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Calls for a national code to allow agricultural workers to cross state borders

A national code is being pushed to permit agricult
Photo: Barilaro pushes national ag worker code
NSW will push for the establishment of a national agricultural workers' code that permits workers to freely cross state borders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro is calling for a national code to allow agricultural workers to cross state borders without permits.

NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall will attend a national agricultural ministers' meeting on Tuesday seeking consensus on the code, he says.

It would allow agricultural workers such as fruit pickers to become an "essential service" akin to freight workers and permit them to freely cross state borders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Should the code find agreement among Australia's agriculture ministers, Mr Barilaro says it will go to national cabinet later this week for approval.
He says the initiative is critical as Australian farmers enjoy a bumper 2020 harvest.

"Our farmers have gone through the worst drought for in some cases up to five years, for two to three years ... they have a cash drought at the moment, a lot of farmers have put their last savings into this season's crops," Mr Barilaro told reporters on Monday.

"If agriculture isn't classified as an essential service, we've lost our way as a nation."

Mr Barilaro said the code would come with several responsibilities for agricultural workers and employers, including PPE requirements and a COVID-19 testing regime.

He also said an announcement was imminent on the extension of the NSW-Victoria "border zone" from 2.5km to 50km, easing travel restrictions for border communities.

Mr Marshall told reporters the coronavirus-prompted border closures were "hobbling the agricultural sector" and had the potential to spark fresh rounds of supermarket panic-buying.

"If it's good enough for the critical workers in the freight industry, it's good enough for agriculture and agricultural workers as well," he said.

"Without them, we don't get the crops off paddock in the next few months, don't pick the fruit off the trees and we go hungry as a nation and pay more for food."

Senior federal government ministers have long called for state leaders to open their borders, citing issues on agriculture, tourism, healthcare and commerce.

The federal government this month announced farm workers from Vanuatu will be brought to the Northern Territory to help pick mangoes despite a travel ban on overseas arrivals.

"Not many politicians want to stand in front of a camera and say ... while we deal with the many deaths of the COVID-19 pandemic, my fear is the deaths that will come from the economic crisis for people who lose their jobs, their home, their business," Mr Barilaro said.

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