POST FARMGATE red meat supply chain businesses who are now severely hamstrung by labour shortages, with the pandemic exacerbating an already significant lack of workers, are pushing for their own specific visa system.
The sector which employs more than 50,000 full time workers - double that counting the multiplier effect - and is the backbone of many regional and rural towns the country over says it simply can not stay on its feet without serious government action on workforce.
The call for a visa to cover workers in businesses from abattoirs through to wholesaling and retailing is a key lobbying point for the sector in the lead-up to the election.
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The Australian Meat Industry Council has listed six key parameters it will be seeking commitments from major parties on: workforce, market access, innovation, sustainability, small business and logistics.
AMIC chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said meat processors, retailers and smallgoods manufacturers were a huge employer, in both regional and metropolitan areas, but was severely lacking in workforce numbers.
Alongside a red meat specific visa, which could in fact be broadened to include the entire food production industry, AMIC is calling for dedicated access to the Skilling Australia Fund for the meat supply chain.
Mr Hutchinson said creating a dedicated training mechanism in order to ensure everyone coming into the industry has career opportunities was critical.
"We are feeding the nation, and the world, and we need to make sure we have a career path for people and they see a long-term future in our industry," he said.
Market access is another key area processors will be talking to politicians about in the lead-up to May 21.
"We need all the necessary building blocks to create and access new markets, but also to ensure market longevity," Mr Hutchinson said.
Australia exports around 70 per cent of the beef and sheepmeat it produces, which equates to $18.4 billion worth of red meat a year.
AMIC is calling for long-term structural investment in market access, including a doubling of the technical market access negotiation team within the Australian Government.
It also wants a freeze on increases to the export inspection and certification fees and charges, which cost the industry close to $70m a year, in order to allow the industry to reinvest in its businesses and people to recover from pandemic-driven issues.
Logistics, which have also been very badly hit by the pandemic, will be another area of focus for processors, who are urging an infrastructure fund focussed on investing in productivity improvements in international freight supply chains and an extension of the international freight assistance mechanism to mid-2023.
Meanwhile, sustainability - one of the 'hot topics' among modern-day consumers - is an area meat processors have been working on well past the last 20 years, Mr Hutchinson said.
Now, measures from government were badly needed to advance efforts, such as a regulatory framework for organic foods and awareness campaigns of food industries' contributions, he said.
Mr Hutchinson acknowledged the sector's 'election wishlist' was substantial and may not be achieved in this campaign but said he wanted to make sure that not only do politicians hear the red meat industry but the community does too.
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