Australia’s agriculture minister has lashed local unemployed people, claiming they would rather sit on the couch than take up farm labouring jobs.
David Littleproud also blasted state governments for not approving special quarantine arrangements for overseas workers to plug desperate harvest shortages.
He warned shoppers were already feeling the pinch at supermarkets and fears fruit and vegetable prices will rise further in coming weeks.
“Every Australian gets first crack at these jobs but sadly they don’t want to get off the couch and have a crack at it,” Mr Littleproud told Sky News on Tuesday.
“There’s a large cohort that have been on unemployment benefits for some time that don’t want to have a go at these jobs.”
While farmers are facing serious worker shortages, shocking revelations of exploitation in fruit-picking continue to emerge.
A recent report showed NSW blueberry workers received as little as $3 an hour, while backpackers and other migrant workers have reported awful conditions.
Mr Littleproud has previously condemned mistreatment of farm workers but argued it is restricted to a minority of dodgy operators.
“We’ve thrown the kitchen sink at incentivising Australians and I accept the fact that many of these jobs are thousands of kilometres away from where people are,” he said.
“But we simply do not have the luxury to sit around and wait any longer.”
There are 22,000 workers through the Pacific and seasonal worker schemes from 10 virus-free countries ready to work in Australia.
Mr Littleproud said states were standing in the way of allowing a quarantine regime that would allow them to enter the country.
“Chief health officers and premiers have made plenty of decisions predicated on capital city quarantine arrangements but have forgotten about agriculture,” he said.
“We need these people in here now to pick these crops otherwise they will be left to rot.”
The deputy Nationals leader said state chief health officers and premiers had failed to show common sense.
“This crisis has shown the holes in federation and the fact that we can’t work with one another,” Mr Littleproud said.
“I fear each and every Australian is going to pay for this at the checkout.”