Bludgers told: Pick fruit or lose handout
DOLE bludgers who refuse to take jobs at farms will have their Centrelink payments slashed as part of a national push to help Aussie farmers prepare for the upcoming harvest season.
The federal government is preparing to penalise layabouts who turn down short-term harvest work and will step up penalties for those who have no excuse for doing so.
The worst offenders could have their dole money completely withdrawn for four weeks.
If this crackdown fails to attract enough workers, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will consider increasing the numbers by changing working holiday visas to push visitors onto farms.
"Where we cannot find Australians to do the work, we cannot allow the fruit to rot," Mr Morrison said.
"We will back our farmers and make arrangements through our Pacific Island worker and migration program to get the job done."
The PM said he was prompted into action after hearing from farmers about the difficulties of attracting staff to the regions - and he emphasised the plan revolved around getting Aussies into work.
"This is about doing everything we can to ensure Australian jobs are being filled by Australians," he said.
"Our government has heard from farmers across the country about how tough it is right now to find workers, particularly at the height of harvest season for some crops.
"We want to highlight exactly where the jobs are and make sure jobseekers know where to be looking.
"While we're tackling the labour shortage this also ensures jobseekers on taxpayer support have no excuse to refuse opportunities."
Mr Morrison has also asked farmers to register the positions they need filled, along with how much they pay, so that the National Harvest Labour Information Service can match them with workers.
It is understood that if not enough workers can be allocated to farms, the government will consider making temporary changes to the seasonal worker program, Pacific labour scheme and working holiday visas to make sure those from overseas go to farms first.
Time is of the essence for Mr Morrison with harvest season for oranges beginning in Leeton next month, roughly the same time farmers in Orange start picking cherries.
Stone fruit season goes from January to March in Young, and from February to March across regional NSW there will be pears, grapes and prunes.
Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack said the plan was a key part of sustaining regional economies.
"This will help to ensure our farmers and agribusinesses can continue growing and supplying the world's best food and fibre, to boost and sustain regional economies," he said.