“State and territory governments offer free testing for everyone, even for those who are not Australian citizens or permanent residents. The Commonwealth is not privy to the identity of those tested.”
Dr Webster, whose Mallee electorate in western Victoria is a major horticulture region, said she would “go back to the drawing board” with relevant ministers following the cabinet reshuffle last week when Peter Dutton was replaced in the Home Affairs portfolio by Ms Andrews.
The conference motion called for the Morrison government to “design an appropriate visa for undocumented workers in the horticultural industry. This could be delivered as a pandemic status resolution leading to either a permanent or temporary legal status.”
Dr Webster said an amnesty was needed to reduce the risk of coronavirus outbreaks in regional horticulture centres, where the proportion of undocumented workers who were likely to remain unvaccinated would be high compared to the general population.
She said a visa amnesty would also help address the worker shortages crippling agriculture, which has lost the majority of its traditional backpacker labour force due to international and interstate border restrictions.
“I hold by my argument that the pandemic gives us a special opportunity, when our borders are slammed tight, to address the issue,” Dr Webster said.
She added that undocumented workers would be able to follow work across state borders if they were granted legal status.
Adelaide University academic Joanna Howe, who has conducted extensive research into undocumented workers, said the “vast majority” were lured to Australia by criminal networks under false pretenses, including claims tourist visas would provide them with workplace rights.