It’s been a busy year for AUSVEG’s advocacy team, with workforce challenges and retail proving major focal points.

The sweeping changes to workforce policy announced by the Federal Government this year have made several of the vegetable industry’s key sources of labour less viable for many growers, in particular the changes to the PALM scheme. From 1 January 2024, PALM workers must be offered a minimum of 30 hours per week averaged over four weeks, and from 1 July 2024 that changes to 30 hours offered every week. The 30 hour requirement will jeopardise the ability of many growers to participate in the PALM scheme, particularly smaller growers who make up a large part of the vegetable industry.

AUSVEG has been strongly advocating against these changes, and has been calling for policy modifications to reduce labour shortages for growers, while making sure worker welfare obligations are met. On this and other issues, AUSVEG is working closely with allied bodies in the agriculture sector to ensure decision makers in the halls of power are hearing the same message from many voices.

Beyond agriculture sector collaboration, AUSVEG has been working with several external organisations to bolster our advocacy work. A new partnership with AiGroup initiated earlier this year enabled us to deliver a range of webinars, workshops and resources for growers on matters such as workplace relations reforms, enterprise agreements and engaging with unions.
We also engaged a specialist government relations and corporate affairs firm to bolster our efforts in influencing the Government’s policy agenda.

AUSVEG’s advocacy and media commentary around the pressure retailers are imposing on growers has set the scene for the various Government investigations into Australia’s grocery retail sector that have been announced in the latter half of the year.

AUSVEG was closely involved with the Parliamentary inquiry into food security in Australia, making a submission and appearing before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture. The recently released report from that inquiry and the recommendations it contains will play a big part in the conversation around horticulture policy reforms in 2024.

Likewise, we have been advocating for growers as part of the Government’s Competition Review, a two-year process that began in August 2023. Our efforts to date have involved numerous meetings with Government, including a competition roundtable with the Assistant Minister for Competition in Canberra.

Next year will also see the progression of the Australian Food and Grocery Code of Conduct (AFGC) review. The AFGC is being reviewed prior to the Code sunsetting in April 2025, and this year saw a review of the dispute resolution provisions (Part 5 of the Code), for which AUSVEG made a submission. The review of the rest of the code will be complete by June 2024, and AUSVEG is making a submission advocating for a number of changes to make the Code more equitable for suppliers.

That attention on the imbalance in retailer-supplier relationships has now also expanded into the establishment of the Senate Select Committee on Supermarket Prices, which aims to inquire and report on price setting practices by major supermarkets, delivering a final report in May 2024. AUSVEG looks forward to working closely with the Committee to raise awareness of the challenges growers face in their relationships with retailers. We will continue to advocate for sensible solutions and to bring more equity to the grower-retailer relationship.

In this context, the industry has the best opportunity in many years to push for reforms to the Australian retail landscape.

AUSVEG continues to actively participate in many cross-sectoral groups and organisations formed to advocate on varying issues, including the Global Coalition of Fresh Produce (GCFP). The GCFP released a report earlier this year highlighting that Australian growers had some of the highest cost of production increases globally, averaging a 37 percent rise over two years.

An AUSVEG grower survey in July had an overwhelming response from growers around the country, and alarmingly 34 percent of grower respondents indicated they were considering leaving the sector in the next 12 months. We recognise the strain many growers are currently under, and AUSVEG will continue pushing hard in 2024 on behalf of the industry to alleviate the pressure wherever possible.

On behalf of the advocacy team at AUSVEG, I would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas, and I look forward to working closely with you all on these matters in 2024.

Lucy Gregg
National Public Affairs Manager, AUSVEG

Advocacy highlights for 2024

  • Workshops and webinars on retail negotiation, the Australian Food & Grocery Code of Conduct, visa options and workplace relations
  • Federal Budget submission
  • Submission to and appearance before the Parliamentary Inquiry into Food Security
  • Competition Review, and roundtable meeting with the Assistant Minister for Competition
  • Food and Grocery Code of Conduct Review into Dispute Resolution
  • Multiple submissions into the PALM scheme, including changes to the PALM deed and guidelines
  • Various submissions on changes to industrial relations laws
  • Submission into the review of ANZSCO codes
  • Submission into Unfair Trading Practices
  • Submission supporting a national labour hire licensing scheme
  • ATMAC European Study Tour for growers and industry members to understand EU/UK compliance and sustainability
  • Price Transparency Survey collecting data on prices paid to growers
  • Workforce Sentiment Survey, with results now widely quoted in the media
  • Numerous media appearances representing the interests of growers to the general public