Time for the CMO to have a check-up – a reality check-up
3 September 2020
Citrus Australia, the peak industry body for citrus growers, is disappointed by reports today that the Chief Medical Officer has rejected the proposed Agriculture Workers Code.
Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock said this decision does not come as a surprise.
“It’s been my experience and the experience of many in recent months, that the health departments, federal and state, are operating completely in a silo,” Mr Hancock said.
“It’s time the Prime Minister and the Premiers heard from the agriculture sector and followed through on making life easier for those in rural Australia to safely go about the business of keeping the country fed.
“Health departments have disrupted thousands of lives through decisions that have not taken the caseloads or actual risk of different regions into account.
“Their decisions are based on apparent scenarios that bear no resemblance to what is happening outside of the major cities.
“In areas across Australia which are COVID-19 free we’re expected to behave like we’re in the lobby of the Hotspot Hotel. There has been minimal consultation and it is simply not good enough”.
Citrus Australia wrote to all state and territory health and ag ministers, noting the work already completed to develop the Freight Movement Code for the Domestic Border Controls. In the opinion of Citrus Australia much of the freight code would apply to agriculture workers across Australia.
As the operation of interstate freight is different to the day to day operations of agribusinesses, Citrus Australia requested that the following issues be taken into consideration in the development of the code:
- Agriculture encompasses a wide range of primary production types and the associated support businesses are extensive and must be included. Recognition that agriculture is an essential service and that roles that support agricultural businesses are critical; this should be done on principle, without an exhaustive list of job titles/descriptions which makes on the ground interpretation at the border difficult.
- Assess regional border communities on their risk; interaction between low risk regions should allow minimal impact on the worker whilst keeping them safe.
- Recognise workplace mitigation plans across state borders – assess risk based on evidence
- Define hotspots, don’t apply one rating to an entire state – assess risk based on evidence
- Require testing based on risk – moving between low risk sites should reduce the need for asymptomatic testing
- Recognise that many agriculture roles can be completed in isolation and where they can’t appropriate PPE etc. will be used
- Make application periods for permits at least fortnightly, weekly is too short. Remove the need to apply for travel a fortnight in advance (Tasmania)
“Whilst we recognise the need to control the spread of COVID-19, and have worked to ensure every grower business has access to a comprehensive COVID-19 plan, it is incumbent for health departments to work with the agricultural community to ensure every Australian has access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
“Taking your bat and ball and going home instead of working with agriculture ministers to find a safe compromise beneficial to all is a poor reflection on the attitudes towards rural Australia by the health departments around the country.”
For further information, contact Stephen Cooke, Industry Engagement Manager, Citrus Australia, on 0427 124 437 or firstname.lastname@example.org