Morrison on Saturday urged farmers to register their job requirements, pay and conditions with the National Harvest Labour Information Service so employment agencies can find local unemployed to fill positions.
If jobseekers don’t have a reasonable excuse for not accepting the work, they can have their income support benefits reduced or withdrawn for up to four weeks.
“While we’re tackling the labour shortage, this also ensures jobseekers on taxpayer support have no excuse to refuse opportunities,” Mr Morrison said of the scheme.
The National Farmers’ Federation has described the policy as a “shallow attempt” to solve a “deep problem” and called for a dedicated agricultural visa.
“Of course we want Australians to fill jobs on Aussie farms. Farmers have been trying to do that for years. But the reality is this latest attempt is unlikely to bear fruit,” NFF president Fiona Simson said.
With many agricultural tasks needed on a short-term or seasonal basis, Ms Simson said arrangements often weren’t attractive to local workers with ongoing financial commitments and long-term career aspirations.
“That’s why the government’s announcement today is so disappointing.
“Their plan to encourage workers onto farms using a carrot-and-stick approach might be well intentioned, but shows a lack of understanding of the issue,” she said.
In response to the NFF’s comments, Mr Morrison told reporters on Saturday a dedicated agricultural visa wasn’t going to “get any fruit off the vine”.
“You can just go around and come up with a new visa, and all you’ll end up doing is having people coming and serving coffee in metropolitan cities and driving Ubers.”
Labor is also critical of the announcement, with agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon calling it a stunt to distract from broken visa promises.
“The last thing growers need is people who don’t want to be there,” he said.
“This is from the bloke who introduced a backpacker tax.”
ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie said she strongly opposed any policy that uses “threats to cut off basic supports” to force people to move for temporary, low-paid work.
She said the plan poses a “serious risk for those already in poverty”, as it could mean giving up affordable rental accommodation and the loss of financial supports from family and friends.
Mr Morrison denied the scheme introduced changes to how people could lose access to welfare payments – currently after three instances or three jobseeker demerits in six months.
He said Assistant Minister for International Development Anne Ruston would be working over the next couple of weeks to ensure any relevant changes were made to the Pacific Islander scheme.
Mr Morrison also said he would be working with the Immigration Minister David Coleman on possible changes to the working-holiday visa program.