Tasmania’s border closures have been a blessing and a curse – depending which side you’re on.
In the initial response to COVID-19, many criticised Premier Peter Gutwein for not closing the borders fast enough. However, in the past few weeks, the Premier has been subject to more criticism – for not opening the borders.
Tasmania’s exposure to COVID-19 has been comparatively mild, despite experiencing our fair share of heartache. However, now it’s few and far between when we hear of COVID cases in Tasmania (fingers crossed it stays that way). There’s no doubt agriculture plays a crucial role in Tasmania’s economic makeup. And it will continue to play a part in this phase of recovery. So, the news that borders could impact the influx of seasonal workers in Tasmania was unsettling. However, recent indications that the borders could reopen for seasonal workers at the end of October must be heartening for the state’s primary producers.
Many were facing either significant losses of crops or the possibility they’d have to foot the bill for hotel quarantine of interstate workers. While the state has embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign to attract locals to the harvest jobs, it’s an industry that faces significant stigma, and community misconception. For whatever the reason, not all local people want to do these jobs – and that’s for a multitude of reasons. While the best-case scenario is for producers to employ locals, the reality is there is are not enough locals to do the work, or they simply don’t want to apply.
Tasmania’s peak harvest season is fast approaching, and one sure thing is the produce won’t wait for bureaucrats to decide its safe enough to proceed. It will be ready when it’s ready, and that’s that.
Bringing in people from overseas, or from interstate, will always carry with it inherent risk and no-one, farmers included, want to see Tasmania’s hard-fought wins against the virus to be lost due to unresolved issues such as quarantine. Now is the time to make swift decisions about quarantine requirements and who will pay for that protocol, to ensure there’s a steady stream of seasonal workers to bolster any size local workforce.