One of the Top End’s biggest mango farmers has lashed out over the Gunner Government’s refusal to follow Queensland and allow on-farm quarantining for overseas mango pickers, which the NT Government continues to claim is a safety issue.
While the Queensland Government did not respond to questions, a document NT mango growers received stated Queensland would have overseas workers on farms by the end of the month.
The ABC Country Hour program reported the Queensland Government said it was on track to bring 650 Pacific Islander workers to pick various crops in the state. The program quoted Queensland Agriculture Department rural economic development executive direct Elton Miller saying they were doing a four week trial with workers coming from low COVID-19 case countries by the end of the month, with the Queensland chief health officer approving those countries on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s up to each state and Territory to assess the COVID risks, and how to manage those, and Queensland has considered that we believe we can manager those COVID risks appropriately through on-farm quarantine,” he told the program.
However industry sources say there may be a change in Northern Territory policy coming soon.
Nino Niceforo, who owns mango farms around Darwin, Katherine, and Mataranka, said the contingent of 161 Vanuatuan mango pickers who arrived Tuesday in Darwin were six weeks behind schedule.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s too late. There should have been a third flight directly behind this one. Now this flight should have arrived, six weeks ago, and it hasn’t. It’s because it took them, three weeks to sign off to opt into the program,” Mr Niceforo told ABC Radio Darwin Tuesday.
“They’re all ducking for cover (the NT Government). They should be talking to us, the relevant people on the ground. And we are not asking the Government for nothing we didn’t ask him for a cent. We don’t want any money. We just needed the people on the ground, and they been aware of this since March.”
A group of mango farmers Mr Niceforo is a part of has proposed that Vanuatuan mango pickers should go to the Howard Springs quarantine facility for three days and should be re-tested and if their tests are negative, they could go to an in-farm quarantine. He said the pickers have been tested prior to leaving Vanuatu.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner has earlier said it’s the Federal Government’s decision to allow seasonal workers to quarantine on farm, which is something the Federal Government says is incorrect.
However at the end of September Mr Gunner said he would pitch to the Federal Government to allow a travel bubble with countries like Vanuatu that have not had COVID-19.
Queensland adopts in-farm quarantine
NT Senator Sam McMahon earlier blamed the NT Government for a looming $50 million mango industry disaster because of its refusal to lift the 14-day quarantine restrictions for seasonal works from overseas and interstate.
The Northern Territory Mango Industry Association said there is more than $112 million worth of mangoes produced in the NT annually.
Ms McMahon said she believes in-farm quarantining could be made possible in the NT as Queensland has done it.
“Many of our larger producers have the capacity to quarantine workers on their farms so they can start picking immediately, as they are allowed to do in Queensland,” she said in a media release Tuesday.
Currently, seasonal workers are required to quarantine at the Howard Springs facility for 14-days upon arrival.
“By the time they are released much of the crop will be on the ground,” Ms McMahon said.
“Our nation depends on the Territory to grow nearly half of Australia’s mangoes and as a result, mangoes are an important part of the NT’s economy.
“The hard-working NT farmers have produced another great crop of mangoes and with the arrival of the seasonal workers, the mangoes will soon be in our grocery stores and supermarkets around the country, if the Northern Territory Government changes its stance to allow workers to complete their quarantine on farm.”
Meanwhile, in a statement released by Agribusiness Minister Nicole Manison to the ABC News, she said that NT was the first jurisdiction in the country to successfully welcome to plane loads of overseas seasonal workers and “Queensland haven’t received any.”
“We will do whatever we can to help our local farmers, except putting the lives of other Territorians at risk. Coronavirus is still a real threat, and we still need to abide by the health advice and ensure the adequate quarantining of overseas arrivals,” Ms Manison said.
Mr Manison did not respond to questions from the NT Independent. The NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles also did not respond to questions. The NT Government’s COVID-19 operations centre also did not respond to questions.
In September, 162 workers flew into the Northern Territory from Vanuatu to assist NT’s mango industry.
Nine countries have signed on to participate in the reopening of the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme, according to the NT Government.