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Australian fruit growers on Monday urged state governments to create travel bubbles with coronavirus-free Pacific island countries and bring in seasonal farm workers to avoid crop rot and rising food prices.
Citrus Australia, a lobby group, has called on the country’s two most populous states to reinstate quotas for seasonal workers.
“Victoria and New South Wales… have shown little urgency in addressing these issues,” said Citrus Australia Managing Director Nathan Hancock.
“The safe and effective quarantine programs in the Pacific Islands, which have virtually no cases of Covid-19, can be implemented with political will.”
He said both states had blocked industry suggestions on easing restrictions on international arrivals and quarantine capacity.
“We call on Victorian Prime Minister Dan Andrews and Premier of New South Wales Gladys Berejiklian to show leadership and resolve bureaucratic inertia in finding sensible and secure solutions to the seasonal worker crisis” , said Hancock.

Backpackers pick tomatoes near Brisbane ahead of pandemic

He said half of the country’s citrus harvest was at risk. Much of it is cultivated in the Sunraysia region northwest of Victoria and the Riverina region of southern NSW.
Harvests are typically collected by up to 140,000 backpackers – often international students on working holidays – and up to 12,000 seasonal workers from Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and other Pacific countries.
However, most youth and worker hostels were closed during the pandemic and have yet to reopen at full capacity.
Mr Hancock said there are currently around 50,000 backpackers in Australia, but 1,000 are leaving the country every week.
“Their absence is being felt now as growers are unable to harvest their crops, which is causing prices for fresh fruit and vegetables to rise across Australia,” he added.
Attempts to recruit local workers have been unsuccessful, Mr Hancock said, with only 250 Australians registered.

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